The Oasis an oasis from simplistic junkie stereotypes

IN government television campaigns, just saying no to drugs is a simple business, an easy decision made by well-fed, well-clothed young people who just want to have a good time.

“Hmmm. Friday night again. It’s tempting to try ice, but picking imaginary scabs in nightclub toilets doesn’t really go with my new flamingo zippered leggings (heroin chic is so last century). I know, I’ll go bowling and have a couple of shandies instead.”

In the real world, or at least the world depicted in an extraordinary new documentary, The Oasis, suggesting it’s simple to just say no to drugs is a joke.

“Hmmm. Tuesday morning again. It’s tempting to spend a couple of hours straight, but that’ll mean dwelling on the fact that Mum was a junkie hooker, Dad flogged me to a pulp and now I sleep on a vomit and faeces-smeared footpath. I know: I’ll inject some more heroin into what’s left of my 17-year-old veins in the hope that for a few lousy hours I’ll get to feel like I’m dead.”

There are no justs when it comes to saying no to numbing substances under these circumstances. There are rock bottoms so far down they’d give you vertigo. There are deprivations we in zippered legging land couldn’t possibly imagine. There is Everest upon Everest upon Everest.

Just say no? Just say no? Yeah, right. And all we need for peace in the Middle East is for the Arabs and the Israelis to just get along.

The Oasis, which charts two terrible years in the life of a Salvation Army youth refuge in inner Sydney, should be mandatory viewing for anyone who thinks youth homelessness and drug addiction are the results of stupid choices made by the weak-willed and overindulged. These kids’ earliest memories are of beatings and brutalisations, of watching their parents shoot smack or do strangers for drug money.

Sure, they have choices about the way they live their lives. But to suggest these choices are the same as those available to kiddies who don’t spend their formative years sleeping on alleyway mattresses is bullshit. Offensive, patronising, cop-out bullshit.

The other people who should have their eyelids pinned back Clockwork Orange-style in front of The Oasis are those moral campaigners who rail about the wickedness du jour while Australia’s 22,000 homeless teens burn.

As Sydney’s religious elite bicker about whether God hates homosexual High Court judge Michael Kirby, Paul Moulds of the Oasis Youth Support Network is bringing recovering drug addicts and their newborn babies into his home while he tries to find places with roofs for these terribly vulnerable new families to live.
He’s sending cleaning crews to young people’s flats so that when they get out of jail, detox or the asylum they don’t walk straight back into the abyss.

He’s attending junkie births and speaking at junkie funerals and buying street kids breakfast and driving them to court and deflecting psychotic rages and serving fried rice from the back of vans and never, ever giving up on anyone.

Moulds, an exemplar of the true Christian spirit, knows how ugly his abused and abusive charges look from the outside.

But he doesn’t withdraw his support or compassion when yet again they fail to turn up for rehab or tell him they’ve finally found a quality boyfriend because this one smokes rather than injects ice.

“Every kid deserves a 13th chance,” he shrugs with that gentle, generous smile. He sees potential in the people polite society dismisses as human detritus, accepting that salvation for these souls is simply doing a little better. And he steadfastly refuses to preach or judge: “We can throw our hands up in moral outrage and say this shouldn’t be, this is wrong or else we can …”

Ah yes, this magnificent man is king of the “or else we cans”. If only more people would just say no to the lazy stereotypes and puffed-up indignation and join him in the church of actually making a difference.

The Oasis screened on ABC 1 last week. Visit http://www.abc.net.au/tv/oasis/ to buy a copy of the DVD, download the film for free or attend a community screening.

- originally published in The Australian on 17-04-2008.

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