How bikes are changing the lives of at-risk and Indigenous kids in remote Western Australia

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A bike is more than just a bike. It can be: transport, exercise and sport, health, freedom, and importantly can build a sense of connection and community.

That’s the ideology behind the Cycling Development Foundation’s Indigenous bike education program in remote Western Australia, which uses the power of the bike to engage with, educate and empower, at-risk and Indigenous youth and communities.

The CDF’s Laverton Cycling Project started as a two-week trial in 2018 in the Goldfields town of Laverton, 1100km east of Perth.

Hosted alongside the Laverton school and with support from the Laverton Leonora Cross Cultural Association, the goal was the mentoring of youths through rebuilding second-hand bikes and providing guidance and practical skills, by fostering a sense of community, self-sustainability, and pride.

It also incorporated an exercise program using cycling to educate the local community about how exercise could be brief, effective, and improve health and well-being.

Six years on, the project is now the longest running dedicated Indigenous cycling program in Australia, and continues to grow each year, CDF managing director Brad Hall said.

“It keeps scaling up each year, and with that comes an increase in service,” Hall explains.

“We are now running programs in some of the Aboriginal communities in Cosmo Newbery and Mulga Queen in really remote communities where they haven’t seen non-government organisations working out there. It’s a nice frontier to be working on with these kids and providing opportunity for them to access cycling.”

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The program has this year expanded into Mulga Queen. 

The program is now delivered in the town of Laverton one week a month by Sabine Bird, who has also this year started to service Mulga Queen and Cosmo Newbery.

With about 400 people in the community and 70 kids across the shire of Laverton, about 80 per cent had been serviced by the program, Hall estimated.

“Some of these kids we’ve known for eight years. You see them develop year on year, you develop a sense of connection with them, you learn about their incredible stories and their connection to land and culture that still exists. It’s a very rewarding space to be working in.”

Benefits are ‘multi-faceted’

With a holistic approach and mindset, the community benefits of the program are far-reaching, from improving individual health and wellbeing outcomes, to upskilling the community through repairing second-hand bikes, to the broader social impact.

“It’s multi-faceted,” Hall explains.

“When you look at fitness measures, two 15-minute structured intermittent interval training sessions a week can reduce the health risk profile by about between 40 and 60 per cent. We’ve seen the effect of structured intermittent training do that.

“We’ve also seen pre and post mood measures improve on average by about 20 per cent pre and post exercise, and there is a co-variant in there where someone who is low in mood tends to improve by 70 per cent in their mood score.”

Education around healthy eating habits is also a focus.

“We have some great sponsors that allows us to take fresh fruit out to those communities there and they are able to get all this awesome food as well,” Hall said.

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Attendance in the bike program is contingent on students attending school and completing the school day.

“If they’ve done that, they get a wrist band they are able to come over to the youth centre and then access to the program. It ties in that education component.”

Learned resilience is incorporated into the program such as how to tackle a problem when something goes wrong, like a mechanical or a flat tyre.

“One of the factors it does assist with is reduction in non-violent crime. Extra curricula activities outside of school help teach kids about themselves, teach kids around performance attitudes that they can use throughout their life span and later in life in an occupational sense,” Hall explained.

“You also see it in you’re keeping kids fed, you’re keeping kids off the street, engaged in challenging tasks that are really healthy for their physicality and wellbeing.”

The benefits also extend into the drawing new visitors to the area, Hall explains, through the annual charity bike ride which raised money for the project.

“The shire is interested in it because we have been able to bring people out there through our annual charity ride that which rides 1100km from Perth to Laverton to raise fund for this project, and that coincides with their annual Festival of Laverton – it brings new people to the centre. It’s vast as far as it's footprint goes.”

Why bikes?

The shire of Laverton has an association with bikes dating back to the late 1800s. Mining entrepreneur and medical practitioner Dr Charles Laver (after which the town is named) rode his bike 400km from Coolgardie to Laverton in search of gold. But his priority remained to attend to the sick and injured.

“Dr Laver founded the townsite, and he serviced the region on a push-bike before the roads were sealed. You’ve got this incredible legacy of cycling crossing the frontier of land,” Hall said.

“Cycling back then was a mode of transport for Dr Laver to get through pretty difficult country and now it’s just offering so much more potential for that community: it’s health, it’s wellbeing, it could be sport, it could be exercise, it could be transport, it’s freedom.”

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Hall said a bike offered much more to an individual than a football or soccer ball.

“It doesn’t discriminate across the lifespan so you can have someone at 70 years of age riding with someone of 10 years age. There’s not many sporting codes that facilitate that level of engagement across the lifespan.”

Pedalling into the future

While the focus for the time being remains continuity of service and increased engagement into the Laverton area, Hall believes there is scope to use the project as a boilerplate to expand into other parts of the country.

“Scalability is all about funding. It’s the longest running dedicated Indigenous cycling program, I think, in Australia and we’d like to expand that in other areas but it comes down to a costing exercise,” he said.

“I think what its demonstrated is the program’s ability to interact with the various stakeholders – Aboriginal corps, the shire, the police, school services, etc – to create something that works within this community effectively, I think that is replicable with the right support.”

Hall says tourism is also another area that could be tapped into in the future.

“It’s beautiful country, and it’d be great to have some facilities out there as far as some gazetted trails that take in that incredible landscape and that connection to country and law and culture that has existed for thousands out there.

“It would be great to look at funding to be able establish cycling infrastructure out there as a tourism type resource that connects to country and culture.”

Sabine Bird riding with kids in Mulga Queen
Sabine Bird riding with kids around Mulga Queen.

Connecting with corporations and social governance

Hall says the projects sustainability into the future also require investment from corporations.

“If businesses and corporations are aligned with cycling, they like the idea of partnering with cycling, this program can achieve environmental social governance frameworks in line with UN mandates and what the Australian government’s adopting,” he said.

“So here we have a mechanism for corporations to partner with to drive forward Indigenous health, to promote community health etc through cycling in an at-risk community so there is good scope for partnership with these types of programs, that will actually achieve tangible results for like-minded businesses.”


Click on the links to find out more about the Laverton Cycling Project and the Cycling Development Foundation.

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