by James Purtill of Triple Hack
Nick Folkes, the founder of a new anti-Islam party, lives on a street that smells of gardenia flowers and overlooks Sydney city. He answers the door wearing a cartoon of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a nuclear bomb. As night falls, the city lights up.
His manner is non-threatening, almost ingratiating. The party is selling commemorative t-shirts for $50 each. “Australian-made organic cotton,” he says, holding one. “Make a few dollars.”
The t-shirts read: ‘Sydney is fun. Cronulla is a riot’.
The interview is held in the party HQ – a small crowded room by the front door. Further back in the house Folkes’ wife, who is originally from Japan, is banging pots together cooking the family dinner.
Details of his domestic life contrast starkly with the the logistics of organising a party strictly opposed to Muslim immigration. The Party for Freedom, which Folkes says has 400 members, celebrates the racially-charged violence in Cronulla 10 years ago as a “rebellion”. In the centre of the room beside a box of children’s shoes is a full-size coffin, stood on its end and painted black.
It is stenciled: ‘2015 Cronulla beach memorial Saturday 12/12/15. RIP multiculturalism‘.
Party for Freedom founder Nick Folkes beside a coffin commemorating the Cronulla riots.
triple j Hack: James Purtill
The coffin was Folkes’ idea. He had planned to hold a mock funeral procession with pallbearers and a hearse, and bury it at the beach, but police said no and sought an injunction to stop the rally.
“I know it’s a very controversial thing to say, but Islam isn’t compatible with our way of life,” he says, seated at his desk beside the coffin. On the desk is a copy of the Qu’ran annotated with sticky notes and a stack of anti-Islam Cronulla rally flyers. The room is full of all kinds of flags: the Aboriginal flag, the boxing kangaroo, the southern cross flag, the Australian national flag.
“What happened 10 years ago we feel needs to be marked.”
A police officer helps a man after he was set upon by a crowd at Cronulla beach in Sydney on December 11, 2005.
On Thursday, Folkes will go before the NSW Supreme Court to fight the police injunction. He is also fighting a racial vilification charge in the Federal Court. He looks weary and hunted. He’s just paid a barrister $5000. Whatever happens in court, he says, he and others will go to Cronulla on Saturday to commemorate the riots. They want to celebrate an episode in Australian history that exposed an ugly racial divide the mainstream would prefer to forget. Folkes says he will go to jail if necessary.
Hack: What are you commemorating?
Folkes: A rebellion
Hack: But was it a good thing?
Folkes: I think overall it was a good thing. We spoke to residents who say there were serious problems going on down there. Gangs were going into the area.
Hack: But we have police to deal with that.
Folkes: The unfortunate thing is these people are protected, they’re privileged.
Folkes: Ethnic privilege. Where do we fit into this multicultural project?
Hack: But you’re white, you’re part of the most privileged group in the country.
Folkes: If I went to government and said I’d like a multicultural grant they’d tell me to piss off.