Lock Up Your Daughters Bendigo… At The Local Mosque!


On the serene shaded lawn of the Bendigo Base Hospital stands a building that threatens to rip apart the township’s social fabric, infuse it with terror and importune the chastity and honour of its fair ‘Daughters and Granddaughters’.

This inoffensive white stucco cottage contains a file room jammed from floor to ceiling detailing the, mostly, fathers and grandfathers who have terrorised the women and girls of Bendigo over decades.

In 1990, I worked as a counsellor/advocate at this sexual assault centre. The exposure of the local underbelly forever altered my worldview.

It was no different to any regional centre’s sexual assault file room. Though I was struck by the racial homogeneity of its European-heritage accused. Curiously no one sent in the army, I mean, Norforce, with or without guitars and footballs.

The foreboding of Councillor Elise Chapman that Bendigo’s daughters and granddaughters are vulnerable to sexual assault is more accurate than any town cares to acknowledge, unless of course they are defining that threat as men of colour.

The approval last week of a mosque on scrub in industrial-zoned East Bendigo has incited the usual shrilling of racialised typecasting and Jim-Crow like vigilantism, with black balloons tethered to the fence posts of local Councillors identified as Muslim sympathisers.

The inflatables were meant to symbolize the prevalence of domestic violence in the Islamic community. The requisite Facebook page, called ‘Stop the Mosque in Bendigo’ posted a mocked-up image of the council’s logo, captioned ‘the City of Grovelling Bendigo welcomes terrorists, paedophiles [and]rapists’.

The black defiler rides again, this time under the cloak of terror, rather than slave rebellion, bride capture or Big Men corruption.

So what is it about Arab men that make them particularly rapacious in the minds of the mosque opponents? Can’t be Valentino’s Sheik since he hardly took prayer. It is of course simply their racial difference – Muslim collapsed with Arab despite Councillor Chapmen’s protestations that she is not a racist – since Islam is not a race.

And haven’t we been here before? I seem to recall a glassy-eyed squatter’s daughter a few years back protesting a mosque proposal in another rural centre.

She breezily warned us that Muslim ‘women might hide bazookas under their burkas’ (a slant rhyme with berko, as it happens, only in Australia). Then, as now, the media zoomed in on oversized belt buckles, afterdark Acubras and flannel-checked shirts.

This stereotyping is of course undeserved for the majority of rural Australians, many of whom have an unassailable record in co-existence, welcoming refugees and spearheading activism around local mandatory detention centers.

But for those of you drowning out proponents of the mosque with Middle Eastern music at last week’s council meeting in Bendigo, we might have to leave it to the Attorney General himself to come to your defense, ‘fraid. For Brandysnap bigotry works both ways. So let’s talk about white men as a particular category of sexual offenders.

When white men rape it isn’t descriptive of their race. Instead, chivalry defines their particular brand of, say, colonialism, enslaving, occupying and warmongering since really truly they are defending brown women from the sexual depredations of their ‘primitive’ or libidinally unkempt men.

White men don’t rape within a typological category – ok, unless they plead insanity. Muslim men, Aboriginal men, Lebanese men, all have recently been typed as sexually predatory, and not coincidentally within territorial disputes, from Cronulla Beach to township leases to rightful places of worship.

But when men of colour are invoked as a sexual threat to white womanhood, they are themselves exposed to the worst excesses of racial violence.

The approach to our picturesque rural centres was once characterized by strobing crops, rose gardens and dappled memorial avenues.

These lovely townships now introduce themselves to travelers with Masters mega sheds, tile franchises, autobarns and sexylands.

Yet no one has batted an eye at these prefabricated corporate fortifications now walling our townships. Purely as a planning matter, the Bendigo mosque can hardly cause more offense, indeed the golden minarets along Merri Creek are a local treasure.

But this isn’t about planning, it’s about prejudice.

If Councillor Chapman is looking for somewhere to lock up Bendigo’s daughters, judging from the records of perpetrators at the Bendigo Sexual Assault Centre when I was there, a local mosque is a safe bet.

Certainly it provides a sadly needed refuge from Australian racism for Australian Muslims.

* Liz Conor is the author of Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women, forthcoming, UWAP.

Liz Conor is a columnist at New Matilda and an ARC Future Fellow at La Trobe University. She is the author of Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women, [UWAP, 2016] and The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s [Indiana University Press, 2004]. She is editor of Aboriginal History and has published widely in academic and mainstream press on gender, race and representation.