It was a very quiet memorial indeed for the Cronulla riots, as a feared repeat of the ugly 2005 violence fizzled into nothing more than a picnic lunch and a long aimless walk.
Around 40 anti-Islamic protestors gathered at one end of Don Lucas Reserve as a hodge-podge of left-wing counter protestors -- socialist, aboriginal, anti-fascist and student groups -- assembled in greater numbers at the other end. With organiser Nick Folkes, of right wing group Party For Freedom, banned by court order from holding an official rally to mark 10 years since the race riots, protestors instead held a BBQ.
"I'm here to celebrate a free Australia and freedom of speech and to celebrate Australian culture with a halal free barbecue of a pig on a spit," said Nick Folkes, chairman of the Party for Freedom.
A whole pig was placed on a spit, with a considerable effort to start roasting the pig -- first with a petrol generator, then with hot coals -- abandoned as trays of pork were uncovered for sandwiches. Sunscreen and water were passed around the crowd, as was a donation bucket for a "fighting fund." Men in cut-off flannelette shirts, retirees in shorts and thongs, a few young women in bikinis with homemade "stop radical Islam" signs, an out-of-place bagpiper and one man in a motorcycle jacket and Santa hat gathered.
As a series of speakers got on a megaphone, from Rise Up Australia founder Danny Nalliah to artist Sergio Redegalli, news and police helicopters hovered overhead. Over the hill and down the road, past a fleet of police vehicles -- riot squad 4WDs, dune buggies, command centre buses and pushbikes -- the patchwork group of anti-protestors formed.
Socialist Alliance, aboriginal groups, students and other left-wing groups, all brandishing different banners and chanting different chants, far outnumbered the group whose assembly they were protesting. In contrast to what was actually a very calm and uneventful "memorial" from Party For Freedom, the counter protestors -- some with face coverings -- began turning violent.
The guys in masks just found a guy in a Eureka Stockade shirt and jumped him. Now charging around yelling "mob up" pic.twitter.com/bIWjbMNIt7— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) December 12, 2015
Police, in small numbers at the BBQ site, swarmed to the counter protest. A line of black riot squad police formed a human chain encircling the group, police on horseback patrolling the outer perimeter. One man in a Eureka Stockade shirt managed to find his way inside the ring, and was swiftly advanced on and mobbed by young men in face coverings, police forced to rush in and escort him away. Other supporters of the memorial, clad in various attire bedecked with the Australian flag, were also approached and confronted by the masked men.
Riot squad cops have totally encircled the Cronulla counter protest. Helicopter hovering overhead pic.twitter.com/VvKfSrp5zm— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) December 12, 2015
As the atmosphere in the counter protest turned steadily nastier and some people were led away by police, there were fears the two groups may clash. Eventually, however, the counter protestors began moving south along the shore -- away from the memorial.
An Aboriginal rights activist was arrested by police, along with another anti-protestor -- believed to be wearing a bandana -- who was searched and arrested.
A long, ambling, seemingly aimless walk along Cronulla's beachside bike track later, protestors arrived at the train station -- and simply walked onto the platform and boarded a train, chanting "we'll be back."
It was not immediately clear exactly WHEN the group planned to return.
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A whole hodge podge of counter-protestors to the Cronulla memorial - socialist, aboriginal and anti-racist groups pic.twitter.com/Y4kkFH5nE9— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) December 12, 2015