Melbourne teenager Chea Gardiner has a job he loves, the support of his family and dreams for the future. But not so long ago the 18-year-old was addicted to methamphetamines and on remand in Melbourne’s Parkville youth detention centre.
Mr Gardiner, who lives in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, said things started to go wrong back when he started high school.
“I was just walking out of school when I wanted,” he said.
“I started getting involved with smoking marijuana, and I guess that wasn’t right with my head at the time.”
Just a few years later, he found himself needing hundreds of dollars every day to pay for an addiction to the drug ice.
“I was doing everything to support my drug habit, so that’s why I was getting in trouble,” he said.
It led to dealing drugs, assault, and stealing cars. Before long, his rap sheet stretched to 300 charges.
Mr Gardiner was remanded at the Parkville youth detention centre and decided to get clean.
“I reckon if I waited an extra year, I would be sitting in the lock-up doing time,” he said.
His mother, Judy Gardiner, said with his 12-year-old sister still at home she told her son he had to leave the family home.
“I knew he was on drugs, I didn’t know how bad… I couldn’t have him around doing the things that he was doing,” she said.
However, Ms Gardiner said, was always prepared to try again.
“In the end he come to the door and he said, ‘Mum, I think I need your help’,” she said.
“I said, ‘I can’t talk no more mate, you know’. I’m willing to give up work, so I gave up work, and we put the hard yards in.
“It was very hard for me and very hard for Chea.”
Ms Gardiner urges other families dealing with methamphetamine addiction, not to give up.
“I know it’s hard, but you’ve just got to be there, they’re really young, and this ice, it’s really destroying the nation,” she said.
Youth workers helped change.
Mr Gardiner also credits the youth workers, who rang every day to check on him as well as coming to visit, with helping him to change.
“They actually came out and said like what can we do to help, just made it very clear that they were there,” he said.
Senior Koori court advice worker Stephanie Wan said she did not come across many young people like Mr Gardiner. “I just want to say I’m really, really proud of Chea and … really proud of how far he’s come,” she said.
Ms Wan deals with about a dozen of the toughest youth justice cases at any one time and said positive results were hard to come by.
“I just want to recognise the hard work we’re all doing in this industry, I know that we’re all trying to make a difference, I think it’s heading in the right direction,” she said.
Just 1 per cent of Victorians aged 10 to 18 are Aboriginal, but they make up 13 per cent of young people in trouble with the law.
The last state budget allocated an extra $1.2 million for early intervention programs for young Indigenous people in Melbourne’s north-east and in the Mallee.
Mr Gardiner has returned to coaching basketball, and said he would love to start his own food van and travel around Australia.
He has some advice for young people getting into trouble with drugs.
“What are you going to get out of it? Is it going to help you, or is it going to send you down the wrong path? Just think before you do it,” he said.