On December 11, 2005, residents of the Sydney beachside suburb of Cronulla took part in a demonstration to chase away “gangs” of men from inland suburbs. The demonstration was a reaction against “un-Australian” behavior by these “outsiders” who were allegedly rude to women, colonizing local space, and intimidating residents. These “gangs” of men were made up of Lebanese Australians, and Cronulla is Anglo-Australian dominated. Ethnic and cultural differences were used as the key markers of who the outsiders were. The demonstration escalated into a riot in which anyone of “Middle Eastern” appearance was attacked.
It is significant that the Cronulla race riots took place on the beach, a site where cultural differences have been contested in Australia's past—and present, in light of the war on terror. Cronulla is steeped in surfing tradition, and a cultural process known to surfers as “localism” is used to police the beach. Through an analysis of this conflict, I show how localism and safety work in an everyday context as a complex embodied, social, and spatial practice that creates “safety maps.” As I move through the personal level of safety of those involved, I explain how larger Australian national myths, icons, and discourses played a role in people's safety maps.
When viewed through the lens of safety maps, the Cronulla race riots can be read as a complex interaction of discourses, bodies, space, and sociopolitical institutions. I argue for thinking through safety as a lived embodied activity and that safety maps work as a site within which larger community, national, and international issues are played out.