A mob surrounds and attacks a man of Middle Eastern appearance during the Cronulla riots. Photo: Andrew Meares An angry mob attacks a man at North Cronulla beach on December 11, 2005. Photo: Andrew Meares
A police officer rescues the man. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Out of the corner of my eye I see this guy and he’s running for his life. The mob are chasing him, landing king-hits as he attempts to run away.
Cronulla was in chaos.
He ended up seeking the only refuge he could find on the back of a ute.
And this was kind of horrific for him, but it created a barrier that allowed me to get on the other side of the ute and then the crowd all piled in behind him.
I focused and squeezed the shutter. My gut twisted as I listened to the thumps. The crowd patiently queued to have a go as the victim bent forward, absorbing the frenzy.
When I heard that volunteer lifesavers were attacked earlier that week I knew there would be a response. I was there on the Friday when the local area commander announced extra police, anticipating trouble. I immediately rang my photo desk and suggested we assign extra photographers. The shock jocks talked it up but I didn’t expect it to be this ugly.
By the time I turned up on the Sunday afternoon things had already kicked off. The mob would surge for no apparent reason. I realised to capture the action you had to be on the periphery.
The events on the fringe became the core.
Beer bottles were now smashing on his head and I’m contemplating correct exposure and managing the digital buffer rate with my motor drive, and, oh, would my composition be better if I moved a little bit to the left? I squeeze the shutter.
I had these competing things going on in my head, and at the same time you’re human. This is wrong, how’s this going to end? This is just going to continue. Anyway, at that point you’re thinking, “Well, the best thing I can do is take photos”.
While press photography can be callous it actually requires compassion. I wanted to show the brutality and I wanted to save this guy and realised the best and only option I had was to continue taking photos.
As the attack continued I imagined he probably would have ended up on the ground and the crowd would’ve just kept kicking him. Then what?
My photos couldn’t stop that. I felt pathetic.
At that point a constable intervened with pepper spray and he single-handedly grabbed the victim by the collar and extracted him. The crowd paused the assault but not all are satisfied. A police dog barked and lunged at those seeking to sneak in a final low blow.
Our attention is drawn towards the beach. An ambulance escorted by police on foot is providing safe passage for visitors who appear non-Anglo caught up in the affray. The crowd are not happy.
The procession halts as the mob close in and start pounding the windows and rocking the ambulance. The police are overwhelmed. I raise my camera to make pictures and then the first bottle thrown explodes on my head. I stagger to the side of a car to recompose, confused. Beer gives way to blood. It doesn’t stop. Cronulla calmed and I was left with two stitches and eight columns on the front page.
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