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Just how safe is Australia anyway?

Bad things can happen anywhere. And they do happen in Australia. Take the case of 54 year old Brian Gilsenan, a Scottish emigrant who was attacked in an apparently motiveless crime in the Sydney CBD four months ago. He died on Saturday. The police never did track down his assailants; now they are hunting for a pair of murderers.

What to make of this kind of thing? How to square this with the relative freedom of a city where home invasions, hijackings and murder are the exception rather than the sort of thing that does not get carried in the papers because it’s nothing new? After all, Australia is, as the people at cherryflava described it, a place where “even the seedy parts of their big cities have new-born lambs bounding happily in the streets, nibbling quietly on lush trailer park lawns”.

The news of this crime struck me in particular because soon after I arrived here, I received an sms on my MTN phone. It was from eblockwatch, a service I’d signed up with a couple of years back.

Thank you for your support!” the message read. “Remember your panic button number is *120*1911# To unsubscribe sms STOP to 31352”. At last, I thought, as I typed up STOP and pressed Send, enough of all of this crap.

It’s a feeling that South Africans would understand: a new report by Grant Thornton suggests that a third of South African workers are considering emigration, mostly because of crime.

The fatal attack on Gilsenan is a reminder that perhaps it’s not wise to banish my inner Joburger just yet. I do feel nervous walking around the city alone at night, and I still feel an involuntary surge of adrenaline whenever I hear fireworks in the harbour; I have to remind myself that they can’t possibly be gunshots.

So, it’s not Joburg — but it’s not a dewy paradise either. Sydney is a big city, and big cities inevitably harbour a certain level of crime. It’s a place where an 84 year old woman was robbed at knifepoint , where six people were stabbed in brawls at weddings. Bus drivers in the Northern Beaches area north east of the city — not far from where I live and walk around in the dark — are being attacked by gangs.

There you have it then. Sydney isn’t completely safe. Ordinary people, innocent people, get attacked. Sometimes they even die. But when bad things happen, it makes the news. Which is both disturbing — and oddly comforting too.


  • Sarah Britten

    During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.