Bushproof bikes – channelling positive energy for youth in remote communities

I have been involved in Bikes Palya *, Bike SA’s youth engagement program on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankuntjatjara (APY) lands for the past five years. I used to visit the same communities regularly, building strong relationships over time. It has been one year since I last delivered, however this time I was heading somewhere new. When I was welcomed based on the reputation and efforts of my teams work before me, I felt humbled to be part of a program repeatedly invited by our First Nations peoples to help address issues facing their youth.

Bikes Palya visited the APY lands community of Fregon in July as a response to community requests for a targeted school holiday program. From 2014 to 2016 Bikes Palya regularly visited 10 APY lands communities, each twice a year. This continuity of service allowed the facilitation of community development projects such as school bike programs and BMX tracks to occur. Since funding ceased, the program depends on being contracted by various youth programs across SA NT and WA. Without a regular youth program presence in Fregon, BP had not yet had the opportunity to return.

This visit was delivered in partnership with Regional Anangu Services Aboriginal Corporation (RASAC), through their Community Patrol program. Bikes Palya has a strong reputation for positively engaging at risk youth and delivering effective diversionary programs. Fregon marks the second RASAC funded visit targeting acutely at-risk youth (a previous request led to an additional visit to Amata in 2016).

When we arrived on Monday, the BMX track (facilitated by Bikes Palya in 2015) was overgrown with prickles and there were no bikes to be seen. Within hours of greeting community members and making introductions, the restoration project began. A trailer load of clay earth was collected to repair eroded jumps and allow access to a water truck provided. The youth immediately joined in, enthusiastically picking up rocks and rubbish and removing the prickle bushes and Buffelgrass into piles to be burnt.

Despite our hiatus and the BMX tracks rough condition, cycling culture remains strong in Fregon. Fregon Anangu School has invested in 10 professional BMX bikes with solid tyres. Through this visit, the bikes previously donated by Bike SA members to the school were regifted to the community. Aware of the severe prickle problem we brought up solid inserts and tyres to protect bikes against the harsh elements.

By Friday the newly cleared track was being ridden by 15 newly refurbished community bikes. Through daily maintenance workshops, 7 bikes were rebuilt by youth and purchased for the cost of the new parts. An additional 8 were repaired using donated parts and resourceful techniques such as double tube and tyre lining the rim.

A week later, former teacher and Community Administration Support Officer Lyn Clement observed the effect of the program.

“It is great to see at any one time there are 8-10 kids still riding and utilising track. Last holidays many of the youth were out of control. They were wandering around bored, picking up rocks and metal implements, looking for things to do. There were holiday programs offered however the kids were not interested. The difference Bikes Palya made these holidays was remarkable. The kids were so engaged in activities they truly enjoy with bikes that they had no time for vandalism. Furthermore, teaching the kids to fix and maintain the bikes means they are engaged in practical learning, which too often schools fails to achieve.”

Cycling activities remain to deliver positive health and wellbeing outcomes in remote communities. The poor quality of available bikes and harsh conditions present ongoing challenges which Bikes Palya continues to work alongside communities to address. This has led to developing appropriate techniques of bush proofing bikes using available resources. Bikes purchased now have full sealed bearings, solid tyres and double walled rims to greatly reduce maintenance requirements for schools. Over 180 bikes previously donated by Bike SA members are now being re-gifted to youth in remote communities via targeted engagement visits like this, further benefiting from the treatment described above.

After 15 years experience delivering in remote communities, through the ongoing support of its members, Bike SA has developed a truly unique, highly valued program positively engaging indigenous youth living in remote communities.

*Pitjantjatjara for good, Bikes Palya = Bikes are Great!