Last night, for the first time in my life, my team won the NRL Grand Final.
I’ve been a fan of the Cronulla Sharks since I lived in Miranda for a year as a young adult. The lifestyle there was fantastic and I’d live there again. I worked for my brother and sister in law’s little company on their good grace (way more grace than I deserved, to be honest) and I spent many dawns and sunsets swimming in the ocean, breathing in that crisp eucalyptus air and gazing back at the shoreline in a complete reverie. As you do when you’re 20 years old and have no idea about life. My sister and I ate at Nulla Nulla (back when it was really good) several days a week. I would cast a line off the Gunnamatta Bay wharf (and catch nothing) sometimes as well. One or two summer afternoons my brother and I would go exploring in the bay in our dad’s boat, looking for fish in the shallows and letting the wind whip our faces as we sped by the posh waterfront houses. It was bliss. There’s so much to do in the Shire. Especially if you’re like me and have extended family there and love any water related activities. It’s pretty much a suburban Tim Winton novel, I guess. There’s something there for everyone. My friends who live there tell me that it’s a different place, now. But that’s the Cronulla that I remember from 16 years ago, that became a special part of me.
At night, I would go to the Brass Monkey (my favourite gig that year was Vince Jones by FAR!). One time, after months of goading from my friends, my sister and I finally ventured into the infamous bar, called Coyote’s. I had to carry her out the door several hours later. That’s kind of a rite of passage if you’re a young person in the Shire. We don’t speak of that night. I don’t even know if Coyote’s is still there, much less the Vinyl Room. I didn’t dare go there. I was only 20, after all.
But my favourite thing was to go to Shark Park with my friend from work to catch all the home games. We went to every single home game that season. Of course, once you’ve done that, the team you’re following is just your team and there are no two ways about it. It was a special year. I was very depressed from being bullied at work, and my therapist at the time really mismanaged the situation so I stayed depressed much longer than I should have. It is what it is. It was a hard time in my life. But I also had some really nice times and the beautiful bush and ocean of the Sutherland Shire was a great comfort. And best of all, it was the year I fell pregnant with my first baby. That baby is nearly 15, now.
Cronulla’s reputation has been tainted by the riots (I refuse to give it capital letters). But as someone who has forever been haunted by racist undercurrents in my life from others, I choose to dictate my own associations with Cronulla as being about nice people, fun times, beautiful natural features and the siblings who lived there with me.
It’s important to remember that many of the idiots who were responsible for the damage done to Cronulla’s reputation are from other suburbs, who flocked there at the first whiff of a war upon anyone different to them. There were thousands of text messages sent in the leadup to the event to co-ordinate the “protest”. I’ll never forget the news article telling me of a man who had been walking home from work – an Italian man – who was seen by passing attackers and beaten to within an inch of his life because he’d been mistaken for someone of Middle-Eastern descent. It really illustrated to the country (and the world) how automatically mindless a state our society has reached when it comes to rejecting “outsiders”.
For that entire hedonistic year with my sister in the Shire, we enjoyed some amazing food prepared by People From Other Countries who lived and worked safely and peacefully in Cronulla. At least, for another five years. I’m sure they’re still there. But they would’ve been well rattled after December of 2005.
Sorry, haters, but Cronulla is not a “white” area, as such, and the ABS stats prove it. After the Australian/English/Irish/Scottish figures in the 2011 Census data, we have a pretty equal proportion each of Italian, Greek, German and Chinese residents living there, making up a decent chunk of the population. I will be interested to see the 2016 data when it comes out, if we can rely on it, anyway. But I’m sure if we have reliable data we will see an increase in proportion of new Australians or Australians of diverse ethnicity in those numbers. At least, I hope so. I hope the dark memories of the riots haven’t screwed the natural settling of diversity in the Sutherland Shire. There is so much to be enjoyed in Cronulla and surrounds, and diversity will only ever enrich that cultural tapestry. People still feel bruised from the riots, and by your judgements on their community as a result of the riots. But it’s a beautiful place with everything you need to be quite content.
All the tweets and status updates about how people don’t care about the sportsball didn’t really affect me. Ok. They did. But I didn’t lose my enjoyment of the sportsballs as a result of the “I don’t get your enthusiasm for sportsball” statuses/tweets. Mainly because they don’t realise what they’re saying. And no, they clearly don’t get it. It did seem to be very fashionable to tweet an air of superiority over NRL fans yesterday, and I think a lot of people miss the point about what drives residents of the Shire in particular. Say what you like about other teams, but the Cronulla Sutherland Sharks had a lot more to say than you realise with their simple running-with-ball-over-tryline activities on that field. Thousands upon thousands of normal, everyday people vent a lot of frustration and emotion with eating pies and yelling at nobody in particular at their spectator sports, and it’s not hurting anyone. It’s good for them, even. What’s it to you?
A friend of mine (Cathy) rightly pointed out that footy of any code is all about that fundamental tribalism. It’s a legal and rather expensive way to revel in the collision of bone and the dislocation of shoulders. It’s the gladiator and the lion; the painted initiated menfolk off to war or off to hunt. Yes it’s all those things. It’s very basic. And when your enjoyment of a sport comes from a long history with multi-layered meaning for you, you don’t really have to justify it to anyone but yourself. If you like the footy, good for you, and I hope you’ve had a fun season and made it along to a game or two. Sport is fun and I enjoy watching footy and doing my own sports like dressage, jumping, swimming, running and climbing. I’ll get back into them one day when I can afford them. For now, the Cronulla Sharks have made me a happy little sports fan. For reasons that belong to me.