A suburb I used to know
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A suburb I used to know

History teacher Peter Roberts grew up in Greenacre, scene of yet another shooting involving men of Middle Eastern background

Gunned down: Police investigate the Wilbur Street shooting.

Gunned down: Police investigate the Wilbur Street shooting. 

Wilbur Street, Greenacre? I remember it well. I remember riding my bike around Wilbur Street, and when I ran away from home at 10 I hid in the corner telephone box. I used to catch the bus to Lakemba when I missed the one from Roberts Road. Never a soul to be seen.

Roberts Road. We (the neighbourhood kids from Wilbur Street to Chaseling Street) used to play tennis on Roberts Road. All our street games were played on Roberts Road. We grew up on Roberts Road. Now it's a six-lane highway of murderous intent.

Roberts Park? Sure. That's where I used to play rugby league football for St John's Lakemba under-10s.

Garry Hughes played five-eighth and I played on the wing and Grahame Hughes was ball boy. We always had runaway victories there and we won the premiership – that was 1962. I can't remember any shootings at the time, but I believe it was the scene of one or two recently.

Nouriel Park, Greenacre? Yes, that's where I played in the under-9s for the Greenacre Soccer Club and trained every Monday afternoon. We were undefeated champions and KO winners. The year was 1961. Can't remember any rapes happening there – only cut legs and the odd broken limb. I believe it was the scene of a horrific rape a few years ago.

Lakemba? Sure, that's where we went to the Saturday matinee at the Odeon every week and watched such pearls as the Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis and Ben Hur.

We always bought chips and scallops at the Greek fish and chips shop waiting for the bus, and a small Coke, if we could afford it. This was even before supermarkets, or traffic lights, on Punchbowl Road.

Greenacre was my home, but it has changed. Some say for the better. Multiculturalism was the justification of all things hard to accept.

When you see your homeland, which was what Greenacre was, turned into a minefield, or a battlefield, or a refuge of drug dealers, criminals, drive-by shooters and terror – you find yourself in a quandary. It's all part and parcel of the greater good, of the New Australia, of the emergence of alternative cultures – it's just a settling-in process.

Whatever the apologists say, it's traumatic to read about the new Greenacre where I had my roots. It's tragic to see things go so wrong.

The police are powerless. I've seen it first-hand. They are harassed and intimidated for simply doing their job. The Premier says we can have confidence in the police to apprehend the culprits of a recent murder in Wilbur Street. Even if they do, which is unlikely, as the local residents live in permanent fear of reprisals, can they stop the next shooting and the next?

Soon Greenacre/Lakemba will be an enclave of little Lebanon, with all the worst features transported from a failed country to a new one, one still proud of its tolerance. I am told time and again that tolerance is not weakness. A bit like saying appeasement is not weakness. But I'm growing more sceptical.

That was my home – the place where I simply couldn't imagine living anywhere else once – transformed to the place where I could never imagine living again.

I suppose once my generation dies out, everything the place once was dies too. And good for that, some would say.

For me, I moved to a safe haven on the north side – looking back not in anger, but in disbelief.

Peter Roberts was a Sydney history teacher before moving to Asia as an English examiner for the British Council.


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