Going for a surf at the city beach of Maroubra in Sydney isn’t always fun. There is always the threat of being bullied by the group of resident surfers. It’s happened to me just for catching a wave they wanted, or for parking my car in a spot they have “reserved”.
In surfing culture this process of dominating a territory and imposing its cultural laws on others is entrenched, and is known as “localism”.
The “Bra Boys” dominate Maroubra Beach. Some of them travel the world chasing giant swells. Most have tattoos marking their “brotherhood”: that’s what they like to call themselves.
These surfers have recently made a “documentary” about themselves called The Bra Boys. I went to the premiere at the New South Wales State Theatre.
When I arrived I was confronted by a lot of security guards, two bag checks, and a metal detector. It made me feel as though I was “dangerous” or in the presence of a “dangerous gang”. Surf star of the film Koby Abberton stood in the foyer. He wore a tuxedo. His shirt was open to make sure everyone saw the tattoo around his neck: “My Brothers Keeper”.
The film uncritically documents the history of Maroubra Beach and the Bra Boys. Some grew up in the housing commission estates that border the south end of Maroubra Beach. The film sets up a ghetto imaginary of Maroubra. There are lots of shots of Long Bay Jail, police helicopters, street brawls, and graffiti. There are no shots of the last decade’s gentrification of Maroubra - the cafes, boardwalk, multi-million dollar houses and apartments, sporting facilities, and the like.
Overall, Maroubra Beach is painted as a home away from home. As producer Sunny Abberton says: “Maroubra Beach has been Mum and Dad to so many kids” And the “brotherhood” a family many of the members never had.
The film sets up a classic working-class narrative of a hard luck story where young men from the wrong side of the tracks struggle against the odds to make it good, and show pride in their beach by defending it from “outsiders”.
A surfing magazine editor claims this is just “good old localism”. He even says that “without localism all order at surfing beaches would fall apart”. But he’s wrong. Surfers regularly share waves with no more than skill, a hoot and smile. It’s not that pride in your beach is wrong, it’s how it is expressed that is important.
In the film the Bra Boys portray violent localism in a heroic way.
Extensive footage is shown of a brawl between the Bra Boys and off-duty police officers in December 2002 and a fight between some Bra Boys and some Lebanese-Australian thugs the day after the Cronulla Riots is covered. The Bra Boys claim to have “saved” Maroubra.
The violent culture some Bra Boys grow up in is also evident in the court case of Jai Abberton. Jai was acquitted from charges related to murdering Anthony Hines, he shot him three times in the back of the head. Hines was another Bra Boy known to be a drug dealer, rapist and stand-over man. Professional surfer Koby Abberton, Jai’s brother, went on trial for accessory to murder.
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