Posted on January 31, 2006

A Hot, Wet Trail — Yet Police Remain Clueless in Cronulla

Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 30, 2006

Personalised registration plates say a lot about the people who buy them. The owner of the car with the plates HTN WET — as in “hot and wet” — is certainly making a statement. This same owner might want to make a statement to police.

He may know who was behind the wheel of the HTN WET vehicle when it rapidly pulled out of the car park at North Cronulla on Wednesday, December 7, after yet another brawl involving a group of Lebanese men, outside the North Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club. It was witnessed by several people, including a teacher from Cronulla High School.

She is from the district. She has seen many menacing incidents in Cronulla, and knows what girls at her school have had to endure for years from groups of young Lebanese men — the attempted pick-ups, the expletives, the comments about “virgins” and “Aussie sluts”. “Every girl I know has either been harassed or knows someone who’s been harassed,” she told me. Because she’s blonde and in her 20s and goes to the beach, she’s been given the treatment. “I’ve been followed on numerous occasions. It’s just constant harassment. The word “slut” gets used all the time.”

It has been routine from a sub-group who regard non-Muslim women in skimpy clothing as provocateurs and fair game. I have page after page of testimony from witnesses — mothers, teachers and girls — about this phenomenon in Cronulla.

The same teacher is also certain that the spark that lit the Cronulla riot on December 11 was not the one broadcast around the world the next day. “People just didn’t decide to bash someone who looked Lebanese. It all started when this guy outside Northies shouted, ‘I’m going to blow youse all up.’ That’s what started the pack attacking him. It wasn’t racial hatred. After September 11, people are much more sensitive about that kind of threat.”

I’ve heard similar versions from three people who know many who attended the demonstration on December 11. It will be interesting to see what emerges in court.

“It’s so disturbing,” the teacher said, “the images distributed around Australia and the world, that none of the beatings, the provocations, the filth, were even discussed. The straw that broke the camel’s back was not the assault on the two life-savers the previous Sunday [December 4]. The text messages really started to fly after the assault the following Wednesday.

“I saw the whole thing. At 4.15pm a group of Lebanese were hanging around the showers at the car park. There were about 25 to 30 of them. A local guy, about 40, was walking by and said something. One of them punched him in the head from behind. When the Anglo guy turned around and started to defend himself, they swarmed on him. He went into a foetal position and they were all kicking him. Another guy went to assist him and he was attacked.

“Then they all jumped into their cars and left. There was one number plate that stuck in my memory because it was so ridiculous — HTN WET — hot and wet. I ran into the police station and said I could identify them. I could pick one of them out by his tattoos down his arm. They were very distinctive . . .

“The police told everyone to just go home, even though there were bystanders who were saying they could identify the attackers, and people were saying this was the same group which attacked the lifesavers the previous Sunday. It was almost as if they didn’t care what we had to say. I was not contacted by one person and I went into the police station twice . . . Maybe nothing is ever done here because this is a Liberal area.”

Another witness to the assault, Warwick Kent, told me: “I saw them kick the crap out of this bloke on the ground. One big guy was waving around a numchucker, and they were screaming ‘We own this country’.

“The police arrived 15 minutes later and said it was a small event and there was no evidence. It was not a small event. It was very violent and there were more than 20 men involved.” It would become a very large event four days later.

The young teacher’s adventures were not over. On the night of December 12, she was with a group of teachers from Cronulla High having their staff Christmas party at a pizza parlour in Sylvania when, across the road, a group of Lebanese-Australian men began assembling outside Paul’s Hamburgers. It was shortly after nine o’clock on the night after the anti-Lebanese demonstration at Cronulla. It was the night of revenge convoys.

“We rang the police to tell them they were congregating, screaming, armed with bats and bars . . . Some of them were part of the same group outside the beach club on Wednesday,” she says.

A second teacher who was at the pizzeria that night, who asked not to be named, told me she called 000 to warn police that about 20 to 25 carloads of fired-up young Lebanese were armed and were gathering at the Sylvania shops. About 15 minutes later the convoy headed off in the direction of Cronulla.

Much later, after Superintendent Ken Mackay was put in charge of the investigation into the revenge attacks, the young Cronulla teacher did receive a call from police. It turned out to be Mackay himself on the line.

The positive news that may come out of all this is that the core of the trouble at Cronulla may be a group of about 30 men. Two men have been charged over the assault of the lifesavers on December 4. Other members of the same group may have been involved in the attacks outside the surf club on December 7, and the bash-and-smash raids on December 12, and general intimidation for many months.

Finally, after two months, the full story on Cronulla is emerging. That’s why the owner of HTN WET must surely be a person the police will want to have a friendly chat with. He clearly wants attention.