Blast From the Past - 1996 - Out of the darkness of racism comes hope


Bronze Whaler
May 9, 2008
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behind enemy lines
Out of the darkness of racism comes hope
Lisa Olson. Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, N.S.W.
Nov 23, 1996. pg. 57

DOES race matter? It does today. It does because Pauline Hanson says it does. It does because a golfer with a swing bigger than the Harbour Bridge is out there changing the face of his sport, opening its boundaries and hopefully making a few of the little Hitlers who run it think twice about their policies.

It matters because one of the journalists who took such earnest notes at Tiger Woods's press conference a few days ago was the same cretin who told a taxi driver after the rugby league grand final that he hates going into the city on a Sunday night "because all the darkies hang out there". These are the same "darkies" he earlier described in newspaper reports as classy and genius, terms that would have been endearing coming from anyone else, but farcical coming from such a bigot.

It matters because every time Richard Chee Quee looks in the mirror he's reminded of the Member for Oxley's words. If she believes immigrants from Asia don't assimilate, what does that make him? He is part Chinese, part Samoan, part Fijian, part German, part Irish, but above all, he is 100 per cent Australian. He plays a game that is as much a thread in the fabric of this country as Saturday afternoon barbies. His accent sounds like something right out of Neighbours and the only Chinese words he knows are dim sum.

Not that any of this matters to all those Hansonites who are crawling out from under their rocks. They slither up to him and say things like "Chinese can't play cricket" or "go home Chink". Usually they say this from the other side of the fence, where they are safe and out of harm's way.

Chee Quee is 190cm and 100kg, with more muscles in his hands than most of these cowards have in their entire body. He could do major damage if he wanted to, but he'd rather save his energy for things that matter, like beating the stuffing out of a cricket ball.

"Race isn't what your passport says you are. Unfortunately, it's what you look like," says Chee Quee, whose paternal grandparents emigrated to Thursday Island from China 50 years ago and set up a trading post for the docking ships.

"I'll cop racism until the day I die because of the way I look and because I'm a person who's making a livelihood by playing cricket for a high-profile team like NSW. It doesn't faze me anymore. I used to let it get to me because I couldn't come to terms with judging someone by the colour of their skin. To me, that's such a stupid concept."

Unlike Woods, who sometimes still has to deal with racist restrictions on the golf course, Chee Quee says the cricket pitch is a haven from all the fuss that threatens to divide his country. Sport is like that. At its best, it can be a great equaliser, forcing us to judge people not by the slope of their eyes or the pigment of their skin, but by their diligence, their discipline, and their talent.

Chee Quee's father knew the most natural way for his kids to blend into his new world would be through sport. Tennis and soccer and cricket were as much a part of Richard's childhood as meat pies and dips down at Bondi.

He grew up emulating John Newcombe and the Chappell brothers, and the only time he ever thought about race was when some kid - usually mouthing the words of his ignorant parents - would point it out.

"I remember running home and looking in the mirror and thinking, 'Yeah, I guess I do look different'," he says. "Then I'd run back out and join a game of cricket and forget about it until someone else pointed it out again."

David Peachey never felt different until he came to the big city and learned that no matter how adept he was with a football, no matter how electric and fast and exciting he was, he could never run away from twisted minds. Sport was always more than a way out for Peachey. It was a way to define who he was, and what he wanted to become.

He grew up in Dubbo, with not much money but a whole lot of love. His mum had four sisters and eight brothers, producing enough cousins to form footy, soccer and basketball sides and still have a few relations left over. His father, Wyndham, had to walk 10km from his home in Webegong to school each day, so when he had kids he made sure they got their exercise in a more traditional way, through an Aboriginal sporting group he formed called PaceMakers.

"WE'D travel to Melbourne every year and play in comps there," Peachey says. "It was fun, but it also gave us a sense of belonging in a community. Sport made us feel like we were valued as people, you know what I mean?"

Because he felt valued, and because sport gave him pride, Peachey worked hard to finish Year 12 and earn his HSC. If there were Aborigines who were privileged or getting preferential treatment, as Hanson claims, Peachey sure didn't see it. He saw houses without running water and schools with no money to provide basic books, and when the Cronulla Sharks offered him $2,000 to play footy, it was as if someone was writing his destiny.

That was three years ago. The next year he was on $10,000 a year and working as a gardener when he wasn't making the Cronulla crowds jump to their feet every time he scooped the ball with one hand and ran like the wind. Then Super League came along and offered him $70,000, a number that has since grown to six figures. The first thing he did was buy his parents a new car.

The second thing he did was decide that he might not be able to change twisted minds, but he could change young ones. Every other weekend it seems as if Peachey is heading back to Dubbo to work with Aboriginal kids who are searching for a way out, or visiting Eveleigh Street in Redfern and helping inner-city kids find their worth. Sport made him feel privileged in a way that Pauline Hanson would probably never understand.

"What I would like to ask her is where does all the hatred come from?" he says. He is standing in the back of the IMAX theatre, watching British sprinter Linford Christie tell the assembled guests that Super League is the best thing to happen to sport since Lycra tights.

For just a moment, race doesn't matter. Peachey looks out the window at Darling Harbour, at the schoolkids from Cabramatta who are queueing up to buy Wallaby jumpers, schoolkids who are white and brown and black and every shade in between. It is a clear, glorious day, the kind of day that makes you remember why people come from everywhere to make Australia their home, and if Peachey wanted to he could see all the way to Kensington, the home of Richard Chee Quee and the place where a golfer who is changing the face of his sport is about to tee off.

Wonder what Pauline Hanson thinks of Tiger Woods?