‘Swim between rioters, sharks, Japanese whalers and Greenpeace’ reads the sign on the beach depicted in a cartoon in one of Sydney’s daily newspapers. What would a tourist make of that?
Sydney is the harbour city and its beaches are second to none. Tourists from all over the world are attracted to its shores to bask in the sun on the golden sands, to swim in the crystal clear surf and to go boating on the vast waterways.
This summer however, despite heat wave conditions, a visit to Sydney’s once safe beaches may be hazardous.
Popular Cronulla beach in Sydney’s south was at the centre of race riots on December 11th. It was a situation that had been brewing for at least ten, maybe twenty years. What sparked it off was the bashing of a lifeguard the week before by men of Middle Eastern appearance who lived outside The Shire. Local youths incensed by non locals not only taking over the beach but bullying and harassing locals, prompted them to send out a call to Sutherland Shire folk to come to Cronulla beach on December 11th to reclaim it for the locals.
Multiple text messages were sent to Shire residents, mainly young men urging them to join the battle. It was a call few of them could resist, if only as a spectator. Unfortunately, radicals such as white supremacy groups also responded to the call and the rioters got out of control. Police reinforcements quelled much of the trouble but couldn’t prevent damage to private property and injury to innocent parties.
The rioters moved on to Maroubra and Brighton le Sands the next night.
It was two weeks before Cronulla businesses recovered. Then just as beach goers felt it was safe to return to the water, news reports emerge that sharks have been sighted within metres of swimmers at Sydney and South Coast beaches.
These sightings came just days after three sharks off North Stradbroke Island attacked Sarah Whiley, 21 and have reinforced Australian’s paranoia about sharks. The fact is that more people are killed each year by bees and lightning than sharks.
Netting along the coast should prevent dangerous sharks from entering popular beaches but occasionally one swims under the net. This probably happened at Tamarama beach this week when a shark was sighted, forcing swimmers out of the water both there and at Bronte.
If riots and sharks wasn’t enough at the beaches, there are also Japanese whaling boats in Australian waters intent on enforcing their traditional right to hunt minke whales for their meat. Hot on their heels are the Greenpeace ships the Arctic Sunrise and the Esperanza who are also on a mission. They are equally determined to sabotage every attempt by the Japanese to kill the whales.
Sydney waters haven’t had favourable press so far this summer and now the ferries on Sydney Harbour are also bearing the brunt of criticism and unfavourable publicity following a year of breakdowns, crashes and public disagreements amongst staff. It might be safer for tourists to skip the waterways and settle for an inland holiday.