A Salvation Army officer has today defended the people of Mount Druitt, while public debate rages over the controversial SBS television series Struggle Street.
Lieutenant Rachel Farthing, a Salvation Army mission leader in the Mount Druitt and Chifley area, told Hope Media that she was disappointed that local families have been portrayed negatively in the advertisements for the series.
Listen to Salvation Army officer Rachel Farthing talk about Struggle Street
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“I knew a couple of people filmed for the show and I know they trusted the producers, and thought the show was going to portray the positive work happening in the community,” she said.
“I feel disappointed, a bit betrayed.”
The three-part series, beginning this week, follows a number of Mount Druitt families who were filmed over six months, spotlighting issues such as drug addiction, poverty and social dysfunction.
“It’s frustrating,” Mrs Farthing said. “When they’re portrayed that way it damages the self esteem of the community and makes it that much harder for people to get ahead in life - and to want to make a difference.”
She said that social dysfunction exists in every community and it is unfair to focus on the more obvious forms in one suburb.
Public Figures Defend Mount Druitt
Blacktown Mayor Steve Bali reacted strongly to the advertisements for Struggle Street, telling ABC radio this morning that he considered the show “poverty porn” and an “unethical representation” of the community and its people.
“One would expect a documentary would analyse the issues and examine what the challenges are, rather than just following people around for six months, eight hours a day, and picking out the worst,” he said.
Lieutenant Farthing said her kid's clubs was filmed for the show and she was hoping that kind of positive footage makes it onto the show.
“We love working this this community,” she said. “There’s so much great stuff happening here that never gets seen.
“I see a lot of people who are very generous with their time and their resources, people who work really hard to maintain jobs and homes and children. I see a lot of people looking out for each other and wanting to help each other when there’s need.”
Participants filmed for the program told the ABC and Channel 9 today that they were shocked at how they seem to have been stereotyped, and that they have been misled - at times even being filmed when they were told the cameras weren’t rolling.
"I was in shock," said show participant Peta Kennedy. "The promo starts off in beautiful Sydney waters then it goes to sirens and the sign with Mount Druitt and a graffitied house. The promo just shows all the negatives of the people and sends out the wrong message."
Triple M announcer and former footballer Mark Geyer, who himself grew up in a Housing Commission home in the Mount Druitt-Whalan area, said on The Grill show this morning that he was “sick to death” of negative portrayals of his former home town.
“These people were sabotaged,” he said. “What’s informative about it? I’m sick to death of the suburb I grew up in copping it from people who’ve never walked a mile in the shoes of the residents who call it home.
“It’s postcode racism at its worst. Every suburb has people who are struggling. How about the powers-that-be at SBS do a warts-and-all expose on their own demographic?”
A TV Critic's Response to Struggle Street
Hope Media’s TV critic Mark Hadley, who has watched the first episode, said the show came across as almost a satire and reaffirmed stereotypes.
“They’ve set out to document that suburb but what they’ve chosen to do is magnify certain aspects,” he said.
“The SBS website says ‘meet the people behind the labels ‘dole bludgers, housos, druggos’… But the problem with even using those terms is that you inflame a certain viewpoint in peoples’ minds.
“We like to say to each other that we’re ‘telling it like it is’. But without the love that’s supposed to come with truth, it’s really not helpful at all to just ‘tell it like it is’.
“I think there’s a lot missing here from my observation as a documentary maker.”
He added that it set up an “us-and-them” mindset.
SBS Content Officer Helen Kellie spoke to ABC radio defending the series, describing it as “a fly on the wall observational documentary about a number of people who are doing it really tough”.
“It gives them their voice,” she said. “It’s raw, I admit that, and that’s part of this style of documentary. It’s not trying to judge at all, it’s just trying to show someone’s lives without commenting on it.
“I’d really ask people to watch the story that runs through the three episodes; I think you see real light and shade. You see real warmth in [the Kennedy] family and real family strength.”