With its lace curtain bungalows and steepled Anglican church, the once tranquil town of Camden in New South Wales seems the most improbable of settings for a row that combines race and religion.
Proud of its rich history, the town promotes itself as “the birthplace of the nation’s wealth”, for it was here, in the early 19th Century, that the sheep and dairy industries first began to flourish. Now the town, which lies on south-west fringes of Sydney, is confronting a very 21st Century issue: the proposal to construct an Islamic school for some 1,200 Muslim pupils.
Back in November, more than 1,000 local people took part in a public meeting. Many participants expressed themselves with little regard for political correctness.
“This has to be one of the nicest places in New South Wales,” said one woman, who has lived in Camden for the past nine years. “Everywhere is being destroyed.”
“Why don’t we tell the truth. They’re wrecking Australia. They’re taking us over,” she said. “Why hasn’t anyone got any guts? They’ve got terrorists amongst ’em… They want to be here so they can go and hide in all the farm houses… This town has every nationality… but Muslims do not fit in this town. We are Aussies, OK.”
Some of the loudest cheers of the night greeted a speech from a local man in his late 70s. “Can I just say this without being racist or political?” he said. “In 1983, in the streets of London a parade by Muslims chanted incessantly ‘If we can take London, we can take the world’. Don’t let them take Camden.”
Update: See “Australia Muslim school rejected”, BBC News, 27 May 2008
See also the Daily Telegraph, which tells us that “residents demanded an apology for being labelled racists”, while the Sydney Morning Herald reports that “a resident, Kate McCulloch, emerged from the meeting declaring a victory for ‘decency’ – and insisted Muslims were incompatible with the local community. ‘The ones that come here oppress our society, they take our welfare and they don’t want to accept our way of life’, she said.”
Update 2: See “A win for racists in Camden”, Green Left Weekly, 31 May 2008