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Australia Day: ‘Cronulla cape’ or a mob looking out for a great escape?

Aggressive hands made thudding sounds against the outside of the tram as it pulled into a stop on Flinders St just after dusk on 26 January - Australia Day. The rhythmic ambience of Madame Noor Jehan’s Punjabi folk songs had been suddenly interrupted. A dozen late teenage young men in singlets and t-shirts boarded, the blondest and loudest in shorts and thongs with an Australian flag worn as a cape. One could almost feel the hairs rising on the necks of passengers already aboard the half-full tram. The fellas were mildly pissed or wacked to varying degrees and had plenty of physical energy to throw around. A number of times I heard “who gives a fuck” whilst seeing bodies jumping up and down on top of seats, and “Whahooo! Party tram!”. Twenty odd minutes and half a lap of the city later they disembarked and plenty other passengers breathed a sigh of relief.

26 Jan 2007 photos by Karen Trist

A range of things had happened. They pushed and shoved each other with their bodies, playing the game of demonstrating bravado and challenge to each other, vocalising plenty of roars. A couple of non-Anglo passengers had their heads patted – clearly to their dislike and against their will – as they tried to move through the mob to get off the tram. I engaged the mob’s energy in dancing and enticed the blonde Tarzan to play percussion with his thongs. Some good-spirited 30's-40's women remained dancing in awkward proximity to the mob. Khalid, a Pakistani Melbournian working as a host on the tram, ironically threw up his hands with pointing index and little fingers, to which he was greeted with “good on you mate” and the offer of hand slaps, which he met. Meanwhile I had placed my awkwardly-encouraging-dancing-body between the mob and a sitting family of young daughters, as the family seemed at threat of being squashed by an uncontrolled body likely to be strewn from the writhing pack.

26 Jan 2007 photos by Karen Trist

As a mob they seemed so potent a symbol, the ‘Cronulla cape’ as the flag-wearing body has been called, appearing so potentially threatening and simultaneously so mindless. As individuals, a couple of the young men were cogent enough and socially responsive enough to want to engage me in assisting to get them all off at the right stop: “'just get as many of us off as you can” he told me. These boys seemed both aware and unaware of their power, their threat, their symbolism and pride. They clearly toyed with a form a terrorising capacity, and brought some passengers to be intimidated and offended. The spiralling wave of energy they amassed was evidently fluid in its direction and focus, with much ambiguity between boys having innocent fun and boys exploiting power over others via any available points of leverage. When is a ‘Cronulla cape’ wilfully and knowingly used as a divisive symbol? How common an experience is it for young men from all sorts of cultural backgrounds looking out for a pleasurable great escape to find themselves playing with and expressing power in its relationship to enjoyment? Did these men leave the W-11 more open to encountering cultural differences or are they just a little more defined within the boundary of their own identifications?
- Mick

Post to discussion


i was on the tram that day and i happened to witness these young men and what actually happened, there were no racial confrontations and the men seemed just happy to be getting a ride home, since when is being patriotic being racist? the men seemed to leave an infectious jolly mood on the tram which quickly spread to other passengers who began dancing. how does wearing the australian flag make anyone racist? it is our national flag, no matter how it is worn, it is still our national flag. during the cronulla riots it was used as a gang symbol, but on the tram it was used to support australian tennis players and to show our support for the day in which our land became a proper nation. To compare these young men, just out having a good time, to the racist louts that initiated the cronulla riots is an insult to any australian regardless of descent.

Sunday February 18

Can someone please patiently explain to me how being of 'Lithuanian descent' excludes one from being a racist?

Tuesday February 13

I beleive i could say with no doubt what so ever that you did not expect these kinds of responses from what you refered to as 'the mob'. For you to refer to our own national flag as the 'Cronulla cape' is absolutly disgusting, un Australian and down right offensive. What happened in Cronulla was a massive missunderstanding and i am positive that you dont even know or understand the truth behind it all. Yes we may have intimidated and offended some traverlers, but completely unintentionaly. Yes we were lound and Obnoxious and I completely understand you writing this on your website. But to be friendly and welcoming to us on the tram and then to write what you have is simply spineless and deceiving of you. You can’t seem to make up your mind in the article whether to praise us for bringing a bit of life and party to your tram or to brand us as ‘the mob’ ‘blonde Tarzan’ and in other negative and offensive ways. I think its you that is ‘waked’ mate. I think its time to put down the dictionary and maybe start learning some of the big words that you seem to like writing. Maybe stop reading to into things, and simply put it down as a group of young guys enjoying themselves and celebrating their nations day of honour. A nation that we all love and respect. If you do not enjoy it then feel free to leave. And one last thing mate, its not “Who gives a fuck” its “Who gives a shit”.

Friday February 09

well 4 startes its the australian flage not a Cronulla cape! and i was wereing it coz it was AUSTRALIA DAY and we were at the tennis!!!

we got on this trame 2 have a good time!!
and everyone was having a gr8 time!! if i remember right a fu people were taking pic of me and my mates with a big smile on there face! they were having fun and so were we!

WE ARE NOT RACISTS!!i am from lithuanian descent!!

so sorry 2 all u people that were harmed in anyway!!

and allso dont be so judgmentel just coz were boys in a group duzent meen were out for troble!!

Friday February 09

I agree with cameron, that trip was in no way a racial splurge. i was a passenger on the tram and throughly enjoyed the mix of multiculturism. The blonde bloke wearing the 'cronella cape' was wearing that flag as a sign of patriotism to the young australian players competing at the australian open. What has the world come to when young passionate australians that support all walks of life in this country are belittled for showing such support to this lucky land. Lets just hope harsh generalisations are keep to a minimum and every body can except and enjoy the happy and welcoming AUSTRALIAN SPIRIT

Thursday February 08

g'day, i was one of those 'cronulla' blokes that day and from what i remembered of the tram ride most people were enjoying themselves on the trip. if i remember correctly you were the guy with glasses and a camera and i remember dancing with you that same time.
i doo admit that there were children who felt awkward at the time but thats to be expected of anylarge dancing group of teens on a congested tram.
WE ARE NOT RACISTS FAR FROM IT AND MOST OF US ARE FROM FOREIGN DESCENT in fact the BLONDEST bloke wearing the flag is of lithuanian descent. next time you want to create a story of Racial confrentations stick to the truth mate!

Thursday February 08

I am one of the participant of last week Australia Day Parade and a volunteer of Common Wealth games. I saw colossal of multiculturalism in both events. My eyes can not forget seen of world guests in form of athletes, coaches, visitors. We have seen 74 countries peoples in Melbourne as a guest. We Australia try to show them that we are very much Multicultural country. We decorated a Tram called W-11 and take them on free Melbourne ride City circle trip. We gave them image we are very artisted, tolerated, welcoming to every one who entered in this country. We are one [You, me they, us]. We also decorated and engineered a flying tram to say GOOD BYE in closing ceremony. Our guest left very happy with very good image of us.

As soon as they were in departure we locked up our trams. We hide up our marvellous piece of art [W-11] until now. Since then and every day we are trying to slaughter Multiculturalism but some time [Australia day], some where again we try to make it up. It looks me some time we try to achieve and some time we try to deceive.

I strongly believe our trams are our image especially W-11. I muscularly suggest that W-11 tram must be part of Australia Day Parade. It is a marvellous piece of art and running on tram track a symbol of multiculturalism. We have spend lot of tax payer money on it. It will add great value to Melbourne multiculturalism on Australia day.

After Australia Day Parade, I especially have a ride on W-11. They way tram is decorated, the way it run, the way conductors entertain passengers, the music, the interview in tram from passenger is very joyful and glimpse of free of speech. People they get taste of Asia journey. They pictures the tram inside art and decoration.

I sturdily believe this was the missing and hiding link in Australia day Parade.

(uneditted letter sent to the editor, The Age)

Manzoor Ahmad
Wednesday February 07