Think skinheads and most Australians over the age of 30 visualise Russell Crowe’s character “Hando” in Romper Stomper. In the 1992 Australian feature film set in Footscray, a group of right-wing misfits confront an increasingly multi-cultural society. In reality, this perception can almost be turned on its head.
An underground group of working class Australians is attempting to keep alive this controversial subculture. Various apolitical and left wing fractions of the skinhead community are fighting back against neo-Nazi groups’ to reclaim their turf.
To many, the term skinhead suggests white supremacy but some who identify with the group say racism is the opposite of what they believe.
There are many skinhead communities active in Australia, including many offshoots of Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARPs), Punks and Skinheads Against Bigotry, Melbourne Skinhead Crew, although most people are only aware of the neo-Nazis.
Ironically Skinhead style began in London in the 1960s, a working class faction of the Mods; a British subculture known for their Vespa scooters, adapted style and predominantly music from another subculture made of Jamaican immigrants known as the Rudeboys.
Since then, the members of the subculture have stereotypically been portrayed as extremist and right-wing in mainstream media.
Non-racist skinheads tend to disassociate themselves with racist skinheads by labeling them “Boneheads”.
Paul the guitarist from an anti-fascist punk band, Permanent Revolution, is heavily involved in the scene. We met in the Red Flag bar at a Marxism conference. While Doc Martens would seem obligatory in this scene, Paul’s upped to ante. His are red to match his red suspenders and the red star tattoos he sports on each elbow.
At a young age he rebelled by joining the punk scene. In 1980, he had no time for the skinheads he knew as they were predominately racist. It wasn’t until Paul was introduced to the music of the Welsh band, The Oppressed, that he decided he wanted to be a skinhead.
Famous for their anti-fascist, skinhead music, The Oppressed sing about solidarity, stopping Nazis, drinking together and standing up to the government. Paul passionately spoke about how the lead singer, Roddy Moreno, has been a major anti-racism advocate.
“Roddy Moreno has probably done more than anyone to spread the SHARP message around the world,” Paul said.
Paul says Boneheads are active within the community and receive all of the media attention.
“If you look at the rallies I’ve been to, where there’ve been skinheads on one side and Boneheads on the other, it’s the Boneheads that are on the front cover and the skinheads that are standing there saying f*** racism.”
Paul, who also runs a Facebook group with almost 1000 members, Punks & Skinheads Against Bigotry, explained things within the scene did not become racist until a recession in the 1970s.
Skinheads against racial prejudice or more commonly known SHARP’s were a group that began in the 1980s after a number of skinheads from the United States became fed up with the media negatively reporting on them due to some neo-Nazi offshoots behaving badly.
In his tightly-laced boots, suspenders holding up his already tight jeans and his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket which broadcast the letters ‘SHARP’, Kirch Campbell walks towards me on the banks of the Yarra River. His fair skin and freshly-shaven head makes it clear he is a skinhead.
Kirch is a member of the Melbourne Skinhead Crew. “No racism, no politics & no hipsters,” it says on its Facebook site. To the 18 year-old Kirch, being a SHARP is not necessarily a political move but a way to ensure people know he is not racist.
“A lot of people when they see a skinhead they just see Nazi so by branding myself with this jacket I’m trying to get away from that stigma, although I’m not quite as political as people may think a SHARP is.”
Being a SHARP is about identifying with a specific lifestyle including being apart of the working class, wearing Doc Martens, suspenders and being invested in the skinhead and punk music scene.
Campbell claims extremist groups such as True Blue Crew and the United Patriot’s Front have verbally abused him and other members of his group.
“There have been times where we’ve been out and about and we’ve been spotted by far right-wing skinheads or (and other) far right groups,” said Campbell.
“They’ve started hassling us and calling us names like lefties, commies. We get faggot a lot which is not great.”
A young skinhead I met at the Marxism conference, who does not wish to be named spoke about being mistaken as a neo-Nazi.
“I’ve been bashed by Africans because they thought I was a Nazi.”
He also claims he has been stabbed by Boneheads.
In the past few years Australia has seen an rise in the far right.
One Nation has gained support since Pauline Hanson reemerged as party leader in 2014 and its success at the 2016 Federal election at which she and three other party candidates were elected to the Senate. “We are in danger of being swamped by Muslims, who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own,” Senator Hanson said in her maiden speech late last year.
One Nation is not the only party gaining support on the right. The far-right, Melbourne-based United Patriot Front (UPF) group has formed a political party called Fortitude that now has over 5000 supporters.
The UPF describes themselves as “Australia’s political resistance against the spread of Islam and far-left treason”.
Following the success of these political parties Australia has seen a trend of organised protests against proposed new mosques as well as anti-Islam rallies and counter-rallies, with some becoming violent.
In the frontline of the rallies, neo-Nazi skinheads are marching alongside these groups.
Paul believes there is a need to stop these groups from terrorising locals. “I believe that if fascists are going to march through somewhere like Coburg and try to physically intimidate local Muslim populations the right thing to do is physically stop them from doing that.”
The Southern Cross Hammerskins, which formed 25 years ago, consist of white supremacy skinheads whose main interests are skinhead music, anti-Asian and anti-Islamic ideologies.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is currently monitoring far-right activity in Australia that encompasses a broad range of right-wing groups and activists that operate at the fringes of the Australian political scene. Among them, the Australia First Party, whose chairman,the controversial Dr Jim Saleam, has claimed that most of the country’s right-wing skinhead groups still operating in Australia are apolitical.