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74 responses to “Bra Boys: "When Being A Man Is All You've Got?"*”

  1. glen

    dr evers, he wrote his PhD on surfing and masculinity, and see his blog: http://blownglass.wordpress.com/

  2. derrida derider

    You’re not seriously complaining about the lack of women in this film are you? God knows we suffer through so many chick flicks in which men are a mere background to female angst.

    As for the downtrodden working class bit, it’s bizarre to examine it using white men in Maroubra (median house price: in the squillions). You might as well choose Toorak or Vaucluse. Go west if you want to look at those issues.

  3. glen

    dd, do you live in sydney? The cultural questions emerge over time, ie in the past, and the proper context involves generational change. ‘bra was working class.

  4. murph the surf

    The housing commission areas of Maroubra weren’t priviledged .
    There were many, many drug addicted petty crims and their off spring struggling along there well apart from the gentrified beachside areas .And that gentrification has only been going on for 10-15 years .
    Much of this movie is myth generating and disingenuous .The Bra Boys will be a brand name soon enough and then they’ll cash in and not shed a tear as they leave Maroubra in their wake.
    40 years ago it was North Bondi that was the area which spawned the myths.The same story has been relocated a few kilometers south.
    Anthony Hines was a career criminal and a brutal one. Shot in the head and then having his body thrown off a cliff doesn’t sound like the way to show that he was still part of the tribe.
    Unfortunately this movie is about the money , more money and if bullshitting a bunch of outsiders is needed well who cares ?

  5. philiptravers

    Russell Crowe sure cops the criticism.But look at it this way,Russell is grounding himself now in Australia and wanting to make Australian films,with Australian characters.You have to start somewhere,and maybe film-making will go on improving in Australia,because Russell may have learnt a thing or two.Whilst the comments here dont include Russell as object, or subject, he wanted to work on the film.One more approachable human being,considering the man isnt always that approachable. Dont blow it entirely,by sending it too the unrecyclable descriptions.And if you think something should be made here,at least.. if it isnt a bother… for Russell he might be able to assess its worthiness..even under some other folk… besides himself.This isnt a support for Howard policy settings today.

  6. Darlene

    I’ll be interested to have a look at Dr Evers’s blog. Thanks for that.

    “You’re not seriously complaining about the lack of women in this film are you? God knows we suffer through so many chick flicks in which men are a mere background to female angst.”

    Yes, I am seriously complaining about it.

    I think we know well enough that the invisibility of women says a lot about the community in which they live, and their status within it. Err, sorry if you’ve had to suffer through so many chick flicks. : (

    I suspect women living in working-class communities have had to suffer through worse things.

    The words “working class” and “housing commission” are used repeatedly in the film. While Maroubra might have changed, the Bra Boys still see class as important, and so do I. In the midst of gentrification, working-class people can still be in attendance (although often even more marginalised then before).

    “Much of this movie is myth generating and disingenuous.”

    True……although it’s an interesting film (for all its faults – the soundtrack is fantastic).

    Yes, Hines was shot and thrown off a cliff, but they still paid tribute to him at the end of the film.

  7. Gianna

    darlene, i watched this on the weekend and i hated it. i too found it odd and very noticeable that there were no women in the film (and i think the only ones you didn’t mention were a couple of girls dancing briefly almost out of frame during one of the boys’ street drinking/partying moments).
    no derrider derrider, this is not the opposite of a chickflick. in fact men are often the raison d’etre of the chicks in the chickflicks. it’s the way the women seem to be entirely missing from these young men’s lives that is depressing. there doesn’t seem to be any positive female influence beyond “Ma” (their grandmother)’s laissez-faire open house attitude, but she’s not exactly actively parenting. there’s no tangible interest in partnerships with women, or children or creating families. there’s no sense of a future other than the dream of surf stardom and meanwhile, it’s all about impressing the gang’s alpha males.
    i found this to be a very self-serving and depressing film. unless they happen to be lucky enough to possess saleable surfing talent, their lifestyle offers nowhere to go.
    i found it telling that Jai, having been acquitted of Hines’ murder, tells the doco that he won’t rat on someone who was a mate; mateship above all, no condemnation of Hines’s crimes or sympathy for his victims. and yet we’re supposed to have deep sympathy for them.

  8. Darlene

    Good points, Gianna.

    I watched the film three times on the weekend, and watched Romper Stomper, Once Were Warriors, Puberty Blues, Australian Rules and something else I can’t remember because I was probably in a daze by the time I got to it.

    Men often have many roles in “chick flicks (lover, bad guy, husband, brother etc). Perhaps being a Bra Boy is like having an eternal boyhood (complete with a shared handshakes and matching tattoos). No girls allowed…nyah nyah nyah (and no poofs as well).

    “Ma’s” open-door policy had some merit. Lads like mucking around with other lads. The lack of emphasis on things like education was depressing though.

    Yep, Jai also said that he was “spewing” that Tony had put in him that situation. Those words seem so so wrong given the context.

    Yes, there was a couple of dancing women and a topless entertainer who gets jumped by one of the boys in there, but at least “Ma”, the mums and the little girls had some relevance to the action in one way or another.

    It’d be great to see a story about a man, woman or girl or boy from the “housing commission” estates who’ve gotten a Ph.D. or something. And that’s not to decry the value of sport.

  9. Pavlov's Cat

    there’s no tangible interest in partnerships with women, or children or creating families. there’s no sense of a future other than the dream of surf stardom and meanwhile, it’s all about impressing the gang’s alpha males.

    Sounds like primary school to me, as Darlene also hints in that comment above.

    This movie is a doco, not a feature film (unlike chick flicks, so that comparison doesn’t really work), so the absence of women (from the film, not from their lives) doesn’t bother me as much as it otherwise might. But I can’t quite work out here what is bothering people most — is it the absence of women from the film as such, or the absence of women from these men’s boys’ actual lives?

    If you make a doco, you’re reflecting what’s there — though of course it’s still ideologically shaped in the sense that you get to choose what to leave out. But if you write a fictional feature film then you have complete control over content and you’re constructing a vision of the world and a story about it that projects an ideological view, whether it’s implicit or overt.

    Was it a pure documentary, or a fictionalised one with a storyline? Either way, the makers would be far more limited in what they could include than if it were a feature film from scratch — so the whole gender analysis would have to be done on a different basis.

    Darlene, you must be the only person in the world who can spell Phil Butterss’ name correctly.

  10. Rebekka

    God knows we suffer through so many chick flicks in which men are a mere background to female angst.

    What complete and utter tripe. Men in so-called “chick flicks” are seldom if ever a mere background – what they generally are is the active to the feminine passive. The women in chick flicks are usually objects, acted upon by the male lead (and sometimes other male characters).

    Chick flicks are generally a variant of the archetyal girl-is-rescued-by-brave-knight tale. Sometimes she is rescued from a bad guy. Sometimes she is just rescued from boredom/loneliness/etc as women clearly (sarcasm, sarcasm) can’t be happy alone. The female angst might be there, but it’s a passive reaction either to the action of a man, or it’s a reaction to the (temporary in the film) absence of the male, and I’ll definitely agree it is annoying, but the men are not the background; the angst is always the background, men are the foreground.

    Hello, patriarchy.

    Men often have many roles in “chick flicks (lover, bad guy, husband, brother etc).

    I’ll say! And well done for drawing attention to the lack of female characters in the film. Analysing a culture without paying attention to the women in it is (a) typical of the patriarchy and (b) kinda boring, frankly.

  11. Kim

    I’m in a net cafe so I just want to ask a quick question rather than join the debate. Darlene, is it worth renting, taking into account the reservations you have about its gender politics?

  12. Gianna

    But I can’t quite work out here what is bothering people most — is it the absence of women from the film as such, or the absence of women from these men’s boys’ actual lives?

    no, not the absence from the film because that would imply some kind of deliberate editing out and would raise other questions; the apparent absence from their actual lives is what struck me.

  13. Gianna

    and it did make you want to know some of the local women’s stories. what are they all off invisibly doing while the male contingent are busy being homies?

  14. Darlene

    I wanted to pass on some links before I respond to the latest comments:

    It seems that Mark Wahlberg is possibly going to play Koby Abberton in a feature film about the Bra Boys. The myth continues.

    The Bra Boys seem to think they can even own waves. Ridiculous.

  15. Darlene

    Dr. Clifton Evers is an expert on the topics of masculinity and surfing/sport:

    http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=5607

  16. Darlene

    “But I can’t quite work out here what is bothering people most — is it the absence of women from the film as such, or the absence of women from these men’s boys’ actual lives?”

    Good question. Both, I think. In relation to surfing, it’s like that famous scene from Puberty Blues in which Nell Schofield took up surfing never happened. If women are absent from a doco, it more than strongly suggests that women are not important to the men in it. The movie is a straight doco. The feature film looks set to come.

    Kim, yes please watch it. It’s an interesting film: energetic and, as I said previously, the music is fantastic, and the surfing scenes rock. It can be watched on different levels. As a woman from a working-class background, I just found the absence of women striking. At least those films I mentioned in the post acknowledged women. That scene when Grace in Once Were Warriors kills herself is surely one of the most heartbreaking scenes in cinema.

    Bek, the lack of women is not just boring but very telling.

    PS – Phil’s surname is a tough one. It’s hard not to write “Buttress” let me tell you, Pavlov.

  17. jinmaro

    I understood that the Housing Commission flat section of Maroubra that gave birth to the Bra Boys gang is noted for its numbers of street kids, much like Kings Cross was in the 80s and early 90s before the recent gentrification, i.e. effectively homeless boys and runaways linking up the local boys with absent fathers and drug addicted mothers. As well as its negative masculinist features the gang provided a much needed culture of support, identity creation and rewarding physical activity and, dare I say it, spiritual enjoyment that the mastery of surfing can be.

    There are many women living in Housing Commission areas of Sydney with children who are severely drug addicted and no support other than social security. The male gang that is the Bra Boys developed out of a social environment of poverty, parental drug abuse and absence, isolation, and lack of adult supervision and care.

  18. Pavlov's Cat

    A suggestion to cheer people up about the women-and-surfing thing, post-Puberty Blues: there’s a novel just out by one Emma Hardman called Nine Parts Water, about a female surfing ex-champion a la Layne Beachley and her ilk, if she has any ilk, which I doubt. It’s very good — shortlisted for the 2006 ABC Fiction Award — and it’s got some really wonderful stuff about surfing in it.

    Jinmaro’s timely use of the word ‘spiritual’ up there was what made me think of it:

    But Cal stayed out, until there was no one left. The air was sweet and warm, the water light and bubbly like champagne. She was looking for that last ride, that perfect little wave that curled and curled, just tickling her heels. She stayed, looking out to the horizon until there was nothing but an eerie light in the sky; the waves just shadows coming towards her, moving through her to the shore.

    One more wave, she told herself, as the first stars came out in the mulberry-coloured sky, just one more wave, and she’d make it last. She would hold off the darkness for as long as she could.

  19. Darlene

    “As well as its negative masculinist features the gang provided a much needed culture of support, identity creation and rewarding physical activity and, dare I say it, spiritual enjoyment that the mastery of surfing can be.”

    That’s all true. The question is why can’t there be a culture of support etc without the negative masculinist features? Surfing looks ace, but the surf should be open to everybody.

    Mother Abberton (not “Ma”) was an addict and her boyfriend was an armed robber. Not a good beginning for the boys. Perhaps the uncomfortable answer to any question about how females cope in Maroubra is that they don’t.

    PC, link doesn’t work. Thanks for telling us about Emma’s book

  20. Pavlov's Cat

    Hmm, lets see: Emma Hardman.

    That’s better.

    I think.

  21. casey

    How dreary and predictable that the Bra Boys documentary transforms antisocial tendencies born of familial dysfunction into the beloved national traits of the mythical Australian.

    How boring, will it always be so that we will clothe our dysfunctional urban stories with the hallowed garments of that fabled australian type who never did exist anyway? Dont we have something new to say yet? Not yet even? Bra boys attempts its transformation of the Atherton bros depressing tale by reinterpreting it through the national narratives of desire. Here is the battler genre and its attendant critique of class, there is the loveable larrakin who follows his own codes of honour, while rejecting the all societal instruments of control. Here we have Kobi the great hero winning surfing comps while being charged and prosecuted as an accessory in the murder of Hinze. Not only in the bush, not only on the beaches of Gallipoli, but here also on the shores of Maroubra obviously. Ah they have been victimised indeed these guys.

    And audaciously, Bra Boys also does this: If we didnt get seduced by the appearance national type being shoved in our faces, we can consider how the white surfer boys of Maroubra share an affinity with the sheer otherness of Aboriginal identity!!!! Yes, for here the show opens with the original dispossession of Aboriginals for no other reason than to strategically parallel their experience of dispossession with the poor beachy white types of Maroubra. Here is a quote from Russ: “The conflict”, he tells us, “started as early as colonial times with the banning of Aboriginals swimming in the surf. When the surfers returned in the early 1900’s, the line between them and the establishment was drawn”. Except the surfers had been bleached white or something cause now they are no longer Aboriginal. Nice sleight of hand. Extraordinary work really.

    Yes the women, well they do have their place but only as otherworldy constructs or as convenient triggers for the spontaneous and regular eruptions of violence which seems to be a requisite component of this culture. Allowed a presence is that boring old dichotomy: The sainted, unsexed mothers (the old Ma, the plump middleaged mothers of the grommits who happily entrust their spawn to the Bra Boys) or drug addled promiscuous letdowns (addicted mother of the aBbertons who had five kids by five different fathers or whatever). Also making its appearance in this groundbreaking expose of masculinist surfer culture is the innovative idea of woman as property. Who knew? Here woman gains importance only when she functions as the unviolable sexual property of a man and only then we get the glimpse of the anonymous women who became the triggers which led to the death of hinze. Hinze considers Abberton and co guilty of sleeping with his girlfriend (name unknown). He kills one, maims another and attempts to rape girlfriend? of Abberton (name also unknown). Why werent these women intereviewed? But wouldnt they have a story to tell? But wouldnt that mess with the Macdonalds offering of masculinity in this doco?

    oh Blah. If I wanted mysoginist aussie battler genre I woulda reread “We were the rats” or something.

  22. Nabakov

    Having not seen the film, I feel I can confidently offer an opinion here. Several in fact.

    A) – the settings, characters and general premise could be a damn good feature film in the right hands – Romper Stomper meets Puberty Blues meets Chopper meets Stone meets Morning Of The Earth. Done right it would make Point Break look like an energetic yet utterly predictable big budget Hollywood movie with Keanu Reeves. And then wrap it up with “the ladies were manipulating them after all” coda a la Essex Boys or The Last Seduction.

    B) if, god forbid, Australia ever found itself in another desperate major war for our geographical/economic/social integrity like WW2, then I, as some kinda SOE/OSS fixer, would cheerfully hand the Bra Boys a bunch of weapons, some GPS/encrypted satcom tech, a carton of Johnny Walker Blue Label and a couple of ounces of quality puff (for bargining purposes natch), a map reference, some stealth surfboards and the suggestion that their ADF-issued esky could store at least two high-powered enemy heads, order up some below the radar delivery vehicle like a small long range patrol boat or a sub to deliver them within striking distance and then sit back and spin the results for public consumption while ignoring, because they’ve become a political embarassment at Russell Hill, their increasingly desperate and bitter text messages calling for for extraction in the face of overwhelming odds.

    “I don’t know what they’ll do to the enemy; but, by God, they frighten me.”

    C) Don’t see why A and B together shouldn’t make a great flick. Surfer Stomper Z-Force: First Wave.

    D) There is no point D.

  23. jo

    nabs

    the Z boys doco and movie Lords of Dogtown covered the ‘board shorts to board room’ genre….and in typical yankee fashion – they went all the way…

    kids from shite beach in industrial area create whole extreme sports culture & change entire world.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z-Boys

    this doesnt mean we can’t put togehter our little ozzie version…… high-lighting the fight scene with local cops at the coogee-randwick rsl – including laying into the female cops, the boys being just too lazy to take the corpse further than the north head of the beach and chucking it over ten feet from marine drive across the road from blocks and flats and shops!, some lame current affair interview with some leb bikie gang after cronulla riots which..didnt make any difference & the area got smashed anyway….kobi coming second in a few big wave comps…..phew, the list is endless.

  24. Kim

    Thanks, Darlene, I’ll check it out when I get a chance. Interesting post and thread btw.

  25. Nabakov

    That was not exactly what I was simulteanously parodying yet gunging on about Jo but I like your thinking. Didn’t you do some pipe laying on the A-Team rebirth material?

    Let’s have our people do lunch and break some story as well as bread.

  26. Darlene

    Thanks, Kim. Be interested to hear your feedback.

    Casey, once again, terrific comments. What a beautiful analysis. You’ve obviously seen the film. One of the Bra Boys does identify himself as Aboriginal at the end of the film (when they are doing the Bra Boys multicultural list of nationalities).

    “How dreary and predictable that the Bra Boys documentary transforms antisocial tendencies born of familial dysfunction into the beloved national traits of the mythical Australian.”

    Yes, we’ve seen it a million times before.

    “The sainted, unsexed mothers (the old Ma, the plump middleaged mothers of the grommits who happily entrust their spawn to the Bra Boys) or drug addled promiscuous letdowns (addicted mother of the aBbertons who had five kids by five different fathers or whatever).”

    The only women worth mentioning apparently. I think Mother Abberton had four kids to three different dads. No explanation of what led to her drug addiction etc

    Nabs, it probably would make a good film (I’m sure it would also feature lanky blonde models – not the lasses from the “housing commission”).

    As for Russ Crowe (I think he’s been mentioned), that boy tries sooooooooooo hard to be one of the lads. Too hard, try hard.

  27. casey

    Thanks Darlene. Yeah they work hard to make their linkages with otherness everywhere. The Aboriginal surfer is interviewed in the doco and there are references to how the beach was defended on the night of the cronulla riots by surfers who come from a multicultural background and how three of them did not even speak english. they seem to be claiming every available category of oppression from which to speak, which is interesting in itself, – the desire to recast themselves sympathetically is palpable. Shame it leaves any serious probing of this culture behind in its anxiety to make them cardboard cutout heroes of the poor white underbelly of sydney.

  28. Kim

    That’s really interesting. There’s a big story in there about the intersection of class and ethnicity, and what terms unfocussed deviance can be expressed in.

  29. jinmaro

    That’s all true. The question is why can’t there be a culture of support etc without the negative masculinist features? Surfing looks ace, but the surf should be open to everybody.

    I haven’t seen the film Darlene but your review made me think of the work of Jungian academics and psychologists, such as Latrobe’s David Tacey, who write about how in our society young males, particularly from areas like lower working class Maroubra, are left to themselves to become men by chance with the result that they can be drawn to form gangs, or use sport, to find ways to secure a sense of being men.

    The all-male groups formed, they explain, act as a de facto patriarchal society which substitutes for the broader one they inhabit in which the Father is absent. These groups or gangs typically get caught up in bondings that parody and exaggerate important aspects of masculine maturity, such as assertiveness, autonomy and independence, resulting in familiar forms of bullying, violence, misogyny, territoriality, taking the law into one’s one hands, etc.

    It is interesting in this context too that the film, as you say, refers to the Aboriginal history of the area and of course it is next door to La Perouse one of the oldest and largest (post 1788) Aboriginal communities in Australia.

    Tacey et al also compare and contrast contemporary society and how primal societies, like that of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, had rituals, ceremonies and practices that helped mark young males’ transition to becoming a man. The aim of traditional initiation was to help young males acquire a sense of masculine identity, the death of boyhood identity, and confidence in their masculinity. But, the Jungians say, there is an absence of a positive, empowering cultural vision of what it means to be a man in contemporary Australia and for many boys and young men this is exacerbated by the absence of the crucial role, or even presence, of older men in assisting young males into mature, rounded manhood. All of which seems to match what I know about the Bra Boys gang.

  30. Darlene

    Yes, all those linkages with otherness, but as one of those links I provided early on indicate they have trouble when some versions of the “other” want to surf the same waves as them.

    Koby says that Sunny is his male role model. Koby was kicked out of home when he was young by his mother’s criminal thug boyfriend. None of them knew their real fathers. The absence of “dad” is a big deal, not the least because it leads to a boy feeling rejected by the man who is supposed to love him the most.

    How this impacts on a boy’s development into a man is probably very complex.

    So yes, they were left to themselves to become men, and that has resulted in an exaggerated (and harmful) masculine identity.

    David Tacey’s work sounds intriguing. It’d be good if boys growing up today in similar circumstances could find positive male role models/mentors/whatever one wants to call it who could help them along. In this way, perhaps the physical areas of life such as sport could inspire academic study. For example, the history of rugby league is very rich and could lead to discussion about a whole range of other topics.

    Interesting comments on this thread. Thanks.

  31. Kim

    For example, the history of rugby league is very rich and could lead to discussion about a whole range of other topics.

    Darlene, I think there are a couple of Sydney academics who write on the social history of rugby league but it’s not really my thing so I can’t give you any names. I suspect glen would know. Since he’s the expert in cultural studies of boofiness 😉

  32. Darlene

    Thanks, Kim.

    Does Glen have a degree in “Cultural studies of boofiness”? Tee hee.

    Glen, if you are reading this some of your expertise on boofiness would come in handy.

  33. jinmaro

    David Tacey’s work sounds intriguing. It’d be good if boys growing up today in similar circumstances could find positive male role models/mentors/whatever one wants to call it who could help them along.

    It is very interesting Darlene and Tacey is a clear and even literary writer who is a pleasure to read. His critique of patriarchy is a broad one though and it is not merely the literal absence or failures of these boys biological fathers, or even a decent substitute, but the failure of a corrupt, entrenched, spiritually impoverished, dominant masculinity that is his primary target.

    He has applied these insights too to account for the state of many Aboriginal communities and what he calls the “deformed initiatory fervour” and “secular retribalisation” which he says can explain a lot of the harmful group behaviour of many young Aboriginal men.

  34. Kim

    Darlene, glen’s phd is on car culture, if I recall correctly.

  35. Sacha

    Darlene, you can post photos of Koby Abberton in board shorts any day.

  36. Darlene

    Sacha, Sacha, Sacha. What can one say about that comment, Sacha. Mmmm, I guess I can see what some people would find attractive in a physical sense about Koby.

    Hmmm, car culture. I remember somebody doing a Ph.D. on a motorcycle gang through the anthropology department when I was at uni.

    “…but the failure of a corrupt, entrenched, spiritually impoverished, dominant masculinity that is his primary target.”

    Does he suggest that the failure of dominant masculinity has been caused by factors such as the work culture which demands that men be away from families for extended periods of time?

    Does â??deformed initiatory fervourâ?? and â??secular retribalisationâ?? manifest itself in the adoption of distorted ideas of the traditional culture? See, for example, the oldest son in Once Were Warriors who joins an urban Maori gang.

    Will look for Tacey’s work.

  37. casey

    I wonder if this would have got off the ground if Kobi had not been so “attractive” and so good at surfing? Perhaps his attractiveness makes the entry into this retelling of the story in heroic terms much easier and believable. I cant see Jai garnering the same hero worship Kobi does…and sunny is not really in it much is he, except as a father figure…

  38. Darlene

    Ahh yes, the good looking Koby as opposed to daddy Sunny and the very inarticulate and not particularly attractive Jai. Mmmm, Koby is definetly a selling point.

  39. jinmaro

    Does he suggest that the failure of dominant masculinity has been caused by factors such as the work culture which demands that men be away from families for extended periods of time?

    I am sure he does write about that (its been a while since I read him and don’t have his books to hand)including, from memory, in relation to his father and himself, and their damaged, painful relationship, which prompted a lot of his academic interest in masculinity alienation and spiritual ecology, as did the writings of Patrick White, and growing up in Alice Springs.

    Does â??deformed initiatory fervourâ?? and â??secular retribalisationâ?? manifest itself in the adoption of distorted ideas of the traditional culture? See, for example, the oldest son in Once Were Warriors who joins an urban Maori gang.

    Tacey is saying that Indigenous cultures provided for the initiation of young boys into manhood in a structured, ritualised framework, that crucially it was led and overseen by adult males, and that it helped boys deal with, rather than be swamped, by their natural adolescent feelings of rebelliousness, anger, aggression.

    He means distorted or deformed in the sense that these young men are using alcohol, drugs, violence, deliberate acts of petty crime and anti-social behaviour as a rite of passage and that this represents symbolic or archetypally destructive expressions of the desire for tribal, or social, initiation into manhood that neither their Aboriginal culture, nor the mainstream white one, is able to adequately provide.

  40. Darlene

    “…structured, ritualised framework”.

    Yes, that’s absolutely missing today.

    “He means distorted or deformed in the sense that these young men are using alcohol, drugs, violence, deliberate acts of petty crime and anti-social behaviour as a rite of passage and that this represents symbolic or archetypally destructive expressions of the desire for tribal, or social, initiation into manhood that neither their Aboriginal culture, nor the mainstream white one, is able to adequately provide.”

    That makes sense.

    I guess the question is how could a structured, ritualised framework manifest itself today for boys in rural Indigenous communities and for all boys growing up in urban areas.

  41. jinmaro

    Culture camps and heritage trail expeditions are attempts used by some Aboriginal communities in rural and remote areas to allow young Aboriginal men to spend extended time with older men in the bush where they can learn bush craft, conservation, cultural history, listen to the elders’ stories, and crucially, be with older Aboriginal men whose sole object is to teach and mentor.

    Some of these programs often also involve some element of “caring for country” in clean-ups, rock art conservation, etc. Often initially reluctant to participate, the kids end up absolutely loving these experinces and the bonds that are formed. But they are few and far between and usually require government funding support for transportation, camping gear, equipment, etc.

    Just getting Aboriginal kids into national parks in remote areas, which may be 100s of kms away requires community transportation systems that simply don’t exist.

  42. Darlene

    Would a similar approach work for city kids (white and black?).

  43. Adam Gall

    Michael Moller at USyd has done work on rugby league, and sport and masculinity in general.

    http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/departs/gcs/staff/profiles/mmoller.shtml

  44. jinmaro

    Would a similar approach work for city kids (white and black?).

    What do you think?

  45. Darlene

    Thanks, Adam.

    Yes, I think it would.

  46. clifton evers

    You can see my rant/critique about the Bra Boys here.

    It’s pretty long because I ranted after the premiere, and after a run in with ‘the boys’.

    The ‘coming from the wrong side of the tracks and making it good’ theme of the film it is true. Some of the boys have dragged themselves out of horrendous conditions. But it is HOW they have done this – by excluding others and violently assaulting people that pisses me off.

    I used education, my mates worked hard, and we engaged with the broader society – as hard as that was – rather than retreated from it [the easy way out if you ask me].

    I also come from a very working-class housing commission estate near the beach, and am part of a very close crew. Although, we are far more loosely organised and less ego-orientated crew. I understand their support for each other and how important the belonging is it provides. But they make mateship and our way of life damn ugly.

    The reason why Hines couldn’t be dissed is because to do so would have condemned their beliefs and world, the very conditions that produced him and them in the first place. The film is a celebration of these conditions, and in no way questions it.

    The deal with Hollywood is interesting. The ‘Bra Boys’ logo – and it is a logo now that is tattooed onto the bodies – will make money for a very small contingent of the crew [It is a large group]. Divisions and fractures may appear. One of the Abberton brothers evidences that he wants little to do with the whole thing – Jai [who was charged with murder]. His very small role in the Bra Boys movie is evidence of that, he chooses very carefully his associations with the enterprise.

    The Bra Boys continue to attack others randomly, and have mobilised a violent form of localism – where surfers claim a beach and waves as turf. They travel to other surf-break away from their ‘turf’ and violently assault and intimidate other surfers for wanting to surf when they do. Quite simply, they have become glorified thus who crave the celebrity that comes with the violence and intimidation.

    Much of the surfing community can’t stand their tactics and ridicule them for it. but nobody has stepped up to stop it in any way, and let them do the dirty work of keeping the line-ups clear and newcomers away from surfing.

  47. clifton evers

    umm how do edit my comment? It all turned into a link.

    When it should just point to my critique here:

    http://blownglass.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/bra-boys-film-review-surfing-localism-violence/

    By the way, I forgot to explain my take on the absence of women in the film [how telling …] The boys bond through the waves, not through a woman as per most films. The homosociality is crucial to how we make sense of things, and women are peripheral [and mere objects on the side] for some of us, especially when we are younger – our mates and the waves are all that counts. None of my crew even noticed the lack of women, and they don’t care. It’s the love for your brothers that is the be all and end all. You go through so much with just the boys – fear, big waves, fights etc – that women can’t get access the inner sanctum because their bodies haven’t bonded in the same way.

  48. Darlene

    Thanks, Clifton.

    Comment edited. The joys of technology sometimes.

    “I used education, my mates worked hard, and we engaged with the broader society – as hard as that was – rather than retreated from it [the easy way out if you ask me].

    I also come from a very working-class housing commission estate near the beach, and am part of a very close crew. Although, we are far more loosely organised and less ego-orientated crew. I understand their support for each other and how important the belonging is it provides. But they make mateship and our way of life damn ugly.”

    Ahh, interesting. I’m pleased to have your input because you’re from the area and you have a working-class background. Interesting about Jai. I think there was some inference in the comments that he wasn’t handsome or articulate enough to be a poster boy for the Boys.

    It’s interesting that you and your “crew” (does this crew have a bad boy title that members turn into tattoos?) have managed to combined the love of surfing with education etc This is a much preferable model, although probably wouldn’t result in Russ Crowe agreeing to be the narrator of a film about you guys.

    “The reason why Hines couldn’t be dissed is because to do so would have condemned their beliefs and world, the very conditions that produced him and them in the first place. The film is a celebration of these conditions, and in no way questions it.”

    I’m intrigued why the don’t question it. Don’t they want young Jess Polock, for example, to have more chances than they had in terms of career, friends, family?

    “None of my crew even noticed the lack of women, and they don’t care.”

    “Brotherhood” has its merits, I think. There’s a time for the guys to get together and a time for the girls to get together. Still…well, generations of working-class women know that being working-class is always defined as being male. And being hyper-masculine always has impacts on women.

    I notice that someone wrote a comment on your post (someone called BraBoys4Life), and he accused you of being racist. How extraordinary. The Boys seem to be well-schooled in the language of victimhood. If you disagree you’re a racist? Say what?

  49. clifton evers

    We do have tattoos funnily enough. But not postcodes or a name – that’s weird. the tattoo is just something to remind everyone there’s someone who has always got their back, always.

    As for the racist tag. I had a go at the fact that the film appropriates the Aboriginal heritage of the area, and the white boys liken their experiences to Indigenous experience in this country – stolen land, no support, exploitation etc. So I am a racist …

    As for wanting to help out Jess, they really do want to help him. But think that how they accomplished what they did is the only way out of the tough times. There is no self-reflection or questioning of their method, they just seem to assume they have the answers and everyone else just simply don’t ‘understand’.

  50. Darlene

    Of course, appropriating the Aboriginal heritage of the area is not racist. They certainly drew a long bow (or is that a long board?). The beginning of the film seemed to be trying to link the Bra Boys with convicts, the Aboriginals who suffered at the hands of the invaders. It didn’t seem to really belong in the film. Leads me to believe that the Boys knew how to appeal to the sort of people who regularly go to documentaries (middle-class progressives). And perhaps they really believe it. They have colonised parts of the beach, at any rate. Point taken about Jess. Heavens knows what will happen if a professional surfing career doesn’t happen. Heaven knows if one of the lads came out of the closet. Heavens knows about a lot of things to do with these chaps.

    Anyway, good discussion.

  51. Caz

    So much attention given to self-promoting glorified thugs, who have clearly been involved in the types of crimes that ordinarily garner public outrage.

    (Oh, rapin’ and killin’ are OK if you’re a surfie? Yes siree!)

    And next they’ll get a movie?!

    Nasty little thugs hit the big time. Terrific.

    Is this really the best of Australian culture?

    Good grief.

    (And just for those who want to jump all over my brief thoughts: a) yes, I’m serious; b) I won’t say anything else, ’cause the “the bra boys” (sheesh, which genius came up with that twee name) are not worth the key strokes; and c) I’m not seeking anyone’s agreement, just wanted to throw my strongly held opinion. Thx.)

  52. Darlene

    “So much attention given to self-promoting glorified thugs, who have clearly been involved in the types of crimes that ordinarily garner public outrage.”

    It’s true. Probably shouldn’t give them any publicity.

    I don’t mind looking at their culture, however, because it impacts on other people. There has to be a response (read Clifton Evers’s as well) to the glorification.

    Russ Crowe really should pull his head in.

  53. jinmaro

    I don’t see how identifying, if that is what the Bra Boys do, with Aboriginal people, and other groups they understand to be oppressed, racially, ethnically or by class, is a con, nonsensical, condescending or appropriative here.

    I can think of very good and obvious reasons why gang members would identify in this way or believe each group has experienced similar losses, despair, pain, ostracism, exclusion, and have used similar means of transcending this, i.e., through community building, control, organisation, group support and the development of a sense of place, ownership, belonging and self-esteem.

  54. Darlene

    Interesting point.

    However, despair, pain, ostracism, exclusion etc are things lots of people have experienced, and they don’t choose to claim they have some special relationship with other groups. For example, just because one is from a poor Anglo background where there was quite a bit of violence doesn’t mean you understand the systematic violence directed towards a different people.

    I don’t know. Anyway, the idea of having to belong to a gang when you’re a grown man seems pretty weak to me. Indeed, it’s probably the opposite of being a man.

  55. Adam Gall

    I think it is appropriative, jinmaro, at least in part. They invoke indigeneity as a strategy for shoring up their own belonging and sense of entitlement to an area. The comparison doesn’t hold at a fundamental level, even if it might hold in some other ways in terms of experiences of loss, ostracism, exclusion etc. Invoking Aboriginal possession in this way trivialises it.

  56. casey

    I dont know, I’m not sure, but I suspect conflating an Aboriginal heritage and history with your own to create a strategic victimhood might get Indigenous peoples’ black hackles rising eh?

  57. jinmaro

    I’ve never heard this term before casey – “strategic victimhood” It sounds like a literary construct rather than something correponding with anything I recognise in real life.

    And I don’t think Aboriginal people, though I can’t speak for all of them, compare and contrast the suffering they experienced, I mean how they feel today, with the suffering of non-Aboriginal street kids or men who had failed parenting and were homeless, or are products of failed initiation in the way of I referred to.

  58. casey

    “It sounds like a literary construct rather than something correponding with anything I recognise in real life. ”

    Well watch the documentary Jinmarro and then it might shed some light. I generally watch the doco or read the book before I comment on the subject.

  59. jinmaro

    fair enough. But I do say the notion of strategic victimhood is a completely foreign one to me and even seems to lack empathy or something. It sounds like a culture wars term dismissive of yes victims themselves.

  60. casey

    Im not having a go at young men who had it tough. Im critiquing the how the documentary itself was put together, how the identities in the doco are constructed in such a way as to buy into all sorts of Australian narratives which allows the audience to read the Bra Boys as some kind of larrakin brotherhood without bothering to examine with any analysis at all, their propensity for violence, exclusion and racism.

    Such an unproblematic rendering of the Bra Boys does them a disservice and, to me at least, actually leaves whatever real hardship they endured essentially unexamined, hiding as it does beneath a narrative of simplistic victimhood attained from all sorts of sites of oppression. When violence is shown, it is, from memory, portrayed as part of that larrakin culture. The violence in the film can be startling. Even more so cause its not really commented upon in any substantial way. The bastardisation of the grommets is relayed lovingly by their own mothers.On Clifton Evers site, Cristo, an experienced surfer has posted this fantastic comment: “support the kids but dont instill macho bullshit. When u plant a sapling you put it somewhere it can grow. You donâ??t put it on a cliff face and say â??grow motherfuckerâ??”

    Moving away from the documentary, if these guys want to continue to identify with Indigenous heritage for whatever reason, the Bra Boys would do well to leave behind a certain violently enacted proprietal impulse over land and sea, which seems to have more in common with a white colonising heritage than Indigenous notions of relationship. The bra boys, quite apart from starting life as victims, have also quite a reputation for victimising now. The knowledge of that also complicates unproblematic empathy for some people.

    If they were once victims, then today they are no longer so helpless. Again, Evers has detailed their financial gains and documents the internal divisions in the Bra Boys over this recent commercialisation. Jai, he has noted above, wants little to do with this and so appears rather fleetingly in the doco. The victimhood, claimed from all sorts of sites (class, race, history etc) is strategic therefore, in a very real financial sense, at the end of the day. So, the problematic ‘literary concept’ of strategic victimhood relates to this and to the ideas in Darlene’s comment where she suggests the claiming of Aboriginal heritage of the area….

    Leads me to believe that the Boys knew how to appeal to the sort of people who regularly go to documentaries (middle-class progressives). And perhaps they really believe it. They have colonised parts of the beach, at any rate.

    It’s called, in Graeme Huggins terms, marketing the margins.

  61. jinmaro

    Graeme Huggins terms, marketing the margins.

  62. jinmaro

    sorry, this was a misplaced google search for yet another unexplained weird term.

    I’m not inclined to investigate further for the term itself is to me repulsive and redolent of the contamination today of almost all discourse and enquiry by neo-liberalism and economic rationalist theory.

    I think the big mistake here is to confuse the contradictory historical actuality of the Bra Boys in their entirety with how they have been marketed or portrayed in this doco, and the explicit privileging of the viewer vis a vis what it is attempting to portray.

    Speaking of middle-class.

  63. jinmaro

    Darlene, I re-read your review of Bra Boys in a new light after watching the DVD this afteroon with a group of people who live in the burbs a little inland from Maroubra and Kurnell.

    It is true as you say that apart from Mavis “Ma” Abberton, the Abberton boys’ maternal grandmother and de facto grandma to a generation of working class Maroubra homeless or outcast boys, and a couple of approving working class mothers of young initiates, women’s perspective is absent from the doco.

    However, the doco references in a way that makes me hungry for detail the (at least) 100-year old history of (yes, male-dominated) Aboriginal and multi-ethnic working class communities’ involvement in, nay creaion, of surfing culture in this old, industrial, part of Sydney.

    It movingly and even exhilaratingly shows how their intersected struggle for the right to surf, without paying a fee, or within restricted hours, and the anti-racist and inclusive brotherhood they built, based on locality, created a form of brotherhood, anti-authoritarianism and leadership that reminds me of the writing of Ruth Park.

    It is no accident that is it very similar multi-racial and ethnic working class communities produced a swag of labor movement leaders such as Bob Carr, Graham Richardson, and Laurie Brereton.

    The accusation that the Bra Boys (and they reject the term “gang” and being multi-generational too as the doco shows, so would I) are racist is a slur and unsubstantiated. In fact, as the doco shows and they themselves proclaim, the opposite is true.

    And as for being “criminals”, the only major criminal charges brought against some members (apart from fisticuffs with cops) were resoundingly defeated, as the doco shows.

    Which is not to deny that some have not ended up in the stranglehold of the juvenile “justice” system. Duh!

  64. Rachy

    jinmaro

    And as for being â??criminalsâ??, the only major criminal charges brought against some members (apart from fisticuffs with cops) were resoundingly defeated, as the doco shows.

    The documentary is purely from the perspective that they choose to show, and I hate to break it to you but sometimes people don’t always tell the truth. And you say resoundingly defeated? Could you provide a reference for such a fervent defence. Not just in this case, but in any criminal case the public should always remember that just because someone has been found not guilty does not necessarily mean they are innocent. And I just love the way that you say “fisticuffs with cops” so nonchalantly.

    Which is not to deny that some have not ended up in the stranglehold of the juvenile â??justiceâ?? system. Duh!

    What? Some were innocently keeping to themselves and accidentally woke up in a juvenile detention centre? Crikey, I just *hate* it when that happens to me!

    Anyway, I thought the movie was a load of crap basically. It was profoundly one-sided and oh so awfully contrived. And the whole identification with aboriginals thing? wtf? It is what it is boys, you’re old enough by now to have grown out of the victim mentality.

    I have a disability and understand adversity and discrimination. Ergo, I understand how the aboriginals feel. * snickers*

    Just like Chopper The Movie this movie smacks of one-sided, self apologist, contrived chest beating by a bunch of testosterone pumped kids who never grew up. Sure, they might not all be all that bad, but I just don’t feel like I am getting the whole story

  65. Four Yorkshiresurfies

    Well of course, we had it tough.

    When I was a lad, we used to have to surf in a sea of pure hydrochloric acid, on boards the length and width of our own thumbs. In waters infested with nuclear-powered sharks, with teeth made of sharpened diamonds. And when we were finished, and the acid had eaten away our skins so when we came out of the surf we were skeletons, our drunken abusive absentee dads would appear from nowhere, beat us with cricket bats studded with diamond sharks’-teeth, make us eat live hand grenades for dinner, and then put us to bed in quicksand.

    And nobody helped us with our homework, which was all in Akkadian cuneiform tablets that we had to translate into Attic Greek. Without a dictionary.

  66. Four Yorkshiresurfies (Great Barrier Reef Re-mix)

    Oh, and woe betide us if we got our grammar wrong!

    Why, when I was a lad, when we came home at night to our one-room tar-paper ebola-infested hovel after surfing for 76 hours straight in the frozen Antarctic waters whilst battling killer squids and surfing polar bears with poison-tipped metal teeth, if we so much as confused the ablative case with the dative, our drunken, abusive, crack-addled, cocaine-peddling, Bush-voting Evangelical junkie absentee dads would thrash us to death with a dried sting-ray tail wrapped in radioactive barbed wire, and then impale us on a narwhal horn that was rubbed with chili powder! And then use obscure Ojibwa shamanistic rites to raise us back up from the dead, so we could go out and surf some more! In crushed liquid glass, while being forced to listen to the slower, emotional tracks from early Tori Amos records!

    And if you made a documentary film these days about that sort of childhood, why I tell you, the folks these days, they wouldn’t believe ya.

  67. jinmaro

    Very droll, j-p-z. But if you need help in conjuring comparable American examples of what alienated, poor, racially mixed working class communities and their male youth can get up too and culturally produce I’d steer you in the direction of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Richard Wright’s Native Son and the novels of Chester Himes (as well as he brilliant recent Himes bio by crime writer James Sallis).

  68. Darlene

    Thjanks for your view of the film, jinmaro. It was interesting to read.

    “However, the doco references in a way that makes me hungry for detail the (at least) 100-year old history of (yes, male-dominated) Aboriginal and multi-ethnic working class communitiesâ?? involvement in, nay creaion, of surfing culture in this old, industrial, part of Sydney.”

    I never claimed the Boys were racist (I think they are exclusionary, however). They are not racist but they certainly don’t mind treating others badly for other reasons (e.g. belonging to a different surfing tribe). See links I provided earlier where they have virtually bullied people off “their” beach.

    I think the film is exciting in some ways: the surf scenes are great and I love the music, but it’s impossible to look at it uncritically. The Boys obviously only mentioned what they wanted to mention in regards to criminality.

    “However, the doco references in a way that makes me hungry for detail the (at least) 100-year old history of (yes, male-dominated) Aboriginal and multi-ethnic working class communitiesâ?? involvement in, nay creaion, of surfing culture in this old, industrial, part of Sydney.”

    I think the history is interesting. I think working-class history is interesting.

    I’d love to read/see some stories about working-class people who have embraced education etc

    “And I just love the way that you say â??fisticuffs with copsâ?? so nonchalantly.”

    True, Rachy, we weren’t getting the whole story. Anyway, I want to hear the stories of the women as well. I want to hear stories of women who’ve made it out of that whole “housing commission you’re going to amount to nothing” thing. At least the blokes had surfing. Any women who have such stories please feel free to be in contact. You can email me via my blog.

    Four Yorkshiresurfies, that made me chuckle. Thanks.

  69. GregM

    I’d love to read/see some stories about working-class people who have embraced education etc

    Then you cannot go past the biographies of Garfield Barwick, a working class boy born into a family of modest means who, with the encouragement of his family, embraced education and rose to become Chief Justice of Australia and in doing so expanded our understanding of the right of the rich to avoid paying taxes and played a crucial role in the dismissal of a democratically elected government. A regular Dick Whittington was young Garfield. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garfield_Barwick

  70. j_p_z

    “Very droll, j-p-z. But if you need help in conjuring comparable American examples of what alienated, poor, racially mixed working class communities and their male youth can get up too and culturally produce I’d steer you in the direction of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Richard Wright’s Native Son and the novels of Chester Himes…”

    Hmm, very interesting and informative. On the other hand, if YOU need help in conjuring American examples of ‘alienated, poor, racially mixed working class’ yadda-yadda, I’d steer you in the direction of… huh… well… all of America, I guess.

    Now if you’ll pardon me, I have to hum a few bars of “Rhapsody in Blue” as part of my warm-up excercises for our new adaptation of “The Iceman Cometh” mashed up with “Superfly” and “Einstein on the Beach.” But you should totally drop by next week, when we’re doing a hip-hop-meets-Coltrane-and-The-Little-Rascals version of “Song of My Self”…

  71. Darlene

    Thanks Greg.

  72. jinmaro

    j_p_z, I see what you are striving to explain but Ralph Waldo Emerson did it so much better, and more memorably, in Representative Men.

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/emerson.htm

  73. j_p_z

    jinmaro — Well, my sincerest apologies for not being as great a writer as Ralph Waldo Emerson. One can’t do everything, after all. Like a man once said: In this lifetime, you got my-human-gets-me blues.

  74. jinmaro

    Rachy wrote:

    The documentary is purely from the perspective that they choose to show.

    No kidding! And you wanted a different, hostile perspective?

    and I hate to break it to you but sometimes people donâ??t always tell the truth

    still, providing their entirely legitimate perspective backed up with lots historical film and news reports is invaluable isn’t it?

    Not just in this case, but in any criminal case the public should always remember that just because someone has been found not guilty does not necessarily mean they are innocent

    No, but generally there’s no point in banging on that a person is guilty if a jury has found an accused innocent.

    And I just love the way that you say â??fisticuffs with copsâ?? so nonchalantly.

    I’m not inclined to get all choked up because cops, who for generations have harassed and discriminated against working class youth, and the documentary shows, get a taste of their own medicine.

    And the whole identification with aboriginals thing? wtf? It is what it is boys, youâ??re old enough by now to have grown out of the victim mentality.

    Does this statement include the Brs Boys who are Aboriginal?

    I have a disability and understand adversity and discrimination. Ergo, I understand how the aboriginals feel.

    Yeah, it is called civilisation; admittedly, it only exists in certain people’s heads.