The Australia First Party's headquarters in Tempe, Sydney
It’s probably a wise idea to run far away when a stranger grins and compliments you on your “vampire neck.” Or you could just go into a strange house with him. This is what I found myself doing last month, after a clash between a bunch of masked activists and the extreme-right Australia First Party.
The invitation, to visit the party's Sydney headquarters, had come from Jim Saleam—the head honcho of a notorious organization with links to neo-Nazi factions. I was too curious to knock the offer back.
Jim Saleam, current chairman of the AFP
One of the first things I saw upon entering the building was about a dozen mannequin heads. They were scrawled with swastikas, names, and other grotesque markings. When I took photos of the heads, with Saleam's permission, the guy who admired my neck (I think he liked my pale skin) growled on the sidelines. He said that if the decision were up to him, I wouldn't have been let into the house at all.
A bunch of mannequin heads marked with swastikas, fake blood, and the names of AFP members and people Saleam knows. Picture taken inside the AFP building
This animosity was juxtaposed with the jokey friendliness of a nearby dude dressed in a costume-shop Arab outfit. He smiled while holding a fake gun and a sign scrawled with the words “Back from Iraq." This was definitely one of the stranger Saturday afternoons I'd had in awhile.
The AFP’s lounge room/conference room/screening area
To any self-respecting political mover and shaker, the inner west suburb of Tempe doesn't seem like an inspiring base from which to launch and sustain a serious political movement. Yet it's here that Saleam bought this house—situated behind a grimy, navy-blue shop front—and filled it with the hopes, dreams, and delusions of his beloved political projects. He’s lived there for decades and appears to cast an eye over everything that happens inside, like Philip Seymour Hoffman's cultish leader in The Master. (RIP, Phil. Sorry to bring you into this.)
When I dropped by Tempe at about 1 PM, I realised I'd missed the main event: a tense confrontation between anti-racist protesters and a group of über-nationalists known as the Party for Freedom. The former group appeared to include members of the Socialist Alternative and various anarchist groups. They successfully hijacked a Party for Freedom demonstration at the nearby Marrickville Woolworths, which intended to target the supermarket's celebration of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Cosplay enthusiasts Becca, Karen and Patrick. Patrick, the editor of cosplay digital magazine Beyond Cosplay, organised a meeting/counter-protest to take place at the Tempe Hotel at the same time as the protest outside AFP at 1pm.
Following the ruckus, a local stream of average Joes and their more gung-ho counterparts joined other protesters in Tempe for a second counteraction against an Australia First Party forum. Said forum was about “the ethnic cleansing” of white Australians by universities, thanks to their allegedly cashed-up, globalist-minded international counterparts.
The Australia First Party gathering understandably stayed put behind the police stationed outside Saleam's house (although one of the suspected neo-Nazis was reportedly involved in a violent scuffle with an anarchist later that day). The demonstrators had masks and black-eyed stares—they could've come straight from a V for Vendetta screening—and attitudes to match. “Stop taking photos of me,” growled one young woman as I snapped away on my camera. Her eyes glinted through her mask’s two small holes as her head almost butted up against mine.
Protester on Princes Highway outside the AFP building
Some of the less radical protesters included a group of cosplay enthusiasts. They thought they could start a dialogue with the party, but many of the Tempe locals weren't so idealistic. A guy named Waleed—known to everyone else as Wally—told VICE that the neighborhood presence of Saleam and his compadres probably contributed to the closure of his business, Waleby's Cafe.
Jo, a University of Technology, Sydney, student with Tanzanian heritage, and Wally, a Tempe local born in South Africa who owned the now closed Waleby's Cafe
“He never, ever bought a coffee from me," said Wally, who’s originally from South Africa. “I was wondering, why isn't this guy coming to get a coffee? I have a beautiful shop. These people did not support me. It's so strange. It's only now that I realize what's happening.” His fellow protesters nodded sadly with comprehension. “I approached him one day and said, “I'm Waleed,’ and he said ‘Oh yeah, all right’. And I didn't know! Until I stepped back and saw the big flag.”
The party flag was definitely among the less unsettling objects I found after following Saleam into the house. The Australia First Party’s dining room was covered with the messy remains of a lunch spread. The walls were painted a lurid green and decorated with romantic impressionist paintings by Fred McCubbin and Tom Roberts. And that dude with the “Back from Iraq” sign introduced himself as "Sheikh Rattle and Roll." "Get it? Like the song! Make sure you get the pig in the picture,” he said.
A man dressed as a figure he calls “Sheikh Rattle and Roll." Picture taken inside the AFP building
Saleam said the grisly mannequin heads weren’t really his. He blamed “the anarchists” for lobbing them over the wall outside the house, as well as impaling a few others on his barbed-wire fence, at around 3:30 AM that morning. “We accept it as political warfare,” he said. “I'd like to catch them, but I don't want to hand them over to the police. I'd much prefer it if some of our guys touched them up and they never came back.”
A vandalized garage door at the front of the AFP building. Saleam suspects anarchists or Social Alternative members.
“Touched them up” was not the first unexpected phrase to crop up amongst Saleam's otherwise well-mannered academic speak (he has a PhD, after all). He compared the difficulty of “weaning Australia off” the international student program to being a heroin addict. “You go off heroin, and you could quite die,” he said. “It takes a while to wean yourself off it. Entire structures have been made that are now hooked into the global economy. Absolutely hooked in.”
Another proponent of this agenda was Party for Freedom chairman Nick Folkes, who was also inside the Tempe home. Folkes is a 30-something dude with the inquisitive face of a 10-year-old and the easy nature of a suburban dad on the ballet run. This sense of affability may well have helped him sell at least a dozen others on the idea of rallying against Ramadan inside their local supermarket.
Nicholas 'Nick' Folkes, current chairman of the Party For Freedom.
The Party for Freedom has no official ties with Saleam's lot, but Folkes shares many of their views. He told VICE that “the alternative category of politics is growing” and more Australians are coming around to his views. “We believe that multiculturalism—what's been happening in the last 40 years in Australia—has been a complete failure, especially with Islamic culture. It's so incompatible. I don't know what I share with the Islamic types, and promoting Ramadan is promoting Islam. That means female genital mutilation, honor killings, terrorism, and Sharia law.”
A shopfront in Enmore addressed to Sergio Redegalli, who has become well-known in the inner-west for his anti-multiculturalism views. Nick says he'll be speaking at the Party For Freedom social club soon.
To most outsiders, the comparison of supermarket produce specials with the most radical aspects or interpretations of Islam seems heavy-handed. Nevertheless, Folkes delivered his message with the strange calm of a person wholeheartedly devoted to his beliefs—no matter how grandiose, manic, or unfathomable. This is a political approach arguably more salable in an age of voter existentialism, hung parliaments, and “Fuck Tony Abbott” T-shirts.
The window of the now-closed Waleby's Café on Princes Highway
After I left the house, I waited for the 422 bus and snapped pictures of the for-sale sign outside Wally's now defunct café. It was hard not to reflect on the hotbed of racial, political, and ideological tension hidden in Tempe, a suburb arguably like any other suburb in Australia. I'm actually a newcomer to Sydney, so I feel that I know and understand far less than long-suffering locals like Wally. Unlike him, my white vampire neck was welcomed into the Australia First Party headquarters.
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