SBS on Struggle Street

The observational documentary hasn’t been screened yet, but it has surely stirred up some people. Struggle Street starts tomorrow night.

From blended families representing a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, to single parent homes, troubled teenagers and those dealing with issues of addiction, we’ll chart the stories of around a dozen key characters over the course of the series – and in doing so, give a voice to a neglected community.


Already Ed Husic, the local member for the Mount Druitt/Blacktown area, has written to SBS. Rather ironically (when you think of history) TCN’s A Current Affair has weighed in on behalf of the subjects of the documentary.

Residents and community leaders in Western Sydney have criticised SBS for the way their community has been portrayed in an advertisement for the upcoming documentary series Struggle Street.

The three-part series, produced by Keo Australia in partnership with SBS, focusses on the lives of 10 residents in Mount Druitt.

Pitched to those involved as a documentary highlighting the daily challenges of living in one of Australia’s toughest suburbs, the locals believe they have been deceived and betrayed.

Blacktown City Council launched an online petition on Friday, calling on the public broadcaster to immediately suspend the planned broadcast of the series – which is set to commence on Wednesday.

“This is an unethical, damaging, exploitative, trash ‘documentary’ that has misrepresented local people, and our whole community,” the council said in the petition’s description….

See also in The Guardian SBS reality show Struggle Street betrays vulnerable people, says missionary.

Jon Owen says he trusted SBS would not betray the families it filmed for six months in the impoverished western Sydney community where he serves as a Christian missionary.

But after initially helping film-makers to find the Mount Druitt families featured in the SBS show Struggle Street, the community leader says he is horrified by the series, which will debut on Wednesday night.

“My first reaction was horror,” Owen told Guardian Australia on the eve of the program’s debut. “These people showed their underbellies, their vulnerable sides, on the understanding that the final product would show them making a difference.”

Of SBS he said: “This was the media group that was supposed to do it differently. This is not A Current Affair, this is not populist Murdoch media. This is supposed to be our friend, SBS, but they have betrayed us. Whose agenda does this suit? It’s not the local community’s agenda.”…

The Herald ran what appears quite a balanced feature recently: Struggle Street is a raw insight to life at the edges of Australian society.

… Struggle Street thrusts us headlong into the fraught but affecting stories of people dealing with unimaginable hardship and challenges, from drug addiction and mental health problems to poverty, homelessness and abuse.

It’s a raw yet unsentimental depiction of a social microcosm that is rarely, if ever, seen on screen or, when it is, caricatured in comedy.

Galloway admits he hasn’t watched Housos but, based on the other work of the show’s creator Paul Fenech, feels uncomfortable with the mullet and bogan stereotype.

“There’s a perverse pride people might take in it, but … I don’t feel comfortable with it all because it is literally creating stereotypes and taking the piss.

“What we’re doing with this is going beyond the stereotype and finding out why you end up in Mount Druitt, why you haven’t been able to get a job for the past 20 years, why children are getting pregnant at 16, why you have been on heroin for 30 years.”

For Galloway, the documentary is an opportunity to explode preconceptions about those relegated to an invisible fringe of mainstream society. “I think there’s an attitude from some sectors of society [of] just go and apply for 20 jobs. Some of these people can’t read, they don’t know how to get a job. It’s easy for us to say get off your arse and do something about it but, when you’re born in areas like this and your dad’s been in jail and on drugs, you don’t have a lot of role models. There’s that old cliche of generational disadvantage, but it’s true. These cycles perpetuate”…

It isn’t the first time an observational documentary series has caused a ruckus here in Oz: think Sylvania Waters (1993) and the cringeworthy The Shire on Channel Ten (2012).

Now here in The Gong:


Apparently aside from real-life bogans, quite a common sight down this way, we apparently have a YouTube sensation:


See Australia’s Beavis and Butthead: Damo and Darren.

A hilariously obscene animation offering “disturbingly accurate” social commentary about Aussie men has become a YouTube sensation, racking up a global viewership comparable to the TV audience for football grand finals.

Episode 1 of Damo and Darren has clocked more than 2.7 million views since it was uploaded in February [2014], despite – or probably because of – its almost documentary-exact use of profanity….

Cusack, 23, who grew up in Wollongong and used Dapto train station as the basis for the animation and audio, says he’s been surprised and delighted by the reaction to the clip.

“When I first uploaded it, it was late at night, so it was daytime in the US and the comments were pretty negative, people saying ‘what the hell is this?’ and ‘it’s not even funny’,” Cusack says.

“Then when it got to daytime here and Australians were awake, it started getting positive comments.”…

Cusack says he did not set out to make a statement about a certain type of man he describes as “part derro, part yobbo, part bogan”. He says Damo and Darren were “subconscious influences from going to Woolies to get milk and bread and waiting in line and observing”.

One doesn’t have to strain too hard to imagine the gentlemen who inspired this exchange from the short:

DAMO: If you want a lighter, why don’t you just go to the servo and get one?

DARREN: Because you dopey c—, I just spent all me Centrelink on Samantha’s child support, didn’t I?

DAMON: That’s got nuffin to do with me.

DARREN: I don’t believe it. Un-f—en-believable. After all the shit we’ve been through. So f—in’ typical of you though, eh? F—in’ stingy c—….

A rather interesting view of Wollongong by an expat who regularly returns from San Francisco is Wollongong’s Wonderful Renewal.

To illustrate, imagine the experience of a visitor who’d caught the train to Wollongong; they’d have to navigate crowds of bogans, junkies and petty crims, run the gauntlet of western Crown St and the dark and violent mall (see video below), pass the eyesore of the entertainment centre, to finally make it to the beauty of the beach and Flagstaff Hill….

More Buskers & Baristas and Less Bogans

By the start of 2015, the transformation was clear for anyone to see, and it was awesome…

On Thursday night I walked through the western end of the mall, and you could have knocked me over with a feather. A dozen or more of the city’s better restaurants had shown up and created pop-up take away dining experiences – for my American friends, imagine food trucks without the need for big trucks. The city was absolutely buzzing, with a singer-guitarist putting on a show, and in other parts of the mall there were other talented buskers doing their thing. The experience repeated (with differences in vendors) on Friday with the popular farmer’s markets through the mall. Walking through the stores was great too: there were plenty of shoppers; the place was packed. People were smiling and enjoying being together with strangers in a public space.

The differences to a similar shopping experience from a few years earlier couldn’t have been more stark. On a normal Thursday night at 7pm, the mall would be full of hood-rats who’d come in on the train as packs and acting like wannabe-gangbangers, sitting around, leering and screaming at each other across the mall. No one was happy – it was the depression and darkness of the city’s psyche manifest in hundreds of bogans and junkies just existing. Early in the evening they generally kept to themselves, but by 10pm the mall became a fairly dangerous place to be, with numerous bashings occurring almost every weekend (see video above).

The best thing about the changes in the centre of the city over the last few years is the effect it has had on social norms. Now there’s more buskers, baristas and cocktail barmen in the city centre than bogans yelling “fark off ya caaaant” while they suck back another pack of Winfield Blues. This doesn’t mean the city isn’t open, welcome and inclusive – it just means that expectations of behaviour and a default attitude is now a positive, aspirational and friendly one rather than a dark dog-eat-dog mindset of the depressed and despondent.

A sense of community has returned – and it is wonderful….

That was written earlier this year. Remember this in August 2014? Kick them out of Crown Street Mall: club boss. See also my post Wollongong transformed — 7.

More on fifteen years of blogging


1. Being in Sydney for the Olympic Games. Although I only saw a few things “live” it was just great being in this city at that time. I apologise again to Ian Thorpe for allowing my little infatuation with that Dutchman to divert my support from Ian–and then Ian lost that race!
2. M’s return from overseas–even with the ups and downs since.
3. Yum Cha Sundays–especially one that led to the Chinese Gardens and all that has followed–a truly precious friendship. Thanks especially to the Dowager Empress, who inspired this regular event. Quote: “What’s Cantonese for sixteen screaming queens sitting in the corner?” (Note: We rarely screamed, and quite often there were non-queens present: but always there was at least one Empress.)
4. Doing a few useful things at work, summed up in a card I just received: “If you only know how much your support is valued, if you could still see how grateful I am, then you could feel the warmth of my ‘thanks’. Thank you for being such a great teacher! Your student X. 19. 12. 00.” :-)
5. The fact that the movement for reconciliation between Aboriginal Australians and the rest of us has gathered such momentum that even the Prime Minister has moved forward (a little).
6. Surviving the year more or less in one piece.
7. The success of PK’s “Gifting Tree” which generated much interest and a very satisfying quantity of food for the Luncheon Club Larder, a Sydney HIV/AIDS charity–especially in the context of PK’s own difficulties. He has been a good friend for many years.
8. Making friends on the Internet–especially Johnny Wu (the first one!), Atakan Ali, and various others through ICQ and chat.
9. Starting and developing this website. Thanks to G. who made it possible in the first place, to MTC and others for their encouragement, and to the many people all over the world who have visited–especially those who have left comments on my guestbook or by email.
10. The privilege of continuing to live in Surry Hills, thereby breaking my record for being in one place. :-)
Happy Holiday Season all my readers…


Sometime in the early 2000s I discovered animated gifs. The one above is more tasteful than some were!

May 6 2001: Confessions of a bibliomaniac; another long Sunday rave

This continues the major theme of the past few entries–in a way ;-) “It’s my diary and I’ll stray if I want to!”

I have always loved books it seems: the feel of them, the look of them, the smell of them–not just what’s in them. I have been known to buy books when down to my last few dollars, and sell them to raise money for such trivia as rent and food!

When I shuffle off this mortal coil (to recycle a bit of Shakespeare so that my English teacher cred is established) my heirs can have as many books as they want–first pick going to the one who gets the academic gown. Money? Well, that is another matter.

I was with a fellow bibliophile in Berkelouw’s (an excellent bookshop) the other day; someone who can be entertained for hours just by letting him graze the shelves in a bookshop :-) To my delight I found the very book (or a copy anyway) that was given to me on my seventh birthday–a Collins Illustrated Encyclopedia, late 1940s edition. I found in it the picture of the half-naked Native American boy that had a mysterious power over me back then; sad to say he didn’t look half as cute to me now! My companion that day was lost in an eighty-year-old world of Boys’ Own Papersand imperial iconography.

My friend Graham Little (Re-Viewing English, eds Wayne Sawyer, Ken Watson and Eva Gold, Sydney, St Clair Press 1998: vii) has written: “I don’t know when or how I learned to read, but do remember skipping first grade after Miss Lamont found me reading under the desk instead of attending to her phonics lesson.” I had a similar experience, but in my case it was writing “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date on the board when in kindergarten; I was supposed to do meaningless squiggles like everyone else.

The precocious intelligence evaporated though, I fear.

In other respects I was a total klutz, though: in craft my lack of common sense and coordination frustrated me so much I just ate the raffia instead of weaving it; it tasted rather salty, I recall, and I seem to remember having my knuckles rapped over that.

A few years ago I read a rather nice but little known monograph on the psychology of reading–Lost in a Book: The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure by Victor Nell, a South African (New Haven, Yale University Press 1988.) Let me quote:

Reading for pleasure is an extraordinary activity. The black squiggles on the white page are still as the grave, colorless as the moonlit desert; but they give the skilled reader a pleasure as acute as the touch of a loved body, as rousing, colorful and transfiguring as anything out there in the real world. And yet, the more stirring the book the quieter the reader…

These are the paired wonders of reading: the world-creating power of books, and the reader’s effortless absorption that allows the book’s fragile world, all air and thought, to maintain itself for a while, a bamboo and paper house among earthquakes; within it readers acquire peace, become more powerful, feel braver and wiser in the ways of the world…

Pleasure reading is playful: it is a free activity standing outside ordinary life; it absorbs the player completely, is unproductive, and takes place within circumscribed limits of space and time… [It] is at root a play activity, intrinsically motivated and usually paratelic, that is, engaged in for its own sake.

Nell takes play seriously I should say. “The pleasure of the text”, as Roland Barthes said. Often forgotten.

A very different book on reading that delights me is Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World by David Denby (NY, Touchstone, 1997.) Denby is a film critic who, given the controversies in the United States over the “Western Canon,” decided to enrol in Literature Humanities at Columbia University, thirty years after he had done it in the early 1960s. He concludes that both sides of the “culture wars”–radical and conservative–get it wrong.

Here he is on John Stuart Mill, paired with Marx in this course; the instructor found Mill platitudinous and dull, but to Denby “we read Mill not only because he articulates what many of us believe about freedom in an open society but because Mill’s arguments encompass the ethical condition of our believing things at all.” Mill, Denby says, “demands that we accept uncertainty. He wants us to live…with the assumption that life is neither stationary, nor easily understood. No single idea–religious, economic, political–will organize everything, interpret everything, unify everything. We’re condemned to change and complexity, and only reason and debate will produce knowledge and even progress.” Such ideas, as Denby says, please neither the Christian right nor the cultural left. (pp. 352-255)

So there we have two perspectives: reading as play (Nell) and reading as mind-altering substance perhaps (Denby)– and both are right, yet incomplete.

One text on the very long list of HSC options (where Shakespeare is compulsory pretty much at the same level it has been since the 1970s) is a third good book on reading: Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading, London, Flamingo, 1997. This is a bibliomaniac’s delight: I wonder if Barry has read it? He probably has, even though it hardly fits his parameters for what “English” should be about.

Another book (not on the HSC) that demonstrates how a “canonical” text grows in changing contexts and with diverse readers, is Jonathan Bate’sThe Genius of Shakespeare (London, Picador, 1997): very good.


Here is where I live (2003) –a view towards the City over Surry Hills from approximately where M now lives. Glad to see you here :-)
The odd-looking individual just below is Ninglun.

3 October 2002: Vermont Street 1

At Vermont Street Monday to Friday at 5 pm without fail I would listen to the ABC Children’s Hour, a habit begun the previous year as my sister was a listener; she became an Argonaut and then so did I. I was Leda 37 (each member was allotted a “ship” and given a number), but I only ever won one Blue Certificate. Many quite prominent Australians have testified to how significant this rather odd radio program was in their lives.

Can I remember the Argonauts theme song? Let’s try:

Row, row, merry oarsmen row
That dangers lie ahead, we know, we know–
But bend with all your might
As we sail into the night
For wrongs we’re bound to right,
Jason cry–
Argonauts, row, row, row.”

Fifteen years of blogging

Very long and faintly embarrassing is my very first online blog post – though I then called it a “diary entry” – on Angelfire or Talk City.

There my “Brother” diary ends, and the online diary starts next with one entry:
29 April, 2000: 6:07AM
“M offered to pay for private hospital! My life changed absolutely when he came into it. I hope the delay hearing about his citizenship application does not indicate a problem. It shouldn’t. But there will undoubtedly be more about M as this journal grows.” QUOTE FROM MY JOURNAL Christmas Eve
* * *
M finally got his Australian citizenship in 1997. The process had begun in 1991. I had my hernia operation around Anzac Day 1997 at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (an excellent public hospital) after a six month wait as it was elective surgery; hence M’s offer 4-5 months earlier. I had meantime found another use for bicycle shorts, though I don’t recommend them as underwear in a Sydney summer. I saw Mardi Gras 1997 on TV in emergency at Prince Alfred where I was waiting to have the hernia pushed back into place, having for once failed to do so myself, only to be told by a cheerful nurse after the deed was done that it was just as well she’d succeeded as they couldn’t have admitted me anyway because they had no beds.
* * *
I don’t usually perform lucubrations on my Brother at this hour. There, that will have them running for their dictionaries; and I’m only using my Brother because it saves powering up the PC; I just have to keep my eye out for the sticky “w”– the w key on the Brother is a bit erratic.
And I’m only performing lucubrations because I’ve just finished Hell Week (as the Quitnetters call it), having made a determination that this cigarette quit will hold. I did run from July 1998 to just on New Year 1999 almost ciggieless, and for a couple of extended periods in 1999 and 2000. I suppose I have in total smoked over the last year half of what I would have. However, I now know I cannot be a moderate smoker, so it has to stop. My advice to anyone out there: if you don’t, don’t start! It’s an evil drug really. I, poor fool, started in my 30s, as an alternative, I think, to strangling children: teachers may know what I mean.

Sadly it wasn’t until February 2011 that I finally quit for good!

The ill-starred Diary-X was my blogging home for several years. There is a remnant: 30 captures between 2001 and 2005 on the Wayback Machine. Here is part of Thursday, June 19, 2003.

On English teachers, my suggestion that they sit the exams themselves is not entirely facetious. I have seen such things done in the days when staff development was somewhat more generous, and it is a very chastening exercise. I once did this (quite a long time ago now) at Sydney Boys High. I was supervising an in-class assessment task and sat out the front doing it myself. I subsequently handed my answer (no name) in with the others and the Head of English (Alan Whitehurst) marked it. You will be pleased to know I scored 20/20.
A couple of years ago I attempted to answer a new-style task in order to provide a model for an ESL student I was helping. I wrote something halfway decent, but not in the time frame an examinee would have, and drawing on knowledge it would be totally idiotic to expect a student to have mastered in the time available — such as, in my case, an Honours degree in English and years of thinking about the concepts involved. The best most students can do, given their circumstances, is a reasonably coherent parroting of a mishmash of half-understood theories and inadequate “readings” in the light of those theories. There is not time, realistically, to properly absorb, say, King Lear and really explore various “readings” in order to assess what one really thinks of them. There is nothing wrong with the concept of multiple readings, but everything wrong with the truncated treatment they get in an HSC time-frame.
Very few teachers will have exposed themselves by trying to do what they expect students to do. I really do wish they, and the syllabus makers, would do just that.

Now part of Friday, 30 May 2003: Winter’s coming.

You may recall our school Principal is circumnavigating Australia as a member of the Sailors with Disabilities crew. Here is a student contribution to the Around Australia Challenge Bulletin Board, and the reply:

SBHS Student (no name) (Sydney)
Dear Dr Jaggar, school has broken up early this term, with the Deputy Headmaster winning the approval of all students with his decision to suspend schooling for the rest of the term. All students are being encouraged to stay at home and watch progress of KAZ on the web. Hence we work on our geography (around Australia), science (oocean currents, weather systems) and mathmatics (will they break the record at this speed?). The website is also helpful in working on the foreign language of sailing jargon. Keep sailing.
2003-05-26 21:34:43 °168

Reply from the Boat
Dear Unidentified Student,
Thank you for alerting me to the radical action of the Deputy Principal. I hope you work on your spelling during this unexpectedly long vacation.
2003-05-27 08:24:25

Thanks to J Beringer for pointing it out to me. Oh, just in case: it’s not true, you know… What was in the student message, that is; I mean it really is a student message… Oh, I am sure you get it ;-)

And finally, from May 2005:

Exeunt omnes…

25 MAY 2005

Fancy that, eh. Graham Kennedy dead; another marker on one’s own progress towards the grave, isn’t it? Morbid maybe, but true. One year older than my brother…

Who will ever forget the famous “crow call” that got him banned from live TV for a while? “On the show of 5 March 1975 Kennedy imitated a crow (“faaaaaark”) during a live read of a Cedel Hairspray advert by Rosemary Margan. Apparently it wasn’t the first time Kennedy had used the joke, but for some reason it stood out this time and Nine supposedly received hundreds of complaints, followed by a rash of predictably scandalised newspaper headlines the next day. The incident was reported to the Broadcasting Control Board and as a result Graham was banned from performing live on TV for an indefinite period and was forced to pre-record the show on videotape.” Link

Actor and author Graeme Blundell said Kennedy was “a genuine celebrity who seemed to have come from another planet… (and) that’s why he retired so early, he was only 50 when he disappeared”.

The biographer and close friend of Graham Kennedy said the television personality was frail and appeared much older than his years when they met recently.

“He was very frail and he looked much older than 70.”

“His tone was comic but he was a very frail man … he couldn’t walk or dress himself. He was in a pretty bad way,” he said.

Blundell said he left the last few pages of Kennedy’s biography blank for readers to insert their own ending to the “king’s” life.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe amazing Father Ted Kennedy of Redfern died last week too. The pic shows an Interfaith service that was held at St Vincent’s Redfern on the anniversary of the Mass of Compassion for the Muslim community in Australia in 2002. Link

Fr Ted Kennedy sided with the Redfern Aborigines around Mum Shirl and became a close collaborator in her work. His genius was to privilege the excluded in such a way that they became friends. His deep and profound love of the Aborigines in Redfern and all their relatives around Australia was expressed in his extraordinary memory of names and places and where those names belonged. He could identify where each family was based geographically and knew members of visiting Aborigines’ families. This practical knowledge was matched with a keen theological insight and edge that came straight from a political reading of the gospel that left fellow travellers enthralled with its freshness and cultural critique. Ted had an eye for the angle that gave hope to the underdog and a passion to those who stood in solidarity with the underdog. Redfern parishioners – that strange, diverse and sometimes tortured group of all kinds, all colours and even various beliefs – somehow created a community that would have made Jesus proud. Link

Ed Campion did a nice obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald last week. Link

PK mentioned Ted Kennedy’s death last Saturday when I told him about Father Ken Sinclair. It’s Ken’s funeral today, by the way. Link

If your name’s Kennedy, you’d best be careful just now, it seems.

Air show grounded

Back in 2012 I posted:

On 1 May I was down at Belmore Basin (Wollongong Harbour) in the afternoon and saw this:


It appears it is part of the Wings Over Illawarra Air Show that comes up on Sunday.

Last year bad weather prevented it going ahead, and this year, sadly, it has happened again.

The financial implications of cancelling this weekend’s Wings Over Illawarra could prove too costly for the air show to go on next year.

Organisers have vowed they want the event in 2016 to be bigger and better, but don’t know the extent of the damage and are currently in talks with insurers.

Severe downpours this week rendered the airfield unusable and unsafe, while wild weather in other parts of the country stopped several publicised aircraft getting to the Albion Park air strip…

The 2014 event was marred by 100km/h westerly winds, forcing patrons to leave in droves, and grounding all but three aircraft, which were powerful enough to contend with the weather.

Mr Bright said the event could not easily be moved to another date as approvals from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority were sought months in advance, while requests for Defence Force aircraft were made two years in advance.

“We can’t seem to win. In a word, devastated I guess. [My wife] Kerry and I agonised over the decision … The stall holder tents that have been in place for two or three days still have an inch of water in them, nothing’s drying out,” he said.

“Rather than run the risk of ruining the reputation of a great show, we needed to cancel and try again next time. Unfortunately, two years in a row the weather hasn’t played nicely.”…

The associated museum and displays on the ground will still go ahead. I posted about the latest addition in March: Amazing sights.


See also Wings Over Illawarra 2015.

It is with a very heavy heart that the decision has been made to cancel Wings Over Illawarra 2015.

The record breaking rain during April has made the airport grounds extremely water logged. We did think that if the rain could ease off during this last week we would be able to relocate most of the exhibits and stalls to higher ground. Last night we received another 25mls of rain. This has meant that the airfield is now totally unusable, unsafe and in no state to be able to have general public access safely…

From past shows: