A feature length documentary film, shot in the Australian outback by a London-based production company, has been a catalyst for a huge government funding pledge in the Australian State of New South Wales.
Hide & Seek Media’s 2019 release, Half A Million Steps, won critical acclaim after an extensive cinema run throughout Australia.
The film documented the story of Shantell Irwin, a single mum from the rural town of Dubbo, who was struggling with a dependency to crystal meth amphetamine – the drug known on the streets as ‘ice’.
Shantell was desperate to go to rehab but getting help for her addiction was virtually impossible; the nearest suitable treatment centre was in Sydney (400km away) and that was full! It’s a typical story for many who live in remote and rural parts of Australia’s vast country, where rates of drug dependency are high but treatment clinics are sparse.
100 drug law reform activists walked the half a million steps from Shantell’s hometown to Parliament House in Sydney, to lobby politicians for change. Featuring the story of the world’s first religious institution to campaign for all drugs to be decriminalised (the Uniting Church’s Fair Treatment campaign), the film made the case for substance use to be viewed as a health and social issue rather than a criminal one and made two direct monetary asks:
- For a treatment clinic to be opened in Dubbo, in order to help Shantell and others like her in the town;
- For the NSW government to make a significant investment into drug treatment services. (The film unveiled research which showed that 50% of Australians who put their hand up for help were being turned away).
Campaigners arranged private screenings of the film at Sydney’s Parliament House – and finally this cry was answered.
The New South Wales State Government confirmed they will be providing $305 million for drug and alcohol related services as part of their 2020-21 budget, with $7.5million confirmed to greenlight a residential rehabilitation detox centre in Dubbo.
In Half A Million Steps, Shantell told the documentary “I was broken and I dealt with it through drugs. It’s only a few steps to get drugs in Dubbo, but very hard to get treatment. I want to get off ice and I want to get help.”
One campaigner who appeared in the film was Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, who travelled to Sydney to meet with Shantell, telling her: “What we’re trying to do is get the Government to open more clinics, so hopefully through this campaign we can get you into treatment soon.”
Branson told the documentary: “The war on drugs has been going on now for nearly 60 years. As an entrepreneur and a businessman, if something had failed so abysmally we would have closed it down 59 years ago. If we can start treating drugs as a health problem, not a criminal problem, it’s just blindingly obvious that you’re going to start getting on top of the problem.”
Dubbo Mayor Ben Shields applauded the news that his town would finally be getting a rehab clinic, saying: “Today shows people really do care about this significant issue.”
The film’s Director, Dominic Streeter of Hide & Seek Media, said: “It was a beautiful piece of news to wake up to here in London. It’s a great win for Shantell and the many people across Australia who’ve campaigned so hard for Dubbo.”