Reading about the Facebook group ‘Fuck Off We’re Full’ reminded me that I should finish uploading an article what appeared in the May 2009 edition of Rolling Stone (‘White With Fear: Flagging A New Hate’, John Bastick, Rolling Stone, No.690, May 2009). So here ’tis!
Are we in the midst of a new national pride or is it something more sinister dressed-up in the Australian flag these days?
If this is God’s country, then it’s clear God has a predilection towards fair-haired folk. Pulling into Cronulla station, an hour’s sweaty slog south of Sydney’s Central, the train is packed solid. Nothing all that unusual there — it is N.S.W. public transport after all. In this case, though, it’s packed with sun-bleached locals, kissed with a glow that only comes from seaside living.
Cronulla is a proud suburb — one that, rightly or wrongly, has become inextricably linked to a new kind of national fervour, a fervour that for the last couple of years has been mustering itself in an overkill of flag-waving, chest-beating and Southern Cross tattoos. A pride that shocked the world in the riots of late 2005, and reared its head again at another Sydney seaside suburb, Manly, last Australia Day.
I’m in Cronulla to interview three members of the pro-white, anti-immigration political group the Australian Protectionist Party. That it happens to be in Cronulla is nothing more than fate, delicious irony. The interview’s planned for one of the pubs by the sea. Unfortunately two of the APP guys baulk at the media attention and are a no-show — the third, a 24-year-old postal worker, Ben Smith, is sent instead as the solitary spokesman.
Smith is boyish, svelte with cobalt-blue eyes, hoary skin and short-cut blond hair. He’s nervous and reads from crib notes when stumped by questions. I’m guessing he’s been sent to parrot the APP’s mantra and the notes are to ensure he doesn’t stray off course.
Smith tells me he’s a nationalist and that I’m wrong to call the APP a right-wing party. “I’m a normal Aussie patriot,” he says. He’s adamant, too, that he’s not some “white supremacist Nazi nut”.
“We disagree with this idea of multiculturalism,” he says. “Australia has a pure ethnic core and that’s white European and there’s a culture, a way of life that sprang from that and something we want to preserve. That’s the thing about immigration in this country: Immigration good, concern about immigration bad.”
Smith, a Cronulla local, says he wasn’t involved in the riots back in 2005, but empathises with how and why it happened.
“Those people,” he says, his eyes watering with anger, “those Lebos have been coming down here for years to harass people, harass girls in bikinis, to intimidate. They don’t know anything else but violence. The riots were a case of a community boiling up, boiling up, boiling up — people were saying “We’ve had enough; we’re taking a stand against this.”
It’s Smith’s view that the Cronulla area is uniquely Anglo with its brick homes, utes on lawns, surf culture and Christian churches. “Yes it is a white area,” he says. “That’s its strength, but people are threatened by it, they want that destroyed. It has old-fashioned Australian values and people want that protected.”
Recently Sudanese refugees have been resettled in the area, something Smith believes smacks of a conspiracy. “I think politicians seriously believe we are too white down here,” he says. “But I sympathise with them (the refugees) — they’re not welcome, they’re not going to fit in, it’s a recipe for disaster.
“I almost feel sorry for these migrants, the Muslims. They come here, they can’t speak the language, they can’t assimilate; it’s too much of an upheaval for them to come to this country. That’s where multiculturalism has failed, it’s created this friction, this tension and violence.”
It therefore comes as no surprise that Smith is wary of the recent bridge building measures to incorporate Lebanese kids into the local surf life saving club. “These people would rather see an Australian drown than save them,” he says seriously. “They won’t be happy until Australia becomes a Muslim country.”
From Cronulla the plan was to take the train west — to Lakemba, to Liverpool — to interview young men of Lebanese descent, Muslim men, about their take on nationalism. Unfortunately, all requests for an interview were declined, albeit politely. I detect a feeling of exasperation towards a media they see as roundly unsympathetic.
One reticent youth, Ali, from the Lebanese Moslem Association, tells me over the phone that the idea of nationalism is alien to the values of Islam. “We don’t believe in it, in waving flags or this allegiance to a country or to a Prime Minister”, he says in a timid Australian drawl. “For us, we believe in one thing only — Allah.”
Herein may lay the problem — if there’s a new whipping boy, it’s Islam. The bombings in Bali, the terror of rapist Bilal Skaf, the sermons of Sheikh al Hilaly, all have worked to stoke the nationalists’ ire. But is there a problem at all? Full-scale riots in beachside suburbs aside (and it’s worth noting Australian beach culture has a history of tribalism), is there any real harm in nationalism, particularly the iconographic style: the flags, the tattoos, the car bumper stickers? After all, many of us identify as nationalists, or patriots at least. We cheer our Olympians, wave the national colours at the cricket and get all puffy-chested on Anzac Day.
Is it merely a case of harmless pride in being Aussie? Or is it more sinister? A kind of politically-correct racism that no longer says: “You’re not welcome”, but rather: “We’re better than you”.
Either way, there’s certainly a new fear. And the new breeding ground is cyberspace. A simple Google search uncovers a trove of right-skewed, nationalist, pro-white sites. Many, as you’d expect, are quite inflammatory and all done under this idea of “free speech”. Most are blogs, written under pseudonyms with no contact details. There’s a wide-held distrust of the media, who are viewed as leftie-sympathisers and pro-migration; which, as you can imagine, makes interviewing these bloggers difficult.
These furtive groups were thrown into the spotlight last December with the shooting death of 15-year-old Melbourne teenager Tyler Cassidy. Three policemen killed Cassidy after he bailed them up with a knife in the northern suburb of Northcote. Rather than acknowledge the mixed-up kid he was, the media instead latched onto his membership of the Southern Cross Soldiers (SCS), a nationalist youth group that is widely described as violently pro-white.
The group has virtually no structure, making it hard to find anyone willing to act as a mouthpiece. Using the social networking sites I track down one member willing to be interviewed. He’s a 16-year-old from Melbourne, a mere foot soldier, who will only talk under the moniker “Nova1”. He tells me there’s been an enormous interest in the group following Cassidy’s death. “He was just a fucked up kid, he was depressed”, he says of the shooting. “It had nothing to do with SCS or him being a white supremacist. The media want to paint us that, but we’re not.”
So what are they?
“We’re nationalists, we’re proud Australians. We like Australia the way it is. You’ve got all these Lebanese groups, these clerics, promoting hatred against Australians; well we’re saying enough is enough… why are these people here? These Muslim rapists, their violence; that idiot Sheikh al Hilaly, spouting his nonsense; disrespecting women; who’s keeping these people in check? They wanted to plant bombs at the AFL grand final. They’re animals, no better than dogs.”
He tells me the SCS’ job is to “keep these people in check because the politicians have failed”, although he can’t expand further when I ask him what that may actually entail.
Of the flags and the tattoos he says: “We love our country, so what! Everyone’s so hell bent on embracing immigrants that if you show any pride in Australia you’re called a racist. Yes, there is a real fear that the people who come to the country disrespect the country.
“Journalists want to portray the SCS as Nazis, as white supremacists, they want to spread this fear to sell their newspapers, they want everyone to believe we’re violent, we’re hell-bent on another ‘Cronulla’. It’s crap — they’ve never even bothered to interview us, to hear our side.
“But I tell you we’re growing, a lot of people now feel this way. I guess you can hide your head in the sand if you want to, or you can open your eyes that migration is the problem.”
If nationalism is on the rise, then it’s all being done under the shadow of the Australian flag. Which in many ways is odd. Australians aren’t great flag-wavers. We’re often embarrassed by our kitschy national symbols. At last count, 40 per cent wanted the flag changed. Few of us know the words to the anthem.
But white Australians have had a troubled history with any new migrant. Take the anti-Chinese riots in the Goldfields in the 1850s, the White Australia Policy that dominated our immigration for two-thirds of the 20th century, to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation a decade ago.
Why it’s happening now may be less clear than in the past — who’s doing it is easier to define. They’re white, middle-class and young.
When three blonde teenagers were photographed at Sydney’s Manly Beach on Australia Day, draped in the flag, FUCK OFF WE’RE FULL inked across their stomachs, it caused a predictable shit storm. The three, all from well-to-do backgrounds, defended their action as harmless because it wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular.
When a Darwin store stocked Australia Day T-shirts with the slogan THIS IS AUSTRALIA. WE EAT MEAT, WE DRINK BEER AND WE SPEAK FUCKING ENGLISH customers queued around the corner to get one. Following bad behaviour by flag-clad thugs during Australia Day celebrations on the Gold Coast, one of the area’s largest RSLs promptly banned all young people from its Anzac Day service.
In an essay published a few days later in The Sydney Morning Herald [When patriotism becomes provocation, January 31, 2009], writer John Huxley argued the flag had somehow morphed into a kind of weapon — the very thing intended to unite us was doing the opposite. However, Huxley also argued it was the thugs and not the flag that needed curtailing, and cited Big Day Out organisers’ misguided attempts to ban the flag in 2007. Put simply, when Stephanie Rice drapes herself in the national colours it’s a symbol of chest-beating pride — when Pauline Hanson does, it’s hatred and derision.
Professor John Stratton is head of cultural studies at Perth’s Curtin University and is a specialist in race, multiculturalism and youth culture. He doesn’t believe we’re seeing a new rise of nationalist fervour. Rather, Stratton argues, pride in the flag, a white nervousness, fear of immigrants, has existed in Australia since time immemorial. “Australians don’t like migrants, never have”, Stratton says. “They don’t welcome them easily, there’s this constant debate about how many migrants come to the country, whether we can support them, whether they’re the right sort of migrant. Ever since the White Australia Policy became one of the first acts of Parliament as far back as 1901 we’ve been totally preoccupied about who comes in the country.”
In the past, Stratton argues, this xenophobia would’ve manifested itself in direct attacks on new arrivals. However in these more politically correct climes, the 2009 version has moved from shouting down immigrants to shouting up the Anglo-Australian culture. No one likes being called a racist. A patriot is entirely different.
Stratton also singles out the policies of the Howard government that turned back asylum seekers, interned refugees and gave us a “War on Terror”. He believes this created cultural dread that anyone who came to this country was out to do us harm. Not that he paints HoWARd a racist, merely a shrewd politician who cannily exploited the fears of the electorate.
“You only need turn on the news to see the world’s a disaster”, he says. “Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Zimbabwe, there’s wars in the Congo, Africa’s got deep problems. Then there’s this huge financial crisis and what that will do will increase unemployment, there’ll be even more of this nationalism, this attitude of, ‘We don’t want these migrants coming here and taking our jobs’.”
What ever the mood in the electorate, nationalist political parties have always had a poor history at the ballot box, save for perhaps One Nation’s brief ascent in the late Nineties. The two main parties currently are the Australian Protectionist Party (APP) — of which Ben Smith is a card-carrying member — and the more sinister Australia First Party.
[NB. The APP formed in late 2007 as a split from the AFP.]
The APP’s Darrin Hodges is one of the most persistent faces of Australian nationalism. He stood as a candidate in last year’s council elections in Cronulla on a platform of no high-rise, no mosques and no sex shops. He also authors the feverishly anti-Islamic website The Infidel Diaries. Hodges agrees there has been a rise in flag-waving nationalism that culminated in, and became more entrenched after, the Cronulla “civil unrest”. Still, Hodges admits it’s neither translated to membership of the APP or votes (he scored just two per cent of the vote in Cronulla).
However, in the absence of any political clout or say, Hodge’s belief is “the concerned ‘man in the street’ is rallying together under these symbols, the flags, the tattoos, the bumper stickers”.
Again, Hodges’ primary beef is immigrants of Muslim origin. He cites problems in European countries with large Muslim populations — the U.K., the Netherlands, and France — which he believes will soon be mirrored here.
“The problem in Australia is that the political left have such a strangle hold over our culture”, Hodges argues. “If you say anything against Islam you’re called a racist and people live in mortal fear of being called a racist. They’ll shut down; they won’t speak out when things are wrong. It’s killing the debate in Australia and that has the potential to be enormously damaging.”
Hodges other gripe is his belief that Anglo culture is being forgotten, marginalised. He says we’ll rush to celebrate migrant culture but are embarrassed by those more traditional ideas of white culture in Australia. He offers Sydney as an example. “There’s various enclaves where you can sample a particular ethnicity; Cabramatta and the Vietnamese for example. But take the Sutherland Shire — the media call it an Anglo enclave, like it’s a dirty expression. Surely if you’re true to multiculturalism, the Sutherland Shire will be seen as an Anglo enclave the same way that Leichhardt is to the Italians?”
The more sinister of the nationalist parties is the Australia First Party (AFP) and its figurehead Dr. Jim Saleam. The 53-year-old’s resume reads like a 30-year nightmare. He vehemently opposes multiculturalism, has links to Nazi sympathisers, is suspected of racist graffiti, death threats, attacks on churches and copped three years prison time in 1991 for a shotgun attack on a rival.
Dr. Saleam — who got his doctorate in politics while in gaol — says globalism is at fault. Multiculturalism is a by-product, causing disquiet, particularly, he says, among younger people. “And when that happens”, he says, “the younger ones fall back on iconography, they attempt to identify themselves in a number of ways — flags, tattoos, attendance at Anzac Day”.
Saleam says this has translated to a renewed interest in the AFP. At last September’s council elections, the party didn’t win any seats, but in some suburbs it did receive upwards of 10 per cent of the vote (again, in the Sutherland Shire).
“Most of our votes came from young women”, Saleam says. “Why? I couldn’t say. We prefer that our voters are younger, we want to distance ourselves from parties like One Nation; they namely went after the older vote and a lot of that vote now is literally deceased.”
The AFP has courted the youth vote in the past. In 2002 it established a youth wing known as the Patriotic Youth League. The group gained some notoriety in 2004 after running an anti-Asian campaign at Newcastle University under the banner “Australian unis for Australian students”. It’s since gone into hiatus after members complained Nazis and boneheads had infiltrated the group. Or as Saleam puts it: “The person who ran it couldn’t handle all the media attention”.
- The PYL is dead. Its first spokesperson was a (former) Salvation Army youth worker named Stuart McBeth. After McBeth dropped the ball, it was picked up by Melbourne-based meathead Luke Connors. After eagerly expressing his anticipation for the outbreak of racial rioting in Melbourne ‘After Cronulla’, he eventually hand-balled the League to other yoof. Its last member — and leader — was the 50-something Queenslander John Drew. Saleam kicked Drew out of the AFP in March 2009.
And that remains part of the problem for these groups. Apart from vague agendas, they have complete distrust of each other. They’re either too right, not right enough; one’s pro-Israel, the other vehemently anti-Zionist. Many eventually attract the very small, very vocal and occasionally violent lunatic fringe — the boneheads, the white supremacists, the Nazis. Even your bona fide Aussie patriot baulks at this mob.
Darrin Hodges calls them “cranks and Hollywood Nazis“. He says: “They stomp about with their ridiculous ideas, outdated ideologies, it’s caused enormous damage to nationalist politics in this country. They say they’ve never read Mein Kampf because it’s too long and boring; they have no idea what they profess to believe in.”
If there is one thing Hodges and Saleam agree on, it’s that we’re overdue another “Cronulla”. It’s been simmering so long it’s only a matter of time before we see another civil disruption”, Hodges professes. Saleam, too, is convinced it’s inevitable. “Multiculturalism creates such tension in society”, he argues. “I envisage the next civil disorder will not even involve ‘native’ Australians. Multiculturalism has made so many disparate groups, they’re bound to clash sooner or later.”
And it’s technology that’ll be the rallying tool. If any crank with a rant can have a Facebook page, then they’ll likely use it to marshal a mob to a designated time and place.
Alex Gollan agrees. Concerned by the proliferation of “hate” sites, the 25-year-old created the Internet-based group, Australians Against Racism and Discrimination, making himself spokesperson for the racial dangers of cyberspace. Gollan has seen a rise in sites that spout this sort of hyperbolic Anglo pride. “It might seem like 30 bloggers ranting”, he says, “but that soon spreads and spreads and spreads. What these sites do is eliminate the need for a meeting; you can sit at your chair, turn your computer on and be connected to thousands of like-minded people.
“If there was an attack on the ‘Aussie’ way of life things could turn bad — fast. It’s easy for these groups to use Facebook to assemble a large mob at a beach quickly. They may seem like a fringe, a minority, but these guys are getting 100, 200 new members a week.”
Ben Smith and I drink the last of our beers in Cronulla’s glorious early evening sun. As soon as the tape switches off Smith’s personality switches from ardent patriot to surfer larrikin. The plan was to to wander down to the beach and take Smith’s photo. At the last minute he reneges. ‘I just think it could get me in trouble.”
He says he’s not worried about what he said: rather he’s proud he tells me. Everyone he knows thinks the way he does anyway, he says.
“It’s the politicians”, he says as I up to leave. “Why do they want to reduce us all to this mono, coffee-coloured world? I don’t hate other cultures, all I’m doing is standing up for mine. Every culture has the right to survive and why shouldn’t people fight to preserve their own heritage? Why do we want to see Australian culture destroyed? I don’t. No one I know does either.”
The evening air’s still warm as I make my way up the hill to the railway station. The main street of Cronulla is filling fast. Bars, al fresco restaurants — Thai, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese — are full of punters trying to bag the best tables. A whole mix of people — tourists, locals, young Asian families, Chinese students, couples of middle-eastern appearance, rowdy Brits, bikini-clad Danish backpackers, and some elderly Germans who are quite clearly utterly lost…
- John Bastick is former editor of FHM Australia. FHM is owned by ACP (PBL); ACP also owns Ralph and Zoo Weekly, and recently acquired Rolling Stone:
“The FHM reader is typically in his mid twenties, in a white-collar occupation and with a higher than average disposable personal income. He’s savvy to the latest brands and trends and regards FHM as both a mate and a navigator which enables him to stay ahead of the pack. He loves spending on himself buying fashion, fragrance and grooming products, cars and gadgets, video games and DVDs. Young men are notoriously difficult to reach as their consumption of TV, radio and newspapers decreases. FHM is still the most effective way to reach them when they are in their own zone.”
“Rolling Stone readers are passionate, vibrant, outgoing and intelligent. They influence their peers and set the agenda in their social circles. Being stylish and in the know about music and entertainment is a priority. Predominantly, Rolling Stone readers live in Capital Cities, are single, aged 18-39 and two-thirds are Male. The vast majority of our readers love to entertain, socialize, see live entertainment, and regularly shop for their preferred brands of clothing and accessories.
The regular Rolling Stone reader is passionate about their music, purchasing music both in retail and online environments frequently. They also buy DVD’s [sic], use the internet heavily, play computer/video games, go to the movies with regularity, and they rely on Rolling Stone to keep them informed and entertained.”
At least until they discover a better-quality music zine anyway.
Bonus! Flagging A New Kate!
Am I the new Pauline Hanson? I hope so, Damien Murphy, Sydney Morning Herald, May 31, 2008: “THE hair is assisted blonde rather than red, but the rawness of Kate McCulloch’s words curiously echoes Pauline Hanson’s redneck worries about dispossession and the need to curb Muslim immigration, especially in the white-bread community of Camden…” | ‘Next Pauline Hanson’ joins One Nation, Arjun Ramachandran, The Age, June 3, 2009: “She was anointed by some in the media as the next Pauline Hanson, after her fierce resistance to Muslims moving into her neighbourhood in Camden. Now Kate McCulloch has taken a further step in that direction, announcing today that she will stand as One Nation’s candidate for the seat of Macarthur at the next federal election. One Nation announced the appointment with a media release titled: “Kate McCulloch – campaigner against Camden Islamic School joins One Nation”…