In a forgotten suburb less than an hour outside of Sydney’s CBD, the local supermarket is completely bare.

Troubled youths – often armed with blood-filled syringes – raid the shops so frequently that some close early, while others have simply given up on stocking supplies.

Just 200 metres up the road sits a primary school, high school and youth juvenile detention centre – all on the same block.

Welcome to Airds, in the city’s unforgiving south west.

The crime rate is high, abandoned homes sit on every street corner and debilitating social issues like drug addiction, unemployment and low incomes plague the area.

The suburb, just outside of Campbelltown, is comprised of 87 per cent public housing and has a rapidly shrinking population of a little over 3200.

Airds has been propelled into the spotlight over the last week, after famous rapper and content creator Anthony Lees, better known as Spanian, took to the streets to expose some of the issues gripping the area.

Spanian’s video series Into The Hood focuses on him taking his camera into the heart of notorious “hoods” around the world, as he speaks with locals about what they perceive to be some of the biggest problems in the area.

He has walked around “ghettos” in Paris, “drug flats” in Barcelona and the infamous “Suicide Towers” in Sydney, but the latest episode is focused in Airds, and has left many shocked about what is really going on there.

Youth crime is a concern, with some local business owners telling news.com.au that groups of teenagers can often be seen roaming the streets during school hours, while others have brazenly stolen items from stores.

“There is definitely a concern over things being nicked,” one store owner, who did not wish to be named, explained.

“It’s very stressful. But it’s also sad, some of the kids seem lost.”

Another resident who worked in a local eatery – and asked not to be identified – added that while theft was still an issue, it is not as bad as what many may assume.

“People think of Airds and just see us all here as criminals, it is just not true,” they said.

“There are problems like theft yes, but I think it is much better than it used to be. A lot of the kids just need more support and help to find their way.”

‘Ludicrous’ town planning

Parents want their children’s school experience to be educational and inspirational, where the learning environment helps shape them and allow them to follow their dreams.

Most schools across Australia aim to provide a happy, healthy and stimulating domain for kids, with green ovals and expansive libraries taking centre stage.

But for students in Airds, the first thing many see while walking into the front gates are the foreboding sharp razor wire adorning the top of the youth detention centre’s fence.

Traditional owner and Wiradjuri Elder David Bell, known locally as Uncle Dave, has been changing the lives of young people in the area for over 20 years through the Young Spirit Mentoring Program.

Established in 2001 as ‘Father & Sons’, the program’s roots are deeply entrenched in youth servicing and community empowerment, and have since expanded its horizons further than most youth enriching services.

Uncle Dave is up at the crack of dawn most mornings, offering a free breakfast for the youth in the area before putting together a fun workout program to help energise them before class.

His passion for helping the community shines through in the way he speaks, and he told news.com.au that putting the Reiby Youth Justice Centre between the schools was a “ludicrous” decision.

“What kind of message is that sending to our young people? It was a ludicrous decision,” he said.

“I think it is terrible. This is where we have to make better decisions. That was a disaster in planning.

“We live with that every day. This is the norm every day here. Some of the parents here, they have intergenerational trauma.

“Kids with behaviour issues, we don’t know what they’re going home to or what’s going on there. There can be certain issues, like drug and alcohol addiction, and we try to give the families support.”

‘Graduate into juvie’

He added that Young Spirit was struggling with gaining funding for their cause, despite having mentored over 16,000 kids over the years.

“Certain entities get all the funding, and we are struggling,” he said.

“We don’t have any resources. We feel gutted we can’t even take them to the beach or the pool for a reward.

“We’ve saved so many lives. Something as simple as giving a free breakfast, offering a yarn and support, it can make such a huge difference.”

Uncle Dave featured in Spanian’s video, and further vocalised the issues with the detention centre’s location.

“If you just got up there, there is Reiby juvenile detention centre right,” he said.

“What they’ve done, they’ve got a primary school, a public school and a high school, and your graduation is into Reiby.

“We’re out here trying to make a difference. But no resources get to the front line.”

Spanian then walks over to the detention centre to see it for himself, accompanied by local Jack Olkie, who has lived in the area all his life.

“The only thing separating the two is a razor wire fence,” Jack said, as the pair walked.

“What educated person puts a juvie next to a public school? It is like you graduate straight from school to jail.”

Spanian shows the primary school, with the razor wire fence in the background from the detention centre.

“It’s so putrid that they can see it,” Spanian said.

According to the 2021 Census, just 8.5 of the total population of Airds obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher for attending university, compared to the 27.8 per cent in New South Wales.

13.7 per cent of people in Airds were unemployed, compared to 4.9 per cent when looking at the entire state.

The percentage of one parent families was also higher in the area with 43.5 per cent, compared to 15.8 per cent of NSW as a whole being single parent households.

Bare supermarket shelves

Heading down the local shops, he notes that it “feels like a jail” due to how empty and sparse it looks, with only a few of the stores appearing open.

The only supermarket in Airds is the local IGA, which looks like it is getting ready to shut down forever, with the shelves completely devoid of any stock.

The pair ask if they can purchase any cold drinks, but the woman at the cash register tells them they “hadn’t ordered any in”.

Walking through the store, the shelves are shockingly empty, with just a few basics left.

“This is actually very mind opening, what’s going on?” Spanian asks.

“I can’t even get a drink. There is nothing in there.”

“They’ve ransacked it, too many robberies,” a local says, after he asks why the shelves are bare.”

The starkness of the IGA ha many in the comments of the video feeling shocked and sad.

“That supermarket is completely apocalyptic,” one wrote.

“Looks like it’s about to close permanently. Doesn’t look like a real, working grocery store,” another said.

IGA’s Response

After being approached by news.com.au, a spokesperson from IGA stated that the reason for the bare shelves were not due to robberies.

They also revealed that they were intending to remove the IGA branding from the store.

“We are fully aware of the situation and condition of the store and the impact it has been having on the local community,” an IGA spokesperson said in a statement.

“The store’s shelves are not bare because of theft or robbery concerns and we have been working with the independent owner to try and resolve the situation causing the condition of the store and bring it up to the standards expected from IGA.

“A decision has been made to remove the IGA brand.

“We apologise for the impact on the Airds community around the store. We have IGA stores nearby in both Bradbury and Ruse that are fully stocked and able to meet the needs of the local community.”

Gentrification

One of the major issues is the government’s gentrification of the area, which some locals fear will see them being pushed out and the place they grew up in become unrecognisable.

Some feel that this process is simply painting over some of the real issues and is not a fair or sustainable solution.

“It makes me cry when I come home and my hood is gone,” Jack said, as he showed Spanian the area where he used to live, which has since been replaced with new homes.

“The memories are gone, they’ve been erased.”

“You know what the government is like, they kick everyone out, they board things up, smash them down and shoo them off,” Spanian said.

A 36-year-old woman, who did not want to be named, told news.com.au that compared to when she was younger, Airds had gotten “a lot better” in the past few years.

“It’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be,” she said.

“For years before they started pulling down houses, it quietened down.

“Growing up there, it was different. In my little street when I lived there, nine houses out of 17 burnt down.

“Cops in the street were common. Cars being burnt out were common.

“When we were little a guy ran in our yard asking to hide, but my dad yelled at him and he ran away. Then a bunch of cop cars came screaming into the street.”

Despite some of the issues, she added that there were some great parts about growing up in Airds that many may not know.

The part I grew up in, everyone was close,” she said.

“The mums would sit out in the afternoon with a cuppa and chat. The kids played together and we held a massive New Year’s party in the street every year.”

A spokesperson for the NSW Land and Housing Corporation confirmed that the suburbs of Airds, Claymore and Bradbury were being “renewed”.

“We are in the process of renewing both Airds and Claymore (as well as the suburb in between of Bradbury)” they said.

“Airds is part of a broader long-term renewal of South-West Sydney, which includes neighbouring suburbs Bradbury and Claymore, to transform these suburbs with modern, fit-for-purpose housing that meets the needs of our tenant base.

“These renewal projects have 20-to-30-year timelines with an objective of creating mixed tenure development housing, which better integrates within the community to deliver better outcomes for our tenants, by replacing the current ageing housing stock with a mix of modern social and private homes.

“This will see the percentage of social housing clustered in the suburb of Airds decrease but is balanced with an overall uplift of social housing within the broader South-West Sydney region.

“Throughout the redevelopment of Airds, tenants have been, and will continue to be relocated in stages with the help of their own individual relocation officer, who assists in finding them alternative housing options that best suits their circumstances.

“We understand that relocating can be difficult, which is why we work with social housing residents respectfully and sensitively to minimise the impacts of social housing renewal.

“The website that details the project stated that “Airds–Bradbury is set to become a contemporary, mixed community of around 2,100 modern homes.”

The documents also state that up to 30 per cent of the area “will be set aside for social housing residents”, which is a stark contrast to the current 87 per cent.

“Green space will be the revitalised suburb’s signature. New, open spaces like Kevin Wheatley VC Memorial Playing Fields and landscaped ponds will be developed, and 38 ha of surrounding bushland will be regenerated.

“Seniors housing is also a priority and at least 52 units will be built close to future parks, community facilities and public transport.

“The remaining new social housing will be contemporary detached homes to help meet demand in the Campbelltown region.

“The NSW Government allocated $75 million to fast-track the Airds–Bradbury project in the 2020–21 budget. We expect construction to be completed in mid-2026, around 3.5 years earlier than originally anticipated.”

jasmine.kazlauskas@news.com.au

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