Breaking news reporter
A Sydney bus driver has been praised for his actions after ejecting a group of teenage girls when they began racially abusing another passenger, in the latest case of racism to blight the city’s public transport system.
Other passengers on the bus travelling from the city to Maroubra also leapt to the defence of the woman when the group of five teenagers, who had been drinking, began yelling abuse and targeting the woman on Saturday night.
Passenger Bernd Fichtner said that, unlike other publicised cases of racism on public transport, the driver stopped the bus and ejected the girls, who were estimated to be aged between 14 and 17.
The retired teacher said the girls were drinking at the back of the route 397 bus about 6.30pm on Saturday when they began abusing a female passenger because she was Asian.
“It was, quite obviously, a disgusting, frightening and very upsetting experience, but for two reasons both my wife [Pam] and I felt a sense of relief at the end of it all,” he said.
“Firstly, because the driver did a fantastic job in negotiating with these girls, later insisting on their leaving, and the whole time communicating with us, the other passengers.
“Secondly, because unlike in the other similar incidents reported recently, this time the passengers did not let the perpetrators get away with it. They stood up to them, protected and looked after the victim as best they could, and together got rid of this small minority, which otherwise might yet again have triumphed.”
He was so affected by the experience he wrote a letter to Fairfax Media to praise the efforts of those on the bus.
Mr Fichtner, 60, said he and his wife boarded the crowded bus in Taylor Square, and he was pleasantly surprised when two separate young people offered to vacate their seat for him.
But as they drove down Anzac Parade, a commotion began at the back of the bus and two passengers came forward to tell the driver that the teenagers were “terrorising and racially abusing a young Asian lady” and drinking on the bus.
He said the driver immediately stopped and told the teenagers to behave and dispose of their alcohol or get off the bus.
The driver returned to his seat and resumed the journey but, soon after, the girls launched another foul-mouthed rant and began abusing other passengers. Mr Fichtner said they were calling the Asian lady “all kinds of horrible words”.
The driver stopped the bus and told the girls to get off within one minute or he would call the police.
“At this stage, several of the passengers also let these girls know in no uncertain terms that they were no longer welcome on this bus,” Mr Fichtner said.
“After some considerable time the penny dropped and they left the bus, only to hurl further abuse at the driver and the young Asian lady in question from outside the bus.”
He said the girls chased the bus and began banging the windows and throwing rocks at it as it pulled away.
The driver reported the incident to the depot and checked that the other passengers were okay before continuing the journey, Mr Fichtner said.
He said the woman who had been racially abused was in tears and shaking from the experience.
But it could have been worse if the driver and other passengers had not stood up for her, he said.
“[Saturday’s] trip to Maroubra ended relatively harmlessly because the group of people on the bus acted in solidarity and were admirably led by the driver, who did much more than his professional duty and deserves the highest commendation,” Mr Fichtner said.
The incident is the latest in a string of racist verbal attacks on public transport. On Easter Saturday, a man abused an Asian couple on the 470 bus from Circular Quay to Lilyfield, and a woman who tried to intervene said most passengers ignored what was happening.
In March, a video filmed on a Perth bus showed a woman verbally abusing another woman, who she refers to as Chinese, for speaking in another language.
In February, ABC newsreader Jeremy Fernandez tweeted about being called a “black c—” who should “go back to his country” by a female passenger on a Sydney bus. He was told by the bus driver to move seats but refused to.
In November last year, footage of a racist attack on a French woman on a Melbourne bus went viral after she was called a dog by male passengers, threatened with having her breasts cut off and told to “speak English or die”.
When a group of young teenage girls began racially abusing Kate* on a public bus in Sydney, she decided she had to stand up for herself.
If it had been teenage boys, Kate* says, she probably would have sat back and copped the abuse, however unjust. But what harm could a 13-year-old girl do?
I couldn’t believe that, at such a young age, they were capable of doing this, stealing other people’s property and physically attacking me.
Now the 30-year-old has changed her mind, after she was kicked forcefully in the stomach and had her purse taken during a horror ride home to Maroubra on a crowded route 397 bus on Saturday evening.
Now she can understand why people don’t react or intervene in similar situations.
“They could have had some weapon with them. I have a very different view of a young teenage girls now,” she said.
“When I originally stood up for myself I thought, ‘They’re just young girls’, you know? Now I’ve totally changed my view. They are capable of everything.”
Kate, who did not want to be identified, was sitting at the back of the bus when the group of about five girls, thought to be aged between 13 and 17, began racially abusing her about 6.30pm on Saturday, saying: “Asian c—, go back to your own country”.
Kate, who moved to Australia from China eight years ago and is an Australian citizen, said she turned around to the girls, who were drinking alcohol, and reacted to their verbal abuse.
“I said, ‘Young lady you need to behave yourself’,” Kate said.
“I turned back to try to get the driver’s attention and they took my wallet. Then I started yelling: ‘They stole my wallet, somebody call the police.”‘
Kate saw her wallet beneath the seat of one of the girls. She crouched down and retrieved it, but as she got up one of the girls kicked her forcefully in the stomach twice.
“At that point, I was beyond stunned. I couldn’t believe that, at such a young age, they were capable of doing this, stealing other people’s property and physically attacking me,” Kate said.
“I still couldn’t punch back, I simply couldn’t do it.”
Unlike in some other recent racist attacks on public transport, the bus driver and other passengers then stepped in.
On Monday, the driver was praised for ejecting the girls, while other passengers on the bus lent verbal support to the driver’s actions.
The girls got off, only to chase the bus and throw rocks at it. They spat in the face of one other passenger who was helping Kate in the wake of the attack.
Kate, who got her purse back, said the attack was captured on CCTV, and she had reported the incident to police. She said the bus driver and the police knew who the girls were.
But given the girls’ age, they probably would not face any serious consequences for their actions.
“It’s not right, it’s not tolerable. They enjoy it, because they know they can get away with it,” she said.
“I feel pity for them, because they’re at such a young age and life seems already ruined, and I feel like it’s society’s failure.”
*Not her real name.