7.30 journalist Andy Park and camera operator Mat Marsic spent 10 days on the streets of Melbourne, investigating the issue of so-called ‘African gang’ violence and it was an assignment which required patience and persistence.
I am a white, middle-aged man who can’t dunk a basketball and is visibly awkward when it comes to non-traditional youth handshakes.
I am no ‘Ross Kemp on Gangs’, (the TV presenter who makes shows about the world’s most notorious gangs).
And yet, I was assigned to tell the stories of South Sudanese teenagers in Melbourne behind the summer’s provocative headlines of ‘African gang’ violence and crime.
Those sensational stories were all I knew when I hit the phones for five days and went into the field for 10.
It was supposed to be an ’embed’, but neither the community, nor police, would agree to that upfront.
So talented cameraman Mat Marsic and I were on our own.
And yet, 99 per cent of the time, when I stood tall on the Footscray street and engaged with them, they spoke to me, even helped me.
For millennials, these teenagers are terrible at communication.
Their mobile phones get borrowed, lent out or lost.
They wake up at 3pm.
Getting a group together was like herding cats.
I spent many afternoons waiting at the basketball court just for them to walk past.
They thought it was all a joke.
I began being invited into family homes.
I was beginning to learn the handshakes.
I met 18-year-old Ethiopian Ashraf Mohamed at the Footscray barber shop which was the scene of a wild axe brawl last year.
He was kicked out of home on the eve of starting year 12 and dreamt of being an airline pilot. Sadly, no-one in his young life had ever been interested enough to ask him about his inner thoughts.
But I was.
He showed me his temporary crisis accommodation and we hung out as he attempted to sort his life out.
I got a frontline insight into his experience and this complex problem.
You don’t get that story by rocking up with a security guard.
Watch Andy Park’s story on 7.30 or catch up on iview.
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