An important part of understanding South West Sydney is trying to understand the complex social situations that emerge from its different areas, and the impacts of these situations. In our two part series on the history of the South West, we draw on important documentaries and films that seek to present an accurate portrayal of the conflicts within South Western Sydney.

“Second-hand syringes and death were swept off the streets to make way for smiling and laughing families. This vibrant culture, a government initiative to patch up the businesses and lives torn apart by drugs, now cloaks Cabramatta. But tug at the loose threads of its past, and the exterior comes unravelling quickly.”

Stephen Pham is a writer from South West Sydney who isn’t ashamed of where he came from. On top of just being an excellent guy, his piece Holiday In Little Saigon, which was published in Sydney’s Overland journal last year, is an excellent insight into life growing up in Cabramatta in the late 90s.

One of the best things about this piece, though, is his reach – being published in a journal like Overland exposed the Cabramatta story to many who normally would be indifferent or ignorant, and the unsettlingly real stories which he shares in Holiday only help to educate audiences that facts and figures can’t.

You can read the full story here.


An important part of understanding South West Sydney is trying to understand the complex social situations that emerge from its different areas, and the impacts of these situations. In our two part series on the history of the South West, we draw on important documentaries and films that seek to present an accurate portrayal of the conflicts within South Western Sydney.

The reasons I admire Once Upon A TIme are pretty similar to my case for The Combination – well-put-together, well-informed, and an excellent insight into Cabramatta’s troubled history, the documentary series strikes a particular chord with me, having grown up around the area. I feel like Once Upon A Time is such a hugely important piece of viewing, as even though it addresses and explains so much of Cabramatta’s history, so much of the rest of Sydney is still ignorant of its current day status. That isn’t to say that the problems have entirely dissipated – they haven’t – but if more people sat down and watched through the series, they’d realise that things are very different from how they used to be, and that the area has evolved hugely since then.


An important part of understanding South West Sydney is trying to understand the complex social situations that emerge from its different areas, and the impacts of these situations. In our two part series on the history of the South West, we draw on important documentaries and films that seek to present an accurate portrayal of the conflicts within South Western Sydney.

The Combination has long been one of my all-time favourite films, not only for being a excellently well-made film, but for the important subject matter which it addresses: the on-going violence within youth in the Bankstown area. The film not only presents a well-informed portrayal, but also explores many commonly-ignored aspects, such as family life, peer pressure and culture. Much of the movie also comes from an insider perspective – director George Basha is an Australian-Lebanese film-maker, whose experiences growing up in Australia largely influenced much of the film.

“But below the surface of this lower-middle class success story is a Middle Eastern ghetto terrorized by members of its community. Restaurateurs in Bankstown pay up to $50,000 a year in protection money or risk having their premises firebombed, while Shia and Sunni Muslims exchange invectives and blows on the streets. Crime families exchange gunfire and trade narcotics with apparent immunity; arrestees in Bankstown are 60 times more likely to use heroin than those in other parts in Australia. And an otherwise law-abiding majority erect a wall of silence when dealing with police they regularly accuse and sue for thuggery and racial profiling.”

Read more: In Sydney, Disaffected Lebanese Kids Caught in Spiraling Gang Violence |

Time Magazine recently actually did a feature on gang violence and Lebanese youth around Bankstown. While it’s interesting to see a well-researched piece giving such insight into the undeniable social problems around Bankstown, especially regarding the youth, there is a key voice here which is unfortunately still unaddressed – the voice of the youth themselves. While of course there are many others, including the personal experiences of Australian-Lebanese film-maker George Basha, it is difficult to understand the complexity of the entire situation without. This fact is even acknowledged by the Police Deputy Commissioner they interview, who admits that “before we can solve it we need to understand it, and I’m not sure we do.”

It’s representations like these that make the importance of diversity, and projects such as The Violence Project, so much more important – without these avenues, how would we gain insights into other important perspectives? If PYT doesn’t give these key players a voice, who will?

You can read the full article here.

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Having basically spent all of my life living in the South West, it wasn’t until my first year of uni that I began to really get a sense of how the area was perceived in comparison to the rest of Sydney. Not that anyone was particularly rude or snobbish or anything when I told them I was from Liverpool, but it slowly became more clear that being from the area made me a strange minority. I think it became most clear to me after my first web design lecture – I had made my first proper friend of the week, and as we chatted after class, I asked her where she was from. She said something vague and didn’t go into much more detail after I asked a bit more about it, and it was only after that I had told her that I was from the South West that she opened up a bit and told me she was from the area too – Panania, specifically.

Since then, I’ve noticed more and more similar instances, of people from the South West being misleading, or at least a little bit hesitant, in telling others where they’re from. Often, it can simply be a case of convenience – I’ve found that Liverpool is a far more recognisable name than Hinchinbrook to people not from the area, for example – but the many cases I’ve heard in passing from friends who have been in similar situations (most commonly from social situations at uni too, actually) are just indicative of the stigma that is attached to the area.

Earlier this year, when I told a new friend from uni (from Cherrybrook) that I lived near Cabramatta, she had laughed and said that the only thing she knew about Cabramatta was that her mum had always told her to avoid the place, because it was crawling with junkies and drug dealers. It was, above all, just disappointing that people still thought that – despite Cabramatta having pretty much totally getting over its drug issues in the early 90s, that the suburb is still considered just this dirty, dangerous place, especially when I feel like Cabramatta is probably one of the most amazing suburbs in the area.

Robert Barrie, the Youth Member of Wollondilly 2011, also commented on this sense of embarassment in a blog post on Born In The Bearpit last year, having noticed friends telling others that they were from Glen Alpine or Camden, instead of Campbelltown. Robert mentions that it isn’t just terrible that teenagers who had been born and raised in Campbell were so ashamed of their own suburb – it’s just really sad.

Since then, I’ve begun to change the way I approach the issue, and have never hesitated to tell people exactly where I was born and raised – because I concluded, there isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. It’s actually gotten to the point where any conversation that even begins to touch on where I come from ends up with me talking, sometimes excessively, on where exactly that might be, and all the great things about the area. Because being a member of South Western Sydney shouldn’t be a source of embarassment – it should be one of pride.

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Go Mason Go are a young new talent growing out of Glenfield, 2167, who among constant gigging, also managed to secure a spot on Homebake earlier this year, after winning Red Bull’s Bedroom Jam. We had a chat with frontman Jesse Taunton about Homebake, in-jokes you wouldn’t get, and stuff he wouldn’t tell his mum.


“Um… there are appropriate stories, and inappropriate stories.”

Jesse Taunton laughs when I ask him if he has any good tales from shows. “There’s stuff I would tell my mum, like crowd surfing… or making up whole verses on the spot, ‘coz you have a mindblank, stuff like that.”

It’s not surprising that he has at least a few inappropriate stories too. Still in high school, Go Mason Go are a neat embodiment of musical adolescence, mixing in youthful energy and sincerity with standard teenage recklessness. This precarious balance is a likely factor in things having moved quickly for the band since their forming in 2009 – the young five-piece already have two EPs under their belt. “We have a self titled EP that was released last year, and got air time on Triple J, which was pretty sick. We have recorded our second EP, and it’s in the stages of finalising mixes and mastering, so it shouldn’t be too long. We are going to release them as singles and have music videos accompanying them.”

The fruits of their tireless efforts finally peaked late last year when they managed to land a spot on the Homebake stages, making them one of the youngest bands to play the festival. “We won the Red Bull Bedroom Jam, and Red Bull flew us down to Melbourne to record for a week, and then we played at Homebake. We performed straight after DZ Deathrays and before Sticky Fingers, so we got to meet them and have a chat and whatnot. It was pretty cool.”

Amidst all this, it’s hard to remember that the guys still have classes to attend. While other young bands might find it difficult to balance keeping up their grades with their musical agenda, school is an integral part of Go Mason Go – most of the guys are boarding students at Hurlstone Agricultural High School in Sydney’s South West, and accordingly, many of their songs are written in their dormitory jam sessions. “Yeah, it can be tricky sometimes, with getting homework done and whatnot. But it is pretty cool when you get weeks off school to record.”

Being in such constant close contact with his bandmates is an impact on Jesse’s songwriting. In between attending classes with them, to relaxing with them after school, to their session time in their dorms, the minutiae of their daily lives together inevitably seeps into their writing.

“The songs, lyrically, are not 100% serious… we write about experiences and inside things that happen to us. For example, lines that have meaning to us would seem random to someone else. But generally they are about hooliganism or anti-capitalist, progressive left wing views.”

“I personally love Tame Impala and Modest Mouse, so I am heavily influenced by that. So we usually write songs that we can head-bang to, and [that] have a sick vibe.

Go Mason Go’s still-untitled second EP is set to release sometime this summer. Keep up with the guys on their Facebook here. 

Our buddies from Sweatshop, aka the Western Sydney Literacy Movement, are about to begin their Tennant Creek Literary Initiative in a few days. The program, run in collaboration with the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, will take place over a week in the Barkly region in the Northern Territory, and will focus on improving the literacy levels of the Indigenous community there, with a focus on Land and Language.

Sweatshop, and the many initiatives they run such as this one (they recently just did a bunch of artists-in-schools programs across Western / South Western Sydney), are just more examples of the kind of compassion that our area often extends, which never really gets reciprocated by the rest of Sydney. What I mean is, while it’s very easy to focus on everything that goes wrong in the South West, no one seems to take the time to provide representation on endeavours such as this, which is an excellent sample of the amazing things that often do come out of the area.

Upon returning, the team will also be running a seminar at UWS Bankstown on Artists With Disability.