In Australian mythology there is an invisible line between bronzed Anzacs and bronzed lifesavers. So when a gang "of Middle Eastern descent" attacked two surf lifesavers at Cronulla beach in Sydney earlier this month, the reaction from across the nation was of instant outrage.
The enduring image of an Australian lifesaver is a young man or woman who is brave, bronzed, sun-bleached and muscular, standing silently on the shore, gazing out to sea, watching over the rest of us as we carelessly frolic in the ocean. They use their physical strength and hard-won expertise to protect us, often at personal cost and danger to themselves, and most do it for free.
Paul Scott, a lecturer in communications at the University of Newcastle and a student of surf culture, says the symbolic position occupied by surf lifesavers in Australian society is one reason there was such a strong reaction to the bashing of the lifesavers. "There's a bit of a feeling that if you attack them you attack us," he says. "There's a view that they are the bronzed sons of Anzacs. Australian beach culture is very 'white bread', and the key components are youth and localism.
"Even when people go to another beach they still respect the locals and the fact that the locals have an association with a place. Here, people saw that localism as being attacked by a group who wasn't local or at least didn't seem to be."
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