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Wednesday 6 May 2015

'Struggle Street': SBS ONE - Review and VIDEO: Why it should air.

The objections to the SBS documentary series called 'Struggle Street' - the three-part doco series which premieres tonight Wednesday 6 May, 8.30pm on SBS ONE - have reached fever pitch today, with protests taking place at the SBS Sydney HQ at St Leonards, as garbage trucks blockade the headquarters, as a symbol of how some of the residents are feeling they're being portrayed - like rubbish - based on the trailer they've seen and the first episode of the series.

Having just watched the complete first episode via the SBS media site, accessible to journalists, bloggers, and media, it's clear the show is intended to be a doco style series. Of course the producers and writers have sought out areas which are truly struggling, depicting the poorest people in that cross section of Mt Druitt, who have struggled with unemployment and homelessness and discrimination when they ARE wanting to make something of themselves, lying about their postcode in order to be given a chance of a job, sticking together with family in order to stay positive, and make the most of the life they have.

Peta and Ashley, as featured in 'Struggle Street'

Peta and her family, from 'Struggle Street'

Sure, not every street in Mt Druitt is like this - of course they aren't. Many suburbs in Sydney have their 'rougher' precincts, have their streets which are more likely to have break ins, and trouble, and cop call outs.

And sure, in the case of Mt Druitt and many other less affluent suburbs, there are people who have broken away from that tag, that stereotype that comes with the geography of where they live, and have become successful in their quest for a better life, raising a unified family, and being law abiding and respectful contributors to the community. And these residents depicted in the program ARE trying their best, within the confines of what they have been served up. As one person says at the end of ep one: "It's not where you live, it's how you act."

The doco DOES demonstrate how the people depicted in the show are hopeful and how their spirit is not broken. They keep trying to raise their kids the best way they can, they continue trying to find the best means to keep their kids fed and clothed, and keep their tight knit families together, despite their huge life struggles - some they are simply born into.

The biggest issue from the most vocal critics of the show - coming from the very people who have been filmed for the show - is with how they are depicted in the trailer. Some have also seen the first episode, and they are unhappy about that too.

The man breaking wind in the trailer (see below) - Ashley - is particularly upset, says his wife and carer Peta.

She says she was horrified that her husband is depicted this way, and rightfully so. We learn in the first episode Ashley is undergoing tests for dementia, and today she revealed to Lisa Wilkinson on their 'Today' show interview (see that link below) that Ashley does in fact now have a dementia diagnosis. Obviously, as a huge supporter and advocate of people with dementia I don't like this at all.

During this morning's interview though, Lisa does point out that they knew cameras were filming for the show, but Peta says Ashley doesn't even recall, well, farting on camera, and now they are embarrassed this has made the cut in the episode and trailer.

Ashley told 9News:“It’s a documentary on our life struggles, not how we fart”.

In an excellent article by Amanda Meade published in The Guardian yesterday, Jon Owen, who was one of the community leaders approached by SBS field producers, says:

“If you’re making a documentary about people trying to make a difference then why did you need to show them farting?” Owen says. “It’s a class issue in Sydney. We need to always put these subtle reminders in that they’re from the west and we’re not. You wouldn’t do a story on someone from Mosman who is making a difference with their business and then show him having a fart!”

Read the whole article here.

Watch the trailer here (which SBS did take down from their official site, to appease the community):

The other huge sticking point from some of the residents is that certain elements were filmed in order to elicit specific footage.

For example, Peta revealed today that when Ashley is shown collecting scrap metal for cash and later spending that money on junk food at the local 7-Eleven, the reality is that the money he earned was in fact used for family necessities like milk and bread, and the film crew bought that junk food from the store.

See the whole 'Today' show interview here.

Lisa does bring up an excellent point, and one that I echo, that the press surrounding the program could serve as a catalyst to get the government funnelling funds to the area.

I agree with this sentiment, and it's why I think that this show MUST be shown on TV, it must screen tonight and for the next three weeks. It shows just how much certain people in the community are struggling. It's essential viewing for all Aussies. Lisa says that the show could indeed shine a light on how the struggling community can be helped, and I agree.

This is why I think the screening should go ahead - not that the screening was ever truly going to be halted anyway. I mean, c'mon guys.

I believe that the doco shows just how these particular Mt Druitt residents want to turn their lives around, how much they're struggling, yet how they band together to make good of what they have. 

And before you think I am some person hiding behind a keyboard with zero idea what it's like to live in a suburb on the other side of Sydney's M4 motorway, you're wrong. All my life I have lived - and still live, proudly - in a suburb out west, and still choose to live here with my husband, and raise my kids here. The socio-economic status of where I live is not a pocket of poverty and struggle like some of the precincts portrayed on 'Struggle Street'. But if we're basing the comparison on higher disposable incomes and (over the top) housing prices, it's no North Shore, either.

And while the trailer is intended to be sensationalist, and the furore around it has done the trick - to get people talking, and get newspapers running 'outrage' headlines (all of which is exceptional PR for the show, getting people to know the show is on, and ultimately tune in) - it will also give the Australian government a massive wake up call on how much funding this area needs, how much help these people need in order to help turn their lives around.

I am not talking welfare money thrown at the problem, no. I am talking about what the Mayor of Blacktown Steven Bali highlights in his interview with Lisa, that community services which are sorely needed in the area have been ignored, their funding cut. Stephen highlights two such places: Eagles RAPS which aids the prevention of youth suicide, and Rosie's Place, which helps women who are victims of domestic violence - both now have their funding completely cut.

If anything, the doco series has given people who know and love the area and represent it an opportunity to raise important issues and leverage that discussion into the right channels - and ultimately change the community for the better.

Says the SBS press release:

See what life is really like on Struggle Street in new SBS documentary series. Three-part documentary series premieres Wednesday 6 May, 8.30pm on SBS ONE

In the heart of the ‘lucky country’ some Australian families and individuals are living on the fringes, facing the daily hardships of unemployment, drug addiction and illness; struggling just to get by.

New three-part, fly on the wall observational documentary series Struggle Street  gives a voice to those doing it tough right on the doorstep of Australia’s most affluent cities.

Filmed in the public housing estates of Sydney’s western suburbs, residents invited cameras in for exclusive, uncensored access to their lives over a six month period. The result is an eye-opening glimpse at real life in under-resourced Australian communities – raw, honest and unfiltered.  

Telling their own stories in their own voices, Struggle Street shines a light on part of Australian society often overlooked and misunderstood. Their stories are at times confronting, but also heartwarming and inspiring.

The program uncovers how a range of complex issues– low-incomes, unemployment, postcode discrimination, minimal education, addiction, long term illness and generational cycles of disadvantage – which shape the lives of these residents.

In Struggle Street, meet the people behind the labels ‘dole bludgers’, ‘housos’, ‘druggos’, and find out the circumstances and life events  that led them to the difficult situations they face today.

Peta and husband Ashley have ten kids and eighteen grandkids between them. Both were employed, Peta in the catering industry and Ashley as an interstate truck driver for 30 years, until severe family illness forced them out of work and onto benefits. Physical and mental illness, disability and drug addiction are part of their daily life, as they try and do their best for their kids, make ends meet and keep their family together.   
Bob’s wife suffered a catastrophic medical condition and his life has been on a downward spiral ever since, battling drug addiction and the housing authorities. Bob’s girlfriend Billie-Jo is pregnant and, born a methadone addict, is managing her own drug issues before the birth of their baby.  

21-year-old Erin is a single mum and has taken homeless teenager Bailee under her wing as she tries to get a roof over her head and her life on track.

William is an Indigenous man living rough in the bush just outside Mt Druitt, using homemade slingshots to hunt birds to eat. William doesn’t have formal ID documents and, caught between two cultures, is struggling to find his place in society.

Young adult Chris has tense relationships with both his mum, and her twin sister Aunt Michelle who he lives with. Dealing with constant family turmoil, his own mental illness, and living in an area plagued with high youth unemployment, Chris has just managed to land his first job as a cleaner and with it a reason to stay on the straight and narrow.

What emerges through the most challenging of circumstances are powerful stories of family bonds, love, resilience and hope, and a determination to make the best of what you’ve got when you’re on Struggle Street.

Three-part Australian series Struggle Street was produced by KEO Films Australia and premieres Wednesday 6 May at 8.30pm on SBS ONE. Join the conversation on Twitter #StruggleStreetSBS.

Struggle Street was produced with the support of Screen Australia and Screen New South Wales.

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