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Cabramatta is a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, 32 km west of the Sydney CBD. It is a predominantly Vietnamese commercial area, with some Lao, Cambodian and Chinese businesses also present. The suburb has a longstanding image problem, primarily due to its reputation as a popular distribution point for heroin.

Crime Problems

Cabramatta has become known for several crime problems. Drug-dealing is one of these. These drug activities began in the 1990s and focussed at and around its railway station. Much of the drug-dealing was done by juveniles of predominantly Asian origin. Many drug addicts were drawn to this area and a train stopping at Cabramatta Station was known as the "smack express" to these addicts. Many of them indulged in their habit in the immediate Cabramatta area, with some dying from overdoses in places such as public toilets. Many also disposed of their needles with often total disregard to public safety.

The heroin problem, and attempts to contain it, has been the source of much controversy and failed actions involving politicians, senior police, human rights organisations and the media. For instance, the erection of a police station at the station in 1995 proved ineffective because it was only open on a part-time basis. As at 2002, the problem has been reported as having receded. However, property values and difficulties in selling real estate in the area are still present.

Street prostitution has also been known to occur, in particular in the vicinity of the railway station.

Another related problem has been the presence of youth gangs in the Cabramatta area. The most notorious of these has been said to have been the 5T gang, which emerged in the 1980s. The term "5T" was derived from the first letter of the Vietnamese words for love, money, prison, crime and kill. Gang members were marked with a tattoo consisting of five concaternated Ts. This consisted of a straight horizontal line and five joined vertical lines representing the stems of the five Ts. The 5T gang's alleged activities included murder, robbery and drug dealing in the Cabramatta area. Its leader was Tri Minh Tran, who was shot dead in his Cabramatta flat in 1995 at the age of 21.

Cabramatta is also remembered for the political murder of a NSW State MP, John Newman, outside his home there in September, 1994. Acts of political violence are rare in Australia and thus this assassination drew much attention and alarm. A local nightclub owner and political rival, Phuong Ngo, was convicted of the murder in 2001 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Two of Ngo's associates were found not guilty of the murder. In 2003, Ngo failed in an appeal against his sentence.

Origins and History

The origin of the suburb's name is obscure, but is believed to have been derived from two Aboriginal words, cabra and matta, meaning grub and point or jutting out piece of land respectively.

The name first came into use in the area in the early 19th century, when a family called Bull named a property that they had purchased Cabramatta Park. When a small village formed nearby in 1814, it took its name from the property. A township grew from this village. A railway was built through it in the 1850s. However, Cabramatta did not get its railway station until 1870. Initially, it was used for loading and unloading freight and livestock - it was not open for public transport until 1872. A school was established in Cabramatta in 1882 and a post office in 1886.

Cabramatta remained a predominantly agricultural township, in Sydney's outer fringes, throughout the 19th century. It developed a close community relationship with neighbouring Canley Vale, and until 1899 they shared a common municipality. In 1948, Cabramatta's local government merged with that of the neighbouring Fairfield City Council, and it now run by that local government.

It evolved into a Sydney suburb in the mid 20th century, partly as the result of a major state housing project in the nearby Liverpool area in the 1960s that in turn swallowed Cabramatta. Cabramatta began to acquire its Vietnamese character in the 1960s and 1970s, especially after the end of the Vietnam War, when immigrants and refugees from that country began to settle there.

External sites

This Fairfield City Council website (http://www.fairfieldcity.nsw.gov.au/default.asp?iSubCatID=297&iNavCatID=1) gives a scenic tour of Cabramatta.

This transcript (http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/s72739.htm) of an 1997 episode of the Australian current affairs program "Four Corners" explored the Cabramatta scene and its heroin and murder problems.

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