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.

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  1. Pingback: To Struggle Street via Mount Keira Road and City Diggers | Neil's Commonplace Book

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