Cronulla Riots: The Event That Stopped My Lesson Plans

This Saturday marks the tenth anniversary of one of the most shameful days in Australian history – the Cronulla Riots. I still vividly remember the weekend that the riot and the retaliation attacks took place, but even more than those days, I remember the lessons I had with my classes in the school week that followed. All lessons plans were immediately discarded (yes, back then I actually wrote lesson plans!) and each lesson was devoted to discussions about the actions, and thoughts of those people involved in the riots and retaliations. Those were some of the most frank, confronting and passionate conversations I’ve had with teenagers. We argued about who was responsible (our culture? our history? the people? the police? the media?) and what the cost would be to social cohesion… we shared our sadness, our frustration, our confusion. We shared our fears that the same thing might happen on our beaches, and confessed our relief that the train-lines didn’t come out to the Northern Beaches. We shared our shock that people from Long Reef Surf Club wrote horrible, racist, divisive statements on the carpark. It was a bizarre period of shared emotion, and I’ll never forget how worried I personally felt for my sons’ futures in Australia.

A month ago I was asked by the SBS Learn team to create some resources to support an interactive documentary made a couple of years ago for SBS called Cronulla Riots: The Day That Shocked The Nation. The resources launch was to coincide with the 1oth anniversary of the riots. I’d not seen the documentary, but once I spent some time interacting with it, I knew straight away that I would take the writing job. It’s a powerful text, that I truly believe is essential viewing for all young people. It is not just emotionally compelling, but also full of information about the role that the media played in inciting the event, the history of Cronulla and the Shire, the evolving multicultural landscape (specifically with a focus on the migration of people from Lebanon, and the influence of their culture and faith on areas such as Lakemba, and Punchbowl) and the rise of nationalism in Australia. It is so beautifully constructed, and gives voice to the key individuals and groups involved in the riots, and the proceeding retaliation attacks, painting a portrait of the complex factors that culminated in such a shocking, and shameful chapter in Australian history.

Please do take the time to interact with the documentary here.

Also, consider using the accompanying teaching resources with your classes. There are three main parts to the resource: Exploring Perspectives; Exploring Representations of Culture and Exploring the Documentary Form. The resources are free, and aligned to the English, Media and Geography syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum.

Ultimately, I hope that having our young people engage with this text and the supporting resources will mean that something like this will never happen again in Australia. We teachers have a powerful role to play in that hope.



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