Author T.J. Hamilton.
Author T.J. Hamilton.

OPINION: Have we learned from race riots?

FRIDAY marked 10 years since the Cronulla race riots, and I wonder how much have we changed in society since then?

I lived in Cronulla at the time, and was even down the beach with my then-toddler son, on the morning of the riots.

The attacks were what prompted me to join the New South Wales Police Force, and my application was sent in within a few months.

So from the policing perspective, I know what has changed and what was implemented in the wake of the riots, but I don't think we have gained much understanding for cultural differences since then.

I saw the build-up of tension between the different groups of young men in the area.

Being that Cronulla is the only beach in Sydney directly accessible by train, many people who lived in the western suburbs would come to Cronulla beach.

The tension began as more of a 'turf battle' between the locals believing they owned the beach over the western dwellers - who just happened to be predominantly Lebanese.

As retaliation, the visitors would make comments to the locals about how they lacked culture, etc.

Just prior to the riots I got accosted by some young Lebanese men when I was down the beach with my son, telling me to cover up for the respect of my child. I knew it was just a few young men wanting to stir up trouble, I chose to ignore it.

I understood why the 'peaceful demonstration' in the morning, happened.

It was locals highlighting that they greatly believed in our Australian way of life, and it started off as a bit of fun.

But unfortunately the mix of alcohol, emotions and the hot summer sun were a recipe for disaster - and disaster we got.

The week that followed was frightening. The frequent sounds of glass breaking up the street, helicopters continuously circling and dogs barking, certainly didn't feel like I was in my peaceful beachside suburb. I decided to join the police force because I felt like I had more to contribute to the community than just sitting by and being a spectator to what was happening around me.

I'm glad the Supreme Court ruled in favour of blocking the 'memorial rallies' that were planned for today.

There is nothing positive that would come of a demonstration such as that. Have we, as a society grown since the racially driven riots?

Or have we become more judgemental towards cultures that we don't understand? Do we feel a greater sense of entitlement towards our own country since then, or do we embrace multiculturalism more?

It's unfortunate to realise that not a great deal has changed in 10 years.

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