The Shire may have been named after JRR Tolkien’s magical land of friendly little people, but this hotbed of cultural activity on Sydney’s southern beaches is no hobbit haven. In fact, the Sutherland Shire is a place for only the most impressive physical specimens. Specimens like Benny Benchwood, the second-grade rugby league player who is going places fast. In the footsteps of previous legendary Shire residents like Greg Bird and Todd Carney, Benchwood is out to make a name for himself, and he knows the way to do that is by getting into the headlines by any means possible, be that public urination, acts of random violence, sexual congress with pets, or a heady mixture of all three. “Play footy, fuck bitches, live the dream,” Benchwood says, and that’s the Shire in a nutshell: aspiration.
For Shire folk don’t have the old school ties of the eastern suburbs or the extensive organised crime networks of the west to help them get by. They’re living on their wits and their work ethic, and they’re into relentless self-improvement, as embodied by the region’s most prominent denizen, prime minister Scott “Scomo” Morrison. This ethos is seen at its apex in Sarah Tonin, a fitness instructor who isn’t content in achieving excellence on her own account, but insists on “paying it forward” and helping other young Shire women achieve their dreams too. Running fitness classes that aim to help girls get in shape to land the wealthy footballer they desire, Sarah too is a classic case of Shire can-do, but also of the famed Cronulla community spirit. That’s the spirit that saw the whole Shire get together on Australia Day to proclaim their pride in their beachside paradise and in their savvy fashion sense. It’s what makes it unsurprising that Sarah is not only amazingly toned, but amazingly selfless.
Another Shireite who wants to give back is Sharryd Clagne, from the Shire Enforcement Crew. Patrolling the beaches to keep them clean, both materially and culturally, Clagne is all about pride in your background. That’s what makes the Shire special: they’re proud of what they’ve built, and they’re proud of what they’re continuing to build, and they’re proud of who they’re not going to share it with.
It’s an eye-opener seeing these common Shire folk going about their business. So often we see only the public side of the Shire: the prime ministers, the footy players, the flag capes. It’d be easy to be seduced into thinking Cronulla and its surrounds are about nothing but bleached hair, bronzed skin and promiscuity. But in reality it’s about at least two or three other things as well. The Shire is a place where you get what you give: if you’re willing to work hard, look good, get on the piss and punch on when it’s your turn, you’ll find your fortune on these golden, sandy shores. These three inspirational characters have. Let them show you a Shire you never knew.