Indigenous leaders in Western Australia’s remote north-west have rolled out skateboarding clinics for children left at odds by an absence of weekend team sports.
- Onslow’s award winning skate park is possibly the most remote in the world
- The town is without regular weekend team sports due to its small population
- Teachers and Indigenous leaders say skateboarding is reducing truancy
Although it may seem an unlikely pairing, teachers and Indigenous elders in the mining town of Onslow say participation in the after school skate clinics is affecting positive change among the target group of 8-12 year old children.
Located 15 hours drive north of Perth in the Pilbara region, Onslow’s population numbers just over 800.
The transient nature of its population has led to an almost complete absence of team sports for the town’s children given the nearest towns are more than four hours away.
The town’s sole school, Onslow Primary, caters for the majority of its children and principal Jacqueline Barry said the clinics — coupled with a swim program at the recently refurbished town pool — had also led to a decrease in truancy.
Both programs require proof of school attendance to allow for participation.
“It keeps the children positively engaged in an activity that looks after, not only their physical health, but potentially also their social and emotional health,” Ms Barry said.
“It also distracts them from engaging in activities that may not be the best of choices for them, or choices that impact negatively on the community.”
The town’s skate park was opened in 2017 with the construction cost of $1.1million contributed by mining giant BHP, which operates its Macedeon gas field 100 kilometres west of the town.
Ms Barry said equipping children with the basic skill-set required to skate was often enough to encourage further participation in the sport.
She said activities where only a small number of kids were needed had proven to be a “really good thing”.
“That way, all they need is that one piece of equipment and they can go and engage in that activity without having to have someone organise a team. They just jump on their skateboards or scooters and away they go.”
Mining giant BHP funded the $1.1million skate park build. (ABC South West WA: Anthony Pancia)
Margaret River-based skate coach Vanessa Moore conducts the clinics at regular intervals throughout the year under contract with Thalanyji Foundation, a subsidiary of The Buurabalayji Thalanyji Aboriginal Corporation, which is the governing body for Native Title on the land around Onslow.
Ms Moore said participants had taken to skating “like ducks to water,” and showed marked signs of improvement with each visit.
“A lot of the kids came to skating a bit shy and lacking confidence,” Ms Moore said.
“Once we got them up and running on the skateboards they really came to life and took off, not just having the best of times, but also genuinely interested and committed to the sport.”
A town called Onslow
Temperatures can hover in the mid-40s, which makes most outdoor activities an evening affair rather than in the heat of the baking midday sun.
The town surrounds a long, characteristically-wide main street which features a post office, general store, police station and three pubs.
Like most towns in WA’s north-west, high-visibility signage adorns most vehicles while off-roster workers, also decked out in high-viz workwear, account for much of the limited foot traffic.
Although unleaded petrol is about 199.9 per litre, some locals opt to drive three hours to neighbouring towns of Port Hedland or Karratha for weekly grocery shops.
Expansive salt flats border most roads leading to Onslow, with more than 2 million tonnes of sodium chloride being produced each year, much of which is exported to Asia.
The permanent population is made up of retirees or young families who work shifts at the mining or salt operations.
Many of the Onslow’s Indigenous Thalanjyi people live in the Bindi Bindi housing community, located just on the outskirts of town.
Local identity, Pete ‘Back Alley’ Kalalo described the town as consisting of three distinct personalities.
“It’s cruisy, choosy and sometimes boozy,” Mr Kalalo told the ABC.
“It has a cruisy lifestyle because it’s half an hour behind rest of the world. It’s boozy because we have one shop and three drinking holes.”
Late teens still a concern
Thalanyji Foundation general manager Brett Peake said while the clinics had proven a hit with children aged 8-12, a remaining key area of concern were Onslow’s teenagers.
Mr Peake, a former St Kilda and Fremantle AFL player, said the teens were largely left to please themselves.
“They are the ones we refer to as disengaged youth,” Mr Peake said.
The skate clinics are one of several programs in Onslow aimed at encouraging school attendance. (ABC Local: Anthony Pancia)
“Some of them do go to boarding schools, but largely that is the age group that needs a bit of love and attention — whether it be through sport of getting them back on to country and back into culture.”