I still remember my first week at university, sitting nervously in a packed sociology course next to the one other student in there who'd attended high school with me at Richlands State High in Inala. We both felt completely out of our element. Our lecturer, who'd spent the first 15 minutes detailing her prestigious Anglican private school and university education, played a video that must have been aimed at exploring the differences in communities that were geographically only 20 minutes apart, but were at opposite ends of the socio-economic scale (hard to recall the reasoning now). The AV equipment warmed up and the lecture lights dimmed and as the faded images grew stronger, I was mortified to discover my own local shopping centre - the Inala Civic Centre on the screen.
The camera operator had deliberately sought out the seediest images they could find. There were people with no teeth walking barefoot, parents swearing at their children and teens sitting listlessly on the concrete smoking and spitting. Lines spilled out of Centrelink and into the gutter. This was my home on the screen, but it wasn't an accurate depiction of my experience of Inala - a multi-cultural community full of hard working and proud people. I worked at the centre in a clothing store and served a wide range of customers and professionals all day long. They were well-dressed and well-spoken. I regularly caught up with my neighbours during my lunch break and always felt safe walking the centre. I'd even done my high school work experience at the then local state member's electoral office (Henry Palaszczuk) and through that had experienced the strong sense of community and pride in the area.
As the video continued, I felt the girl at my side stiffen and I knew her face was as red as mine and I could hear her teeth grinding as the students around us sniggered and pointed at the screen. The alternate community featured by the lecturer was the local Kenmore shopping centre. The camera panned BMWs, business men and women and happy mothers out with their children. I wanted to crawl under my seat. I already felt that I didn't belong at university. I was the first in my family to go beyond year ten and my parents lived in public housing in Inala (where they still reside). It was such an uncomfortable experience that I left the university shortly afterwards and it was years before I re-enrolled and completed the first of three degrees over a ten year period.
The narratives we create around low socio-economic communities matter. How we paint the good people of Inala...matters. How this lecturer made my friend and I feel that day...you bet it mattered.
SBS should be using their funding to raise aspirations in Inala or they run the risk of making the next young girl considering making the leap from high school to university feel ashamed of where they come from and that they don't belong.
SBS' Struggle Street is modern-day colosseum entertainment for the middle and upper classes. It doesn't shine a light on disadvantage with the aim of creating positive change. SBS claims this series will be different to the last, but I don't hold out hope that producers are sitting in meeting rooms discussing ways to show all sides of a suburb that has birthed some incredible successes. Producers want ratings. Viewers want blood. If this next series is truly different to the first then give it another name and another purpose and seek to show the truth of this community and pathways for its residents to achieve and give back.