The other side of Struggle Street
Struggle Street was a television documentary that aired on SBS in 2015. It explored the lives of a number of families and individuals living in Sydney’s Mt Druitt area. It was controversial for the ways in which the film-makers reinforced stereotypes about people living with socio-economic disadvantage.
Some of the Bidwill residents who appeared in Struggle Street are well known to John Dacey, the Community Minister at Bidwill Uniting. John has been working alongside Bidwill residents for eight years and has witnessed positive changes in the community during that time.
“One of the defining characteristics of the community of Bidwill and, indeed, most disadvantaged communities, is that it has a highly relational culture,” says John. “One reality we have identified is that ‘nothing happens without relationships’.”
“There is an incredible resilience in this community — a lot of strengths and good people working for the good of Bidwill. It is unfair to choose some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia, film them and then choose only the negative bits to put on TV,” says John about how the Struggle Street documentary was put together.
John is responsible for facilitating Bidwill Uniting’s programs to ensure services are available and accessible to the Bidwill community. During his time with Bidwill Uniting, John has developed a strong network of community groups, schools, businesses and volunteers that share the goals of Bidwill Uniting. They all work together to deliver integrated programs aimed at encouraging residents in the local area.
“I choose to place my capacities at the service of those who miss out so that I might contribute something to their efforts to achieve their full potential. I also want to contribute to the task of building a fairer society,” says John.
His ministry through Bidwill Uniting is relationally-based and John is committed to developing and maintaining relationships with those around him. He wants to establish a sense of trust and mutual respect that will endure in the long-term.
Love your neighbour as yourself
Relationship-based ministry was a model that Jesus used and taught his followers to pursue. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus tells us that the greatest of all the commandments is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart… And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (NRSV) John’s commitment — and that of the Bidwill Uniting team — is to love their neighbours by building lasting partnerships that support, encourage and nurture. The makers of Struggle Street did not appear to have any commitment to the communities and people of Mt Druitt. The result was a product that made for good television ratings but, in the prcoess, exploited and further marginalised the residents of the Mt Druitt area.
In contrast to Struggle Street, the 2013 documentary Beyond Bidwill focused upon the fruit of the Bidwill Uniting ministry. It documented the experiences of four young men from Bidwill as they undertook an arduous trek in the Tasmanian wilderness. They were supported by their trusted mentor, Joshua Bleyerveen (who was Bidwill Uniting youth pastor at the time), and experienced guide, Rev. Mel Macarthur. These young men pushed themselves beyond endurance to complete a 70km wilderness trek, learning a lot about themselves and each other along the way. The young men made use of the unfamiliar and radically different surroundings to reflect on their past and future directions.
Uniting life and faith
Young filmmaker Josh Wyatt made Beyond Bidwill. He said the young men bonded quickly, and this is evident through the candid interviews he recorded with each of the boys.
“They were looking for a filmmaker to capture the journey through the wilderness of Tasmania,” Wyatt told News Local in 2013, ahead of the documentary being submitted to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. “You can see how nature opened up their minds and hearts,” Wyatt said of the film and the Tasmania experience.
Beyond Bidwill highlights the strengths of these young men, capturing the unique physical and emotional challenges each of them went through. The wisdom and insight they gain is truly inspiring. Their triumph and dignity are highlighted in the face of temptation and struggle.
“At Bidwill Uniting we aim to walk alongside the people of Bidwill, supporting them and encouraging them to work towards what is important to them,” says John. “We aim to connect people with community, [and that] community with God, through an ongoing relationship built on trust and mutual respect — uniting life and faith.”
Show your support
The important ministry of Bidwill Uniting does not benefit from the financial support of a local Congregation, which means that it relies on the support of the broader Uniting Church.
There are many ways that you can support the work of Bidwill Uniting. They need volunteers to support their programs and they also need advocates for their ministry, Bidwill Uniting also would love your prayer support, as well as any financial assistance you could provide.