“Belonging is not simply about the well-being of an individual. Belonging allows humans to overcome great obstacles and moments of adversity”.
Every human being possesses the urgent need to belong, to gain the strength of others and to fit into society. It is in our basic nature, our history supporting the human will to belong, as tribes were formed, urban environments assembled and modern societies bringing individuals into a group as one. A sense of belonging gives us the strength to move forward, the mental and physical support of others and allows us to feel accepted.
Sunny Abberton’s documentary Bra Boys depicts the impact of belonging along with the obstacles his family and friends faced. A film conveying the struggles within the Maroubra area in the 80s/90s, that allows us to experience the connections made within the Bra Boys “surf gang” and the challenges that they are faced with. The Bra Boys demonstrate that a sense of belonging can in fact impact us to overcome great challenges, and that no matter how dire your situation, there will always be somewhere for you to belong.
Humans are faced with tests throughout their lives, some more fortunate than others. In the Maroubra community it seemed most of the kids had grown up in uncomfortable situations, most of the Bra Boys parents being drug users, alcoholics, or violent. The Maroubra adolescent community seemed to have a dark lure hanging over it, violence and hardship following those who tried to belong. Gangs formed as a result and the streets became dangerous at night.
“Growing up we had a lot of crazy things happen like guns held to our heads, chased down the street with people shooting at us, all sorts of things, but its good it turned us into what we are” admits Koby Abberton. One Bra Boys explains how he walked around the streets with a bat down his pants because you always had to be prepared for the worst when you were walking at night by your self.
It was dangerous events like these that made Ma’s seem so safe, like nothing could ever hurt them there. Ma was the Abberton boys’ grandmother, a gentle and generous woman who opened her arms and home to all the young and struggling children associated with the Abberton boys. Most of these boys came from broken families, somewhere they couldn’t really call home. Ma provided them with a place that was the next best thing to a home, a family of friends, somewhere that would bring the boys together into a brotherhood. They soon formed a group called ‘Ma’s hell team’ which was the beginning of it all, the beginning of the Bra Boys.
Connections with people, places and the larger world can provoke a sense of belonging within ourselves, influencing where we search for meaning in our lives, and ultimately, where we belong. The Bra Boys forge connections amongst themselves by exploring each other’s passions and loyalty. It is ultimately the surfing community/beach life that brings the boys together. The beginning of the documentary presents the surfing culture, diving directly into the heart of these boy’s lives. The viewer is presented with live footage, magazine cover pages and newspaper articles to express the success and enjoyment the Bra Boys share towards the sport.
Another scene featuring cross cutting strings together shots of the Bra Boy’s handshake, celebrating their literal connections to one another. The Bra Boys are all blessed with a passion of surfing, somewhere they could escape together, and without that place to free their minds and have fun sharing a hobby together, they may not have formed such sturdy bonds as they possess today. The connections we make determine how we grow and develop. Along with be being connected, acceptance has a large impact on our lives and wellbeing.
Being a Bra Boy comes with responsibility, one being to accept your brothers and be there for them no matter what. Acceptance allows us to gain confidence in our lives. Without the fulfillment of fitting in human beings tend to grow lonely and feel as though they don’t belong. With that sense of approval, we can acknowledge ourselves and achieve more. Bra Boys is a documentary which greatly highlights the impact of being accepted within a certain community. Spending their days surfing and hanging out with friends, the bra boys allow us to appreciate the greater prospects of belonging. Koby Abberton, main Bra Boy, describes to the viewer how important their ‘gang’ is: “if one of the boys calls, no matter what you’re doing you come”. This depicts to us how strong and important their brotherhood is.
The song “My Brothers Keeper” featured in the film, written by Jamie Holt, backs up a bond of brothers such as the Bra Boys. “My brothers, we are in intertwined…. these ties shall bind us” is sung to describe the acceptance of one another and words how their ‘gang’ is literally bound to one another. “My Brothers Keeper” is also symbolized as tattoos across various Bra Boys chests. Bra Boys shows a great example of how important acceptance is in our lives and the pride it can bring to us. The Bra Boys demonstrate that that their group also accepts many multi-cultured or religious Australians. Cultural acceptance can be a huge issue within our society today.
Cultures and religions can shape humans into what they believe to be their better self. There are many issues revolved around religions clashing or which god should be worshipped. No matter what you believe in or put your faith in we are all human beings and should find the strength to accept each other for who we are. Towards the end of the documentary an issue is displayed for the viewer, on such as the Cronulla race riots, brings to our attention a so-called “war” between Anglo Australians and Lebanese Australians. “One of the things ma taught us was to not judge people by how much money they had, or their skin colour, but by what type of person they were, perhaps it was ma’s wisdom that would prepare us for yet another dramatic turn in our beach community” say Sunny Abberton.
Footage, images, narration and Police radio communication depict the violence that occurred. We are shown how the aggressive behavior in Cronulla makes its way to Maroubra, and how the Bra Boys gather to protect their community. After the attacks the Bra Boys decide to broker a peace deal between the warring factions. We are shown a 9 News interview where Sunny Abberton states “Maroubra’s had a very good relationship with the local Lebanese community here for around 10 years, we’re calling for calm on the beaches”. The Bra Boys wanted the ethnic community to feel accepted and wanted them to know that they did in fact belong at Maroubra beach, which is one of the most multicultural areas in Australia. The Bra Boys itself is filled with a number of different racial members, their powerful concept of belonging has transcended racial hatred.
Bra Boys is a powerful documentary portraying many concepts of belonging. It shows us an authentic reality of how brutal life can be and that a group as strong as theirs can help to overcome such issues. No matter what they faced, they had each other. They showed us how important a powerful bond is, and the positive impact a sense of belonging can make. Some of the Bra Boys say the surf saved them, some say Ma did, but ultimately, they saved each other.