Christmas and Cronulla*

A Reflection on Violence and Hope

William Loader

“Let’s get out of here quick!” The mob had noticed their Middle Eastern appearance and as long as the mob and their right wing cronies ruled the beach this was no place for them. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to the baby. So off they sped down to the river where things were quiet and they would not stick out.

It wasn’t always like that and it’ll change again, but for now the good will’s gone and the peace all but disappeared. They huddled together as they sat on the bank. It was like a protective wall surrounded them, keeping danger at bay. There were angry voices which called for war and some declared they’d never go again unless to take it all over for themselves. There was “them” and there was “us”.

So much shouting, so much noise, that the baby seemed lulled through it all to sleep and soon Mary had nodded off and Jo, too, slumped into another world. There he met Sam who stopped once to give him a lift. He took you home to his place. You met his wife and kids. You'd never been inside the home of one of his people before. In the dream he was sitting on the bed crying. What was up? He told you about his son who got caught up in the melee down on the beach. He’d been beaten with a baseball bat and come home bleeding. You put your arms around him and you wept together.

When you went together into the TV room there it all was on the news – the gangs, the fighting. It seemed not only to fill the screen but to fill the room, like a giant screen climbing up the walls and across the ceiling and then closing in like a collapsed tent on top of you, overwhelming, suffocating. You struggled against it pushing and shoving, rolling about in a desperate attempt to break free.  There seemed no way out, but to surrender and be swallowed up – but you could breathe. It was a struggle but you could breathe and you could hear Sam’s breath beside you. You held onto life breathing and panting until in your struggle there was a small opening. You reached through it with your hands, dragged yourselves towards it and finally lay exhausted.

You lay exhausted on the beach. You looked about you. You were alone, alone together. There was a bright star above. You could hear the surf not far away. Then from the sea came children, children of all the world, wearing their traditional costumes, singing songs which were all so different yet combined together into a great chorus of hope. Soon the beach was a mass of people and you were caught up in their midst.  The crowd was moving along the beach towards the headland. As they moved the children became older. It was now a group of youths and soon of young adults and by the time you reached the great headland which sheltered the sand from the strong south winds, you were in a sea of people from every nation on earth.

There was joy and hope, but near the headland there was shouting and turbulence. The closer the crowd moved to the headland, the more some became violent. You looked up and there on the headland was the figure of a Middle Eastern man silhouetted against the dark sky, hanging on a makeshift cross.

You must have slept for well over half an hour. The baby woke you up. Mary was feeding him. The angry shouting had gone. You could see about you not just the familiar faces, but groups of young and old from different parts of your community, some with head scarves, some still in their wetsuits, some in saris, some in bawd shorts. They spoke of change. They made love. They sang songs of hope. They embraced. And you knew that when they moved it was time for you, too.

 There would be room for you all together on the beach – and one day your little boy would play freely in the sand. And the sea will never cease offering its gifts to the shore. And there will always be people who love.

*At Cronulla beach in Sydney and surrounding areas in the lead up to Christmas 2005 there have been clashes between rival gangs which include extremists from both the so-called white and Lebanese community. This piece honours people from the communities concerned who are now working towards peace and reconciliation.