A powerful discussion on NITV last night examined poverty, social inequality and the impacts it has on First Australians.
Norma is an Indigenous mother-of-six from the suburb of Inala in Brisbane. In episode one of Struggle Street, she faces eviction from her home after her 24-year-old daughter was caught possessing a water pipe and marijuana in the house, which meant Norma had breached her public housing tenancy agreement.
In a bid to stay in her home, she staged a demonstration outside the housing department’s office. Ultimately, Norma is evicted and is forced into seeking other accommodation. Her story is one of several gripping, and at times disturbing, stories contained in the new season of Struggle Street.
“Oh, God! You’re lost. You basically give up," Norma said while recalling the incident.
"I had never ever thought about suicide in my life. Never. But when you feel helpless, you feel alone, there’s no one there for you, and you just give up.”
Norma's daughter, Kanika also spoke about the devastating effects the situation had on the family.
“It destroyed us. Made us feel like… hopeless. Powerless,” she said.
More than 20 police officers forcibly removed the family, leaving them stranded on the street, surrounded by their belongings.
"There was basically nothing I could do. It was either we were going to walk out or they were going to remove us," the Jagera woman recalls.
As one woman is heard saying in one episode: “It’s a single black mother and you’ve got 30 cops coming in and going through the house and evicting [the woman] and her children.”
In addition to Norma, the panel on the Point Special included David Shoebridge NSW Greens MLC and spokesman for police and justice, John Falzone, St Vincent De Paul Society CEO, family law specialist Cheryl Orr, and Chris Sarra from the Stronger Smarter Institute.
Family Law Specialist Cheryl Orr said while the warrant to evict was legal, the use of so many officers was questionable.
“Legally speaking, they served a warrant. Did they have the right to enter? Yes, they did. Did they have the right to enter with as many police officers? That’s questionable in itself,” she told the audience.
“I feel emotional, I feel disgraced and appalled that we still live in a society where Police continue to embed negative relations with Aboriginal people and themselves.
Dr Tess Lea, Associate Professor at Sydney University, who was in the studio audience has researched government policy and its impacts on individuals like Norma extensively.
“My interest in dysfunction is how the state manages to displace its own dysfunctional policies, dysfunctional administrative systems ... state-sanctioned violent systems of enforcement,” she said.
“How it shifts all of that … onto individuals and how those individuals, particularly Indigenous people, get the label, ‘dysfunction’.
Norma described the lack of government support during the eviction process.
"We had no social worker, no nothing. My concern was the long-term damage to my children, more than anything."
During various points in the program, people in the audience were reduced to tears as the systemic failures of the system were laid bare.
Cheryl Orr said the system had failed Norma.
“Here we have a very strong, articulate, powerful Aboriginal woman, who prior to escalating to the point of crisis, where she was forced under a warrant to be removed, she had made numerous complaints… and had asked a number of times through the use of filling in government forms, and speaking out and asking for assistance, prior to crisis point. In this instance, the only reason she was evicted is because [the] government refused to hear her. She was made powerless."
For Norma, the eviction was the latest in a series of traumatic events, which began with a knock on the door in 2006 to say her first-born son had died in a car crash following a police chase.
"I couldn’t think, I couldn’t speak. I just went straight into shock. Being my first born, he was not only my son, he was my best friend."
"When I hear Norma talk about having to survive, I see resilience."
Just six weeks later on her birthday, Norma was still grappling with her son's death when tragedy struck again.
There was another dreaded knock at the door: her two sons and a nephew had been throwing rocks on a railway line when they'd been hit by a train.
"They didn't even have to tell me my sons were gone, I could feel it," Norma says.
"I dropped to my floor and I howled like a dingo."
The next few years saw the accident scrutinised by various reports, media and the community, with some shifting the blame to Norma, accusing her of neglect.
Dr Chris Sarra from Stronger Smarter Institute praised Norma for her strength as a single mother in the face of disadvantage.
“When I hear Norma talk about having to survive, I see resilience. Even though Kaneka, you talk about feeling hopeless, I see you there, I see you and your mum with a sense of voice, and I see hope,” he told the audience.
“When I look at the images of your young children, strong, smart, young, black and deadly, with the potential to learn, with the potential to be something.
“These are the things that have allowed us to survive for 65,000 years plus, and we should never forget that.”
Norma's story is one of a handful that feature in Struggle Street series two, a six-part observational documentary set to reignite a conversation about disadvantage in Australia today.
Watch Struggle Street: The Point Responds:
How to watch Struggle Street on SBS
Episode 1: Tuesday 28 November, 8.30pm
Episode 2: Wednesday 29 November, 8.30pm
Episode 3: Thursday 30 November, 8.30pm
Episode 4: Tuesday 5 December, 8.30pm
Episode 5: Wednesday 6 December, 8.30pm
Episode 6: Thursday 7 December, 8.30pm