SKATEWORKS recent donation of 200 boards and helmets to remote Arnhem Land communities, guarantees Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continual access and participation in the organisation’s balance stick program.
Once the skateboards are delivered, the children, together with local traditional community art co-ops, transform their deck with paint, expressing their culture and selves.
“The kids paint the boards with symbols or totems that tell a story, their story,” said Jon Burns, Skateworks founder and executive director.
The program is based around requests from the Traditional Elders and a desire from Community representatives for their youth to reconnect with country.
Mr Burns said: “As far as we are aware Skateworks is the only organisation that is not only concentrating on delivering the desired reconnection with Country that traditional Elders want, we are the only organisation co-delivering that project hand in hand and side by side with traditional Elders.”
This is not the first time Mr Burns has set up skate programs, he previously had significant success in Ethiopia using skateboarding as a driver for change.
“Ethiopia was a whole different ball game, it was about creating employment,” he said.
Programs were developed after he skated 517 km across Ethiopia, to ask locals, one to one, their goals, and what was needed from the organisation.
These discussions led the organisation to target homeless street youth in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and created an employment pathway through vocational training in metal fabrication, with skateboarding as the initial drawcard.
Skateworks trained and returned 2,631 homeless street youth back to their villages, with a trade and the necessary income to create a viable economic foundation to help their families.
Mr Burns took the same approach for remote communities in Arnhem Land, spending time with Elders, traditional owners, parents and families.
The group decided together, on what was needed with Elders as project co-deliverers.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders identified three prime objectives for their community in Australia.
The third objective, youths diminishing connection with country, became the primary concern for Skateworks balance stick program.
“Disconnection comes from being the grandchildren of the stolen generation,” Mr Burns said.
“Skateboarding is already a teen language, that allowed them to make the analogy of the balance stick.”
“[The kids] use the terms which gives them something that they could interpret in a dance, art, or skate way to develop a language that was contextually belonging, because all of us want to belong”.
Through the balance stick program, Skateworks provided a bridge from past to present and reconnection to the land which, as Mr Burns believes, skateboarding is also connected to land.
“Skateboarding is a positive experience and moreover a language that allows for the land to own you, and for you to have a relationship with the land and not just live on it,” he said.
His intention though is for young indigenous youth to become coaches and leaders, start their own teams, and go on to some of the communities and coach the kids.
The community members will coach using their own names, and Skateworks, through donations, supplies the boards and provides any networking they might need.
Skateworks still requires financial funding annually to transport the donated items to Arnhem Land.
“You change the environment: the skate park becomes a canvas to tell a story, a way to tie in culture,” Mr Burns said.
“If you can redefine your environment, you can redefine anything.”