Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Coledale & Beyond

A friend was over from Auckland for the weekend so on Sunday we decided to take a drive down south to see mutual friends living in Coledale. On the southern edge of Sydney is the Royal National Park, beyond which is a narrow coastal strip beneath a towering scarp. Along this strip is a line of small towns, some of them built where coal mines were, which have, over the years, joined up with each other to make a kind of extended semi-urban strip. Usually when I go down this way I like to cut through the National Park and drive down the strip from the north but Sunday, at the last minute, something made me veer away from the turn-off at Waterfall and continue on down the freeway. It wasn't until we'd gone over the Bulli Pass, down the scarp and driven up the strip from the south that we realised something was up. There was bunting and balloons outside many of the shops and businesses, lots of roadside stalls, brass bands playing, a generally festive atmos ... but not that many people. When we arrived at our friends' place they explained that today was the completion day for a two and a half year long project to replace a narrow stretch of cliff-haunted road with an elegant off shore raised highway structure called the Sea View Bridge. The old road was so vulnerable to rockfall it was closed every time the rainfall gauge went above 20mm and there was a local legend that surfies who wanted undisturbed possession of their beaches used to piss in said rain gauge to make the closures happen. Ten thousand people were alleged to be walking across the newly opened bridge, hence all the excitement further on down the line. But already, at about 1 pm, it was clear the promised bonanza was not going to occur. How could it? Anyone who walked the bridge from north to south wasn't going to keep on walking the extra ten ks or so to Coledale; they were either going to walk back to their cars or catch a return train back or further down the line. By late afternoon, as we returned from a stroll along the shore, the kids at the roadside stalls were looking disconsolate, while the locals gathered in the beer garden at the RSL looked increasingly, though not aggressively, pissed. They'd thrown a party and no-one had come. When my friend and I came to leave, we drove north in the hope that the bridge might still, or already, be open, but no, it was all heavy machinery and officiousness. Later we passed by the turn-off to Cronulla unaware of the race riots in full swing down there as Shire locals defended 'their' beach by insulting and beating innocent fellow Australians just because of they way they looked. And later still ate at a pub in Newtown then had a night cap in the Zanzibar round the corner, still unaware that not far to the south and west, armed gangs were roaming the streets randomly bashing both people and cars in retaliation for what had been done at Cronulla that afternoon. Just south of Coledale is Thirroul, where D H Lawrence lived for a while in the 1920s and wrote his novel Kangaroo, the title of which does not refer to the big marsupial but to a fascist leader of an organisation based upon the New Guard. It's possible, as I mentioned a few posts ago, that John Howard's father was a member of the New Guard. Whether that's so or not, Howard's instincts are fascist and his methods entirely unscrupulous. He attempted in the 1980s to gather electoral support by denigrating Asians in Australia and has spent much of the last five years shoring up his postion via a subtle and not so subtle series of measures designed to bring White Australia together behind him in opposition to Muslims, or People of Middle Eastern Appearance, or Arabs or ... well, anyone who's not us. His immediate response to the riots in Cronulla was to refuse to make a statement. When he did, the next day, the point he chose to emphasize is that Australians are not racist and that this is not a racist country. Why? To reassure those that perpetrated the outrages on Sunday, and those that support them, that he is still their man and that the things that were done there were done in his name too. Most people here think that what happened on the weekend is only the beginning and that the long hot summer that is beginning will be riotous and bloody. The wistful, decent, neighbourly folk of Coledale and beyond might be lucky to miss out on more than just a few sight-seers coming over the Sea View Bridge.