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Inside Mount Druitt: Australia's Biggest, Most Forgotten Aboriginal Community

TV show Struggle Street gave a glimpse into the much maligned suburb but failed to represent Aboriginal people living there.

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Sitting in a dingy room fiddling with a syringe, Dennis McHughes had hit rock bottom.

"What's in the syringe?" asked a cameraman.

"Ice cream," Dennis grimly replied in one of the most harrowing scenes in SBS's controversial docudrama, Struggle Street.

It's an uneasy piece of television: viewers saw everything short of the needle breaking the skin. Dennis told BuzzFeed News he is furious that producers included the footage.

"When I found out I thought you mongrel cunt, I had no idea. I wasn't on there to degrade our people, I didn't want to be disgraceful. I worship the ground we walk on. I just hope I didn't give blackfellas a bad name." - Dennis McHughes

This is the side of Indigenous Australia SBS chose to showcase on Struggle Street.

The docudrama offered a blistering, gritty exposé of the lives of inhabitants of Mount Druitt in Sydney's west, but was criticised for ignoring the local Aboriginal community.

Mount Druitt sits within the Blacktown City Council area, which has the largest Indigenous urban population per capita in the nation, alongside nearby Campbelltown.

Sitting in Mount Druitt's Men's Shed, an organisation dedicated to men's health, Mr McHughes tells BuzzFeed News News that he originally signed onto the show because he thought it might help him find accommodation. "I only done it so I could get myself a house, it's so hard to get a bloody house."

Mr McHughes has only seen bits of the final program and says some scenes were filmed without his knowledge, including a moment where he smokes marijuana.

Mr McHughes says, "At the time, when the yarndi (marijuana) came into it, we didn't even think they were filming. I said to the cameraman can you stop shooting now because we're going to have a smoke, but he obviously kept going. I've been trying to ring him (the cameraman), but no answer."

At the end of the documentary Mr Dennis left his makeshift tent in the bush, but his search for housing still remains a distant dream. He's currently couch surfing.

Mount Druitt was designed and planned in 1960 to be a new government housing estate which could accommodate up to 70,000 people. The first houses were built in 1966 and large numbers of Aboriginal families were moved into them from regional areas in NSW.

As the dust settles on one of SBS's most successful shows, BuzzFeed News spent a day in Mt Druitt speaking with the local community about Struggle Street. The overwhelming response? They feel let down by the representation of the local Aboriginal community.



Winsome Matthews is staring off into the distance when a ute suddenly speeds down the road before making a sharp turn into a driveway across the street.

Ms Matthew's yells out to the tradesman getting out of the car, "You hoon! Yeah you think you're a big hero."

"They could hurt someone speeding like that, all for drugs, so stupid."

The non-descript, beige-clad property across the road is a well known drug dealer's house, a pair of shoes dangling from the power lines used as an advertisement that drugs can be bought there.

It's a reality that characterises Mount Druitt. The despondent and destitute sit side-by-side with the successful. Ms Matthews was born and raised in Mount Druitt and climbed up the public service ladder, working hard to overcome poverty. Today Ms Matthews is a highly influential adviser to both federal and state governments on Aboriginal affairs.

She's adamant you cannot tell a Mount Druitt story without the local Koori community.

"You wouldn't have known that we have the largest Aboriginal population by watching Struggle Street," she says.

Blacktown City local government area has the largest urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in NSW, with 8,195 people making up 2.7% of the population.

The area's large Aboriginal population can be traced back to the sixties, when large numbers of Indigenous people were given government housing in Mount Druitt.

Many of the people who moved to Mount Druitt were members of the stolen generation, forcibly removed from their families for being Aboriginal. Others were Aboriginal people who had previously been under the control of the government on Indigenous reserves.

Mount Druitt offered employment and independence, a place to raise families free of government intervention, but ultimately they would be let down. Ms Matthews explains: "You have to know that this place was born out of the assimilation integration policy and Aboriginal people that have been here from the 1960's have been removed from another place. Aboriginal people were put here on the promise of employment and housing."

Ms Matthews is from one of the more prominent Mount Druitt Aboriginal families and says despite seemingly insurmountable social problems plaguing the community, there's a lot of resilience.

"Mount Druitt was set up as a working class model community in the late sixties, early seventies with the dream of employment and quality infrastructure, it's a place where Aboriginal people who struggled in the early part now have success' and wins under their belt." Ms Matthew adds that "Fundamentally though people were ultimately failed by the government because they took away the infrastructure and support."


Gloria Matthews, Winsome's 87-year-old mother, sits in her lounge room surrounded by family photos. She says she felt sad watching Struggle Street.

With a heavy sigh Ms Matthews says that while Struggle Street touched on the ice epidemic gripping the area, it failed to show how bad the situation actually is. "We came here in 1970, it has changed a lot," Ms Matthews told BuzzFeed News.

"The drugs are terrible and we're sad about that because the ice, the ice, it'll kill you as soon as look at you."

"There's been suicides, it's sad. The older people we think about the ice use and when we meet we say how horrible it is. We don't know where we come from or how they pick it up, we feel so useless." - Gloria Matthews, Mount Druitt elder.



Aboriginal woman and former drug and alcohol worker Lizzy May says that the ice epidemic in Mount Druitt, coupled with poverty, is compounded by a lack of Indigenous services: "young people are becoming dispossessed in their own community."

"We've got hardly any services for them. There is just one Aboriginal drug and alcohol service with ten beds, that's it. We are just not equipped to tackle the problem."

"That's what I really get pissed off about is we have the largest population but we are never asked anything or asked what the community needs, only portrayed as negative drunks." - Lizzy May, Mount Druitt resident.


Just before he runs off to football training, 14-year-old James Hunter tells BuzzFeed News has his hopes pinned on a career in rugby league. "Heaps of role models in footy. All the best players are Koori; Jonathan Thurston and Sam Thaiday. Makes me wanna grow up and be a footy player,” he says.

Growing up in Mount Druitt, James knows the odds are stacked against him.

"The police are always going on at us, when they know your Aboriginal they get cheeks and hassle us. My own dad was called a dirty abo by police."

James says for all its faults the Mount Druitt community is much more than disadvantage and that Struggle Street failed to show that.

"It's pretty bad here, but it's not as bad as they go on about. I was angry about the show, making us look bad." - James Hunter, high school student.