BikeSA’s longstanding community program continues to bring the joy of cycling to remote communities
Most Australians can remember when they first learned to ride a bike: the moment a pair of bicycle wheels provided the adrenaline rush and newfound freedom when a shaky ride turned into a fixed line.
Bike SA brought this joy to youth communities in the APY Lands region of South Australia with its youth distance cycling training programme, Bikes Palya.
Beginning in 2003 as a bike repair center for hard-to-reach Aboriginal communities, Bikes Palya has grown organically into a vibrant program for APY Lands youth to develop the skills of perseverance, independence and pride through bike0riding. Launched in 2012, the pilot program and initiative has regularly visited the area since then.
“This has evolved greatly from a practical program of simply buying tools and servicing bike fleets to taking a genuine community development approach,” says Bike SA community engagement manager Joey Fagan.
“We did this by asking and listening to communities about what they wanted us to do and how we could support their cause.”
Located in the far north west of South Australia, APY Lands is home to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people. The vast plains cover 105,000 kilometers of central Australia, made up of eight major First Nation communities.
Repairing a bike teaches life skills at Marree.
Palya means ‘wonderful’ in Pitjantjatjara, and the nickname reflects the program’s core messages: bikes are great, and children in hard-to-reach communities should experience this greatness.
Bicycles Palya takes advantage of the innate excitement and excitement after learning a new skill to teach youth values such as responsibility and independence.
“It stimulates the idea that the bike is just a toy… it can be a sport, it can be used as transportation, and it can have an even bigger job,” Fagan says.
“Kids loved it. They love being outside. A true hands-on tactile culture and a place to live and work, so anything that connects kids to the outdoors has always been really well received.
“There are so many implicit lessons that you don’t even realize you’re learning. [when riding]And while it’s just about socializing, I really think bikes bring out the best in young people.”
Abrasions and bruises while riding a horse teach children not only concentration, but also how to overcome challenges, think laterally and develop. Cycling is also a mental escape and an emotional regulator for those struggling in the classroom and at home.
“If something isn’t great at home and in a crowded environment, it’s really nice to be able to go for a ride on your own,” Joey says.
“Some of these kids have behavioral problems and have learned that bikes can help regulate their emotions, and they can ride bikes and just have a clear head.”
By helping children rekindle their passion for learning, Bikes Palya aims to increase numbers in schools with low attendance and transform the skill set developed by cycling into the classroom.
24.1 percent of the APY Lands population is between the ages of five and 19, which is 6.4 percent higher than the state average. 2016 census statistics. With nearly a quarter of the population’s school age, helping APY youth develop life skills through healthy recreation is essential to see school attendance rates increase.
“Schools enjoyed it because it gave them a tool to interact with young people outside of the classroom and then bring it back to the classroom and use it as a learning subject,” Fagan says.
As the initiative began at APY Lands, Bikes Palya now offers its program to 20 communities in the Far North and West and schools with higher Indigenous populations in Adelaide.
The program is awarded four times a year to communities in South Australia during school holidays and throughout the year in APY Lands.
“We trust and respect us a lot. So every time Bikes Palya comes to their vacation town, people know what it means and the bikes are coming out of the backyard,” says Fagan.
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“We take the time to really get to know the communities and work with them, we don’t just get blown away by what we think the answer is.
We are trying to promote reconciliation more broadly so we will do as much as we can to unite cultures to learn from each other.”
The program also works with communities to build BMX dirt roads and horses to ride, and hosts discos, bush picnics and sports carnivals for youth.
They also collaborate with seniors and educators to combine biking and jungle excursions with traditional activities.
The bikes are donated to the initiative through partnerships developed with SA businesses and the public. South Australians can also buy bikes from Bikes Palya with money that directly funds the program.
Bikes Palya has not had secure funding for the past seven years and relies on donations, partnerships and sponsorships.
“You know, we’re so resourceful, we do so much with so little, but we can do so much with a little more,” says Fagan.
“In a perfect world, every child has the option and access to cycling. I see cycling as a great equalizer for teaching skills and respect across cultures and generations.
“I think its impact cannot be underestimated. [riding a bike] and it is the kind of positive experience one has in one’s life.”
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