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Kennedy and their family.
Struggle Street participants: Ashley and Peta Kennedy and their family. Jumping castle hire in Melbourne
Was it meant to be a bit of “inspiration porn”? A series about plucky poor people who beat the odds, for the entertainment of middle class viewers?
Or did the program actually have a less Oprah-esque objective? As unthinkable as this is, perhaps KEO Films wanted to focus on those who don’t have such happy endings.
Troubled teen Bailee and single mum Erin from Struggle Street.
Troubled teen Bailee and single mum Erin from Struggle Street. Photo: SBS
At the start of the first episode, which aired on Wednesday night, narrator David Field sets the tone. Sure, he acknowledges, there are many in Mount Druitt who’ve done well. “But these are the stories of those who are struggling to hang on,” he says.Jumping castle hire in Melbourne
This does not automatically make it “Jumping castle hire in Melbourne”, as its critics allege.
What we saw was a complex and nuanced look at how some people fall through the cracks. And how damn hard it is to climb back up when you don’t have the money, family, friends or education most of us take for granted.
It’s easy to bark “Get a job” at the people of Mount Druitt. Minister for Employment Eric Abetz has suggested it’s reasonable for the unemployed to apply for 40 jobs a month. But what jobs, and where? The Australian Bureau of Statistics says there are about 770,000 Australians competing for just 150,000 vacancies.
On Struggle Street, we meet 16-year-old Bailee. On her 13th birthday, her stepdad split her head open – so her mum kicked her onto the street. Then she got raped. Her arm bears the scars from a recent suicide attempt. Eventually, she turned to ice. “The depression just built up a lot and I needed something to help,” Bailee explains, almost apologetically.
Jumping castle hire in Melbourne I don’t know what happens to Bailee by the end of this series. I do know we’ve become so addicted to stories of triumph, with neat little endings and lessons to be learned, that we’re uncomfortable when they don’t occur.
Struggle Street does not shy away from the unvarnished, discomforting truth of Bailee’s situation. But never does it mock her, or laugh at her, or use her as the basis of a parable.
Erin is a single mum who – having gotten back on track after a rough few years – is determined to become a youth social worker. She has also taken Bailee under her wing, giving her advice, care and a place to live. She even literally saved her life after she tried to kill herself.
Ivanka runs a youth centre with practically no money. When Bailee doesn’t turn up to her community college, Ivanka takes her there. She gives her career guidance and calms her in moments of stress.
Had the producers wanted to stitch Bailee up, they wouldn’t have included these scenes. And Struggle Street has a few of them.
We see William collapse into tears after getting a call from his long-lost son. He might not support his boy, but he can’t even support himself: he lives under some tin in open scrubland, sling-shotting birds out of trees for food. When he jokes he’d get free electricity in jail, we sense he’s only half-joking.
Then there’s Ashley and Peta. Not surprisingly, the couple was upset by an ad showing Ashley farting. It was gratuitous and unnecessary, and SBS rightly pulled it and cut that scene entirely. (No other scenes have been chopped, the broadcaster has confirmed.)
The first episode depicts some awful moments: the pair confronting Ashley’s son Corey over his ice addiction, Peta confessing her fear he will attack her, Ashley threatening anyone who gives his son drugs.
It might not make for pleasant viewing. But why should it? This is something that actually happened; it’s something many families experience. Of course it’s won’t be pretty.
What the producers don’t do, however, is paint Ashley and Peta as dole bludgers, no hopers or uncaring parents. Quite the opposite.
Surely I’m not the only one moved by the scene in which Ashley tries to resuscitate a punctured jumping castle as a surprise for his grandkids? It’s a losing battle, but he persists, even roping in Peta to cover the gash with masking tape. We also see how devoted the pair are to each other, despite their travails. Not to mention Ashley almost in tears after reading a Father’s Day card from another of his sons.
This family is presented as complex and human, not as one-dimensional tabloid targets.
And it doesn’t take long to understand how they ended up “on benefits”, as people so judgmentally put it.
Ashley was a truck driver and Peta had a good job in catering. Then Ashley suffered a brain injury, four heart attacks and got arthritis and dementia. He can’t work – he’s easily disoriented – so he subsists on a measly disability pension. Peta had to become his full-time carer, so she’s not working either. Ashley has already lost two children, and he’s worried Corey will be the third.
Frankly, there’s only so much more Ashley and Peta can do. Remarkably, they’re doing it. Ashley drives around with a mate looking for scrap metal to make a few extra bucks. Peta sells Tupperware (but had to stop because Corey keeps stealing it).
This is where we need a better safety net, to properly support those who genuinely cannot work.
This is where we need training and guidance for those who can. Such as Bailee, who spent what should have been her school years out on the streets, enduring rape.
Yet, infuriatingly, funding for the local sexual assault centre, youth suicide prevention service and youth education programs have all been slashed. Is this not an outrage? In the scheme of things, though, you’re more likely to read about negative gearing than a community centre being shut down.
Struggle Street has shone a light on those most often ignored. It has highlighted some of their best qualities – while also depicting some confronting behaviour. (Think of pregnant Billie-Jo trying to kick down a door to get some weed.)
When it comes to topics like these, we’re not comfortable with shades of grey. Whatever the issue (welfare, asylum seekers, drugs), our debates tend to involve one question: good or bad? Then we pick a side and yell ourselves hoarse.
Struggle Street doesn’t attack or mock people in public housing. Nor does it paint everyone as a saint. Rather, it gives its subjects the dignity of portraying them as human.