Something like that was the reported ‘slogan’ of the ‘Kelly Gang’ of the Glenqarie Estate in Macquarie Fields, in Sydney’s south-west. Two of the members of that hell-raising group of family and friends died in a high-speed car chase, setting off several days of riots. It’s all reminiscent of the Redfern riots, except that this time it’s Anglo kids, not Aboriginal ones, at the centre of the violence. And the same old things are being said, minus the racial element. Police brutality on one side; bored thugs on the other. Hand-wringing articles about the desperation felt by people in such places are offset by furious letters denouncing wimpish approaches to keeping law and order.
It’s something that seems to me to be not just confined to Sydney or to Palm Island or to Armidale, by the way–which has had at least two difficult-to-control riots in very recent times too. This is why I think it’s happening.
First of all, the ghettoisation of people in places like the Estate is a major problem, importing the kinds of hideous situations and no-go zones one has seen for years in cities like London and Paris. It’s hopeless for the Housing Commission to build estates of this kind. Every single estate of this sort I’ve seen(including in Armidale), is just a breeding-ground for disaffection, boredom and uncaringness. The people who want to give it a go are intimidated by the thugs and deadshits who constantly make their lives a misery. But there is another way to do it.
In Toongabbie, the western Sydney suburb my brother lives in (between Blacktown and Parramatta), housing commission flats and houses are sprinkled in between privately-owned houses. Toongabbie’s a modest place, with rather down at heel shops and so on, and a loud pub, and there’s few amenities–no cinema, not much for kids to do, but it’s not a dangerous place, and at least you can get out easily to Parramatta and so on.
Then I think there’s a real problem with a whole lot of people who would once have got work doing physical jobs of all kinds and now either can’t get them, or won’t. It’s too damn easy for a kid to get a ‘gummint’ payment–when your kids turn 16, they get sent a personal note saying they could now apply for a Youth Allowance! Our kids didn’t–on our very strong advice–but how many kids in Glenqarie and places like that would be told not to by their parents, who are themselves on welfare?
There are actually quite a lot of unskilled jobs in the building industry and so on but they are usually on building sites further into the city. It means kids having to have the initiative to actually get the job, and go there every day, ignoring the blandishments of their friends, who might prefer more thrilling activities, such as stealing cars and playing chicken with the police.
Then there’s the huge, huge problem of drugs and drink. It’s a cross-generational thing; the older ones are powerless to stop it; the middle generation is wiped out on it, and has neglected and/or abused its children; and the younger ones are mad with it, live only to ingest enormous quantities of it. This is so especially in Aboriginal society, and other underclass situations (because I think in many ways Aboriginal problems are very much underclass problems).
There’s a few reasons why stimulants and stupefiants have become such a problem: a permissive general culture; drugs and drink freely available; a loss of authority and meaning; and probably the most important, the fact that the nannification of our young in a risk-averse culture like ours means that few legitimate opportunities for risk and aventure exist. Boredom is the flip side of ultra-safety. Boredom infects the young of all classes and situations; the earnest analysis and endless parrot talk that pours out of our talky babyboomer-dominated culture every day, washing over young people like a great grey tide. Unfortunately, instead of having the nous to get up and change their lives, of going to see the world or whatever, of getting off their bums in short and not waiting for the roast duck to fly into the mouth–they take the easy, commercial option, the option typical of a consumerist society–sucking on the Jim Beam or the dope or the coke or what have you.
The articles on the riots were rabbitting on about the fact few of the kids in that area did their HSC. Well, big deal. The extra two years only means two years of childcare for most kids, anyway, who are itching to get out. Postponing problems for two years is not much use. And besides, given the crap HSC curriculum, especially in the only compulsory subject, English, just what kind of help is it going to be to a ‘Kelly Gang’ type, anyway? Those kids need much more than more dull routine and earnest gabbling about feminism, post-colonialism, deconstruction et al. Especially when you see many of the schools out there, where the teachers are dead scared of the kids and basically just work on crowd control.
Those kids need work, most especially. They need to get off the welfare mentality. And they need to get out of the ghetto.
But people have also got to stop excusing the criminals. You can understand what leads to a situation without excusing it. I know people who have been through hideous experiences–here and in other countries–who have nevertheless not allowed themselves to turn nto professional victims let alone criminals.
The first victims of crime anyway are usually the criminal’s neighbours–the poor and helpless who are trapped in housing estates and who have to face the threat of the thug or the vandal or the drug-dealer or the standover man as well as ugly housing and lack of opportunity.
These kids stole a car–not some rich person’s car, I’m sure(and even if it was, so what?) It’s not a victimless crime. We had our car stolen once–it was a little old Toyota Corolla, uninsured(except for third-party), down-at-heel, and clearly belonging to people who weren’t well off. The mongrels who took it could see that clearly, I’m sure–but what did they care? They were just jungle predators, and we were their prey. (It was taken and stripped for its engine and spare parts.To add insult to injury, when it was finally found, we had to pay for its towing to the wreckers’ yard!). Yet it was surprising to hear how many people told US off, for not having had our car insured–which we couldn’t afford to, anyway. It wasn’t worth the premium. But it was our only car. And we were 800 kms from home, with two small kids, when it was taken. Very little sympathy was expressed for us, though!
Now of course the kids in Macquarie Fields who took that car were ‘joy-riders’ –but they still took something that didn’t belong to them (wonder how they would have felt if someone had done that to them, probably bashed them up!). They didn’t deserve to die, but it was their fault, and that of their dumb mate who took off. The rioters know that full well, but it’s an opportunity too good to miss, to inject some drama and meaning into their lives., fuelled by plenty of drugs and drink. Now the Kelly Gang have got starring roles on TV, radio and newspapers, just like their mythologised namesake. Hey, that means something, in our celebrity culture. It means so much more than actually working out that if you’d really rather be ‘anywhere but here’, you should piss off out of there and get a bloody life!