The new SBS documentary Struggle Street told Sydneysiders what they already knew – Mount Druitt has a hard stigma to shake.
This stigma is a result of a stereotype, which the director of the documentary David Galloway said he was trying to look beyond by “finding out why you end up in Mount Druitt, why you haven’t been able to get a job for the past 20 years, why children are getting pregnant at 16, why you have been on heroin for 30 years”.
Galloway has fallen into the trap that so many others do when looking at Mount Druitt. He isn’t going beyond the stigma of Mount Druitt – he’s re-enforcing it. It ignores the other people who live in a suburb now branded as struggling, including young professionals who have moved into the area.
A three-bedroom home at 4/38 Methven Street sold for $282,500 in March 2013. In April the same property sold again – for $401,000.
I became a resident of postcode 2770 five years ago, amazed at how cheap it was. Apartments were available from $150,000 to $200,000 and even houses were achievable for prices below $250,000.
I wasn’t the only young university graduate who looked to Mount Druitt, despite the fact that it has never been “trendy”.
No matter how you spin it, young professionals are emerging in the west, perhaps as a result of being priced out of the inner city.
In the early hours of the morning Mount Druitt train station is packed with commuters in suits, heading to the city – 50 minutes from Central Station. In 2012, an extra 220 much-needed car spaces were added to the station to allow for peak-hour commuters.
It’s doubtful that all of these people felt they had to remove their address from their CV to get a job, as suggested in the documentary. I never felt that pressure.
When I moved into the suburb as a young property reporter, Mount Druitt’s stigma was enough to prompt investors to make blunt comments. Some said they couldn’t even imagine buying a rental property as they honestly believed a tenant would “trash the place”.
Yet that hasn’t stopped prices from booming, with some homes soaring in value by 30 per cent in two years.
A three-bedroom townhouse on Methven Street sold for $282,500 in March 2013, which was a good price at the time. In April the same property sold again – for $401,000 and to an investor.
Mount Druitt has a 0.7 per cent vacancy rate – some 0.3 per cent lower than the highly coveted hip inner west Newtown market.
Even with this boom in prices and a tight rental market, it remains one of the most affordable options in Sydney. If you want space and you’re on a budget, this is where you look. Most houses offer a decent backyard for pets, and several bedrooms – this is why it appealed so much to me.
But even if you own property in 2770, something few Gen Yers can boast across Sydney, there is one major downside. You have to deal with the misinformed opinion of those who have never lived in the area.
Years before Struggle Street, another TV show upset the locals.
Housos, an Australian satirical comedy series screened on SBS in 2011, poked fun at the lives of low-income earners living in public housing in the fictional suburb of Sunnyvale. Predictably, it was filmed in Mount Druitt. A petition was started to stop the series from airing. It was unsuccessful.
Having seen the series, a property investor asked in an online forum in 2012: “Why was the show Housos based in this area and not Bondi if there was not a sense of truth in it?”
And Housos wasn’t even a documentary like Struggle Street.
So it’s no surprise that this time council has gone in hard, slamming it as “publicly-funded poverty porn” and with not only a petition but a blockade of the SBS offices by garbage trucks.
Mount Druitt is not “where they dump all the losers” – a quote actually aired in Struggle Street. It has housed professionals, students, families, couples and everyone in between – much like many other suburbs of Sydney.
With a housing boom and a slowly changing demographic, Struggle Street is the last thing a rebuilding community such as Mount Druitt needs.