news

The 5 moments from Struggle Street even more confronting than the first.

The finale of the controversial series is here.

More than 1.3 million people tuned in to see the first episode of SBS’s Struggle Street. 

But tonight, after a shit storm of massive proportions that followed the first promo and the airing of the first episode, SBS has aired the double-episode finale of the show that was labelled by some as “poverty porn”.

Those featured in the show were reportedly outraged by how they were portrayed in the preview and – after they were given an advance screening of it – the first episode.

Though many people argued that these people had agreed to having their lives recorded regularly over a six-month period, questions were raised about the whether they had given informed consent.

Struggle Street final
Ashley, Peta and their family in Struggle Street. Image via SBS.

Issues raised in the show, such as drug issues, brain damage, mental illness and dementia could arguably affect the capacity of someone to consent to having the ins and outs of their lives widely broadcast.

This week on the Mamamia podcast, Mia Freedman, Jamila Rizvi and Monique Bowley discuss the issues around the show:

After these issues were publicly ventilated, SBS decided to do some fast-tracking.

The final two episodes of the show that claims to shine a spotlight on the “down and out” Aussie battlers doing it tough in Mount Druitt aired tonight.

ADVERTISEMENT

If you missed it, here are the five most memorable parts:

The part where a woman lights up while in labour. 

Billie Jo is 21 and pregnant for the third time. Her first two kids were taken away from her.

As she smokes a bong in front of her mother, Carlene – who advises her to give up the drugs and stick to “smoking cones” because of the baby – she considers what she will call her unborn child.

“I’ll call her Crystal, ‘cos of crystal meth,” she jokes.

Carlene says Billie Jo’s drug use is no surprise as she was born an addict, “a methadone baby”.

She also accuses the cat of sleeping around, telling her: “You’re a slut. Tell the truth, you slut cat.”

Struggle Street final
Bullshit Bob and Billie Jo really wanted to smoke a bong. Image via SBS.

This week we learn Billie’s 47-year-old partner Bob has a wife called Caron, who has lived in a nursing home since suffering an aneurysm.

Bob is a long-term heroin addict and an ice user. He forgets about a tribunal hearing he is supposed to attend to keep his government housing, then attempts to call his daughter (who is apparently “a bad let down, that fucker” for not answering her phone), then proceeds to sleep instead of attending the hearing.

A few days later, Billie Jo goes into labour six weeks early. She yells at Carlene to light up her cigarette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Struggle Street final
Light my cigarette, mum! Billie Jo smoking her way through labour. Image via SBS.

She doesn’t invite Bob to the birth “for reasons of her own”. Instead, she leaves him a voicemail message: “Robert, I’ve had the baby. Pick up.”

She tells him the baby boy might not be his and checks herself out of the hospital. The baby, like its older siblings, is taken into care.

The part where a suicidal teen confronts one of her bullies.

“I tried to hang myself in my room,” 18-year-old Chloe bravely declares.

Her dad Ashley is concerned she is still suicidal.

Chloe, who is autistic and epileptic, was severely bullied in high school – an experience she likens to “living in hell, but you’re not”.

Struggle Street final
Chloe has been suicidal as a result of bullying. Image via SBS.
ADVERTISEMENT

She reads a note expressing her feelings to her parents: “It hurts so much that you don’t want to live anymore…”.

Her stepmother, Peta, takes her to The Street University, an organisation keeping disenfranchised youths entertained and off the streets, in the hopes that participating in their musical program will cheer her up.

But one of the volunteers recognises Chloe as one of her bullying victims from high school, the place where Chloe was “bashed” and called “retarded”, “spastic” and “dummy”.

The volunteer, Nive, explains she was a brat after growing up on the streets and apologises to Chloe, who accepts it.

After Chloe turns her heartfelt words into a rap, she discovers a new-found confidence, which may also have something to do with a new bloke on the scene called Nathan.

“Isn’t he locked up?” Peta asks her during a family car trip.

Chloe explains the judge let him out and she and her parents have a laugh as they discuss whether the grandmother whose home Nathan invaded had a heart attack as a result of the break-in, or was already mid heart-attack when it occurred.

The part where an ice-addict continues to wreak havoc on everyone around him.

Ashley’s ice-addicted son, Corey, is wreaking more havoc on the large blended family.

Ashley – who has a head injury, a “dicky ticker” and is in the early stages of dementia – tries to bite Corey’s nose off because he is so angry with him.

Struggle Street final
Corey and his father, Ashley, during another ice-related family drama. Image via SBS.
ADVERTISEMENT

He thinks his tough love worked as Corey swears to get off the drugs, but then the family get a visit from a drug dealer’s girlfriend because Corey skimmed some ice off what he was meant to deliver to a customer and sold it separately, pocketing the cash.

The customer was his sister and her partner. A massive family fight ensues, spilling out on to the street.

Later, Corey’s girlfriend leaves him and takes their young son. She says she has tried to help him get away from ice, but he gets it everywhere he goes.

Another family fight ensues, with lots of loud yelling and excessive swearing.

Ashley tries to punch a tearful Corey and tells him to go and kill himself, as he speeds off up the street.

It is a devastating scenario you wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

The part where a young guy with mental illness shows there is hope.

A more optimistic story is that of Chris.

He grew up in foster care, but inherited many of the mental illnesses his mother suffers from.

He rattles them off – bipolar, schizophrenia, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, learning disabilities – and says he doesn’t want the disability support pension.

“Why can’t I get a job like a normal person?” he asks.

Struggle Street final
Chris (right) is trying to reunite his family. Image via SBS.
ADVERTISEMENT

And get a job is what he does, cleaning at a leagues club.

The 22-year-old appears to do well in his job and works hard to maintain a relationship with his mother.

He says he has forgiven her for not being able to show him love when he was younger and they seem to have a close bond.

Chris does things like walk in the bush to clear his mind and talks about his attempts to overcome his anger issues. He doesn’t even react when his aunty publicly screams at him for blowing the grocery budget with a $2.15 bottle of cordial.

He even plans a surprise party for his aunt and mum – twins who do not get along well – to bring them closer together.

It seems to work as before long the women are skolling beer, downing shots and holding hands.

The part where all the locals are super-willing to lend a hand and help others.

No matter their own struggles, most people in the series appear to be extremely willing to lend a hand to others and perform some kind of community work.

Peta helps organise a local Christmas fair. (It was a success until a massive storm broke.)

Her stepson, Tristan, who suffered a brain injury after a motorbike accident shares his story at schools and school events to encourage kids to behave more responsibly than he did.

And Chris and his aunty Michelle raise funds in an attempt to save the job of Pastor Josh, who has done great work with local youths and acted as a mentor to Chris, after funding cuts meant he had to leave.

They only raise $250 and Josh has to go, but Chris steps up and continues to run a kids club started by the pastor. “Community is what you make of it, not how it is portrayed,” Chris says.

Struggle Street final
Tristan shares his tragic story with high school students. He reckons the girls love it. Image via SBS.
ADVERTISEMENT

There has been a whole heap of controversy about the show, sparked by the anger of those appearing on it as to how they were portrayed.

But some have suggested the series, which repeatedly focuses on the high level of youth unemployment, merely highlights the failures of government-appointed job agencies in assisting people in places like Mount Druitt to find jobs.

While the series shows some volunteer-run organisations helping keep kids off the street, it also shows that funding cuts are affecting local resources, like Pastor Josh, and residents are turning to charity to afford basics like food.

Meanwhile, the residents portrayed on the show have reportedly sought legal advice about suing SBS for defamation.

Despite the well-known fact reality TV show contestants have little say over how they are portrayed, to me this did not at feel like a piss-take.

To me, mocking the less fortunate looks more like Sam Newman’s Street Talk segment on The Footy Show.

And many of the show’s characters were portrayed in a noble way. They used their own resources to help others out of their slump. They were young people battling demons none should know and trying desperately to get their lives back on track. They valued time with their families, no matter how imperfect those family units were.

We won’t know the end to these people’s stories (or what will become of “Slut Cat”), but the show has provided a valuable glimpse into a life far removed from those many of us lead.

Were you watching tonight? 

For more Struggle Street-related reading, try these:

The 5 moments of Struggle Street everyone is talking about today.

ROSIE: Struggle Street wasn’t exploitative, it was real.

Meet the residents of Mount Druitt you didn’t see on Struggle Street.

Everything you want to know about being on reality tv. From someone who knows.