Skateworks Australia, The land is our Instructor

Our connection to Country is always with us through Skateboarding

Apr 8, 2018 · 16 min read

“Skateworks commissions Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island Community individuals & cultural groups for any and all cultural elements within the delivery of its programs. Skateworks works side by side & in unison with Indigenous organisations for its delivery as this is respectful of the custodial sovereign owners of this land & culture. Skateworks delivers skateboarding and it’s relationship with the landscape combined with Indigenous partners delivery of culture and Aboriginal relationship with Country. Together we deliver, The Balance Stick”

Skateworks acknowledgement of the traditional owners and the lands we speak of today

We acknowledge that the lands we speak of today are the traditional lands for the Jawoyn, Alawa, Binbinka, Marra, Ngarnji, Wilangarra, Yanyuwa & Kaurna peoples & that we respect their spiritual relationship with Country. We also acknowledge the Jawoyn, Alawa, Binbinka, Marra, Ngarnji, Wilangarra, Yanyuwa & Kaurna peoples as the traditional custodians of the Northern Territory & South Australian regions & their cultural & heritage beliefs. In keeping with the spirit of Reconciliation, we acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands & recognise that these have always been places of teaching & learning. We wish to pay respect to their Elders — past, present & emerging

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we listen twice as much as we speak. The Land is our teacher”

photo by Ross Delanay

Skateworks Brief Background

“The little wooden Bridge connecting Ethiopia with Australia”

Skateworks solid credentials for Northern Territory Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Youth project were built in Ethiopia

Skateworks returned 2631 Ethiopian homeless youth back home with trade qualifications and a balanced outlook on life through education and skateboarding. It’s these Balance Indigenous connection programs that we bring to The Northern Territory through “The Balance Stick”

Wochelamai Girls, offered a better alternative to Abduction Marriage in Rural Ethiopia

Skateworks Ethiopia Project.

Skateworks Ethiopia is an education change engine that leverages the change and education process of skateboarding with the economic bridge builder, education. Skateworks designed a trade pathway creating a permanent change for Ethiopian homeless Youth. Skateworks six-week trade course specifically designed & implemented for Ethiopian Youth gives Vocational education through metal fabrication training & certification for that training by combining the motivation & learning process of skateboarding with vocational education. This is an unusual mix between action sport & vocational training however both have goals setting benchmarks as they go through the course & can be tied together metaphorically to give youth an advancement pathway back to a normal life safety & all that you & I enjoy all with the stoke of skateboarding and the balance it creates. You can’t unlearn skateboarding & you can’t unlearn a trade. The little wooden bridge from the street to the classroom


What is Skateworks “The Balance Stick”?

The Balance Stick is a Remote Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island Community School holiday program specifically designed to create the outcome of which Elders & Community representatives desire for their Youth. At Skateworks, the outcome is everything. All cultural elements are delivered by Indigenous partnered groups from the Country we are delivering in. Skateworks delivers skateboarding and it’s amazing learning pathway and relationship with the landscape. All cultural elements are delivered by partner Indigenous organisation from the Country where the program is being delivered.

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Elders have identified that the four prime objectives for Community in Australia are the following

1. Health including mental health

2. Education including Aboriginal Education

example : Aboriginal Kurdiji


3. please make Aboriginal community and its relationship with Country a desirable and generationally viable place to be. The place youth want to be

These Insights were derived from meetings & convesations with Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corporation Yirrkala East Arnhem Land( Aboriginal Kriol translation -Yan- )( January 2019) & Numbulwar Aboriginal Community in South East Arnhem Land Australia (Aboriginal Kriol translation -Miding-) (July 2018).

It is primarily the third & 4th of these concerns that Skateworks School holiday program concentrates on. Reconnecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth with Country through Skateboarding & increasing the viability of staying with Community.

The following key factors are vital for programs to have traction

. the community has ownership of and control over decision-making

. culture is central to the program, including an understanding of local context, history and community leaders

. local Indigenous staff work on the program or in the organisation; — good corporate governance exists; — Indigenous staff are working on programs and existing capacity is harnessed; — trusting relationships with partners are established; — flexibility in implementation timelines.

Custodians and Skateboarders creating Balance through reconnection with Country

Connecting Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander youth with their cultural identities & unearthing a pathway forward on their own terms.

Youth Interconnection to Land intertwined through Law, Ceremony, Language, Kinship, Plants & Animals

For many Indigenous people, land relates to all aspects of existence — culture, spirituality, language, law, family and identity. Rather than owning land, each person belongs to a piece of land which they are related to through the kinship system. Disconnection with Country creates a “Major Tom” effect of being cast out into space away from all things that are relative to your existence and belonging.

“We have seen a problem that was close to nonexistent a generation ago explode into an epidemic that is devastating families and communities right across the top end of Australia,”

Wrote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, in The Social Justice and Native Title Report 2016

It detailed alarming statistics, including that in some remote areas of the Kimberley the rate of suicide among Indigenous Australians is 100 times greater than the national average. Recent reports have put the figure at 70 deaths per 100,000 people — the highest rate in the world when compared to World Health Organisation figures. The Elders’ Report into Preventing Indigenous self-harm and youth suicide heard from a number of elders — perspectives it said had been lost among those of “professionals, bureaucrats and other people in positions of power”. It is this alarming testimony that alerts Skateworks to this distinct need for cooperative programs delivered with Elders and not solely by academics and NGO’s imposing their project that they feel are applicable rather than a program that is seeded in Community and co-developed by Elders. Generationally appropriate interaction delivered side by side with traditional Elders and Skateworks.

Connection to Values & Beliefs

What Land Means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Connection to Country is deep-rooted. Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples are born to it, it is how they identify themselves, it is their family, their laws, their language, their ceremony, their responsibility, their inheritance and their legacy. To not know their country causes a painful disconnection, the impact of which is well documented in studies relating to health, wellbeing and life outcomes. Modern constructs of identification do not work for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in fact, they dismantle the fabric that holds them together. It is this knowledge that enables them to identify who they are, who their family is, who their ancestors were and what their stories are. Country defines who they are and indistinguishable from their country which is why they fight so hard to hang on to it.

“Oneness with Country through the stories from Elders”

Rolling with the land and not on it

Skateboarding is a way of seeing enabling Youth to redefine everything around them. The land on its own terms.

Skaters don’t see the footpath as footpaths, they don’t see streets as streets, they don’t see walls as walls. Everything has been redefined. All the other people in the world see these same elements completely differently. They see it as a place you walk, stairs as a way to descend to lower or ascend to a higher level, a curb as the differentiation between street and path. Skateboarders relationship with the land is intuitive, creative and interpretive at its core. With Skateboarders it’s always about the potential. The possibilities of the terrain. This empowers Youth with the ability to redefine and if Youth can redefine their environment, they can redefine anything. The ability to reinterpret and integrate Elders teachings from the past to the present in a generationally relevant way brings the relationship with Country to the now, cementing it as an integral language within Aboriginal Youth that always stays with them throughout their lives.

The landscape is in Skateboarders as Country is in Aboriginal Youth

A Skateboard is a paintbrush and the terrain is the canvas.

They skate with their heart and not their heads. It’s something they feel, not think. A natural relationship allowing youth to tell stories on a skateboard of Law, Ceremony, Language, Kinship, Plants & Animals told in unison with the landscape and how it flows. Not fighting the shapes that the land presents, but expressing yourself from it and not on it.

“Oneness with Urban and natural landscape through Skateboarding”.

One Foot on Earth, One Foot on Pavement

“Walking in two worlds”

For Aboriginal Youth to survive in today’s society they have to have the ability to “Walk in Two Worlds”. They find themselves struggling to hold on to as much of both worlds as possible. One foot on pavement and one foot on earth. It’s the feeling of being pulled in different directions by culture and non-Aboriginal Australian city life. Both worlds are never truly aligned and often Aboriginal Youth describe that they are in a constant battle going back and forth in order to feel that they fit in but never really do in either. Suffering the added pressure of having to prove themselves to others, to prove they have earned the right to be there. Many slip through the cracks and find themselves in a transient place laden with no identity. Feeling lonely and isolated in a sea of non-Aboriginal faces. Society often depicts Indigenous people in a particularly negative way and without a way to redefine their environment and internalise Country so it is always with them, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Youth fade into marginalised obscurity, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and habitual support systems rather than the support of Country.

The little wooden bridge from the past to the present

Creating Balance

“Where our ancestors once walked we pass on our stories with four wheeled language. Stories of our laws, responsibilities, inheritance and our legacy for our future”

These are the Four Northern Territory Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Communities for The Balance

Using the Pavement language to tell culture stories and create a path to land, Ceremony, Family, law and language. A pavement board becomes and Earth board through stories. Cultural nourishment in a relevant language, Skateboarding language. Allowing youth to take their culture stories with them wherever they go

Creating my own Balance Stick

Five day program example. This program will run in six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities between Northern Territory and South Australia.

Day one:

Each community program runs from between 5 and 7 days and starts with the 40 raw used decks being gifted to each Community. We lay the boards out and run an art day for the children to paint their dreaming, stories and designs on their boards to express themselves and gain spiritual ownership by painting the decks with their stories, images and designs taught to them by Elders. We ask them about Balance and what that means to them. What does it mean and how would they Illustrate that on their board. Which dreaming stories talk of Balance and how Important Balance is between the Aboriginal understanding of Country and co-existing in the City. If the decks are dry we then teach the kids to put their trucks, wheels and bearings on and that completes their ride.

Photos Credit, Warmun Aboriginal & Torres Strait Community WA & Dreamtime Boarders

This is the Balance Board we use to describe the flow back and forth that is needed to create the stoke in Skateboarding and the Stoke in a balanced life. You lean to far one way and you fall and Skateboarding is a bridge that allows you to be in both worlds and belong in both.

The Balance Stick

Day Two:

Day two, We take the kids through basic balance exercises using skateboards and talk about the right foundation to create balance. Balance on a board and Balance in life as a person. Primarily balance between Community and city life and using Skateboarding to create that bridge that allows you to take Country with you wherever you may go. The board you see above is the board we use to describe where balance fits in their lives. You lean too far back or too far forward and you fall. you lean to far toward City or Country and you cease to be able to exist in either. If you lean only left, you turn a complete circle. The same if you turn to far right you end up right where you started. Balance is Key to Skateboarding and Life.

It is the unison of metered flow from left to right that creates the Stoke of Skateboarding and also the Stoke in life. Finding your centre allows for balance that then empowers you to redefine your environment. By the end of day two the kids are starting to get some confidence on the new boards and we can move forward to the internal voice in skateboarding. What you say to yourself while you skate and where your stoke lives.

The Stoke of Skateboarding

Day Three:

Day three we ask the kids to show us their personal or favourite Dreamtime story through traditional dance and we start to work with them about their oneness with Country through Skateboarding. Revealing the similarities and connections skateboarding makes with the land and the relevance of traditional relationship with Country and how to take Country with you to the city through Skateboarding. Their own Balance Stick creating a little wooden bridge to their Indigenous Identities and the ability to redefine their environment.

Dreamtime Stories interpreted through dance and Skateboardings creative language

Days Four & Five:

On days four and five we work in unison with Elders to bridge the Gap between traditional stories, traditional dances connection with Country and Youths internal story that can be channelled into their skateboarding. It is deeply important that this project is delivered side by side with Elders and is as much traditional Elders project as it is ours.

The correlation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and Country comparison with Skateboarders relationship with the land is by no means meant to trivialise Aboriginal Oneness with Country but rather to give it a generationally empowered pathway bringing Country into the city. Bridging the gap between City and Community through Skateboarding. It is deeply important that this project is delivered side by side with Elders and is as much traditional Elders project as it is ours.

In the minds of Youth Country and city start to meld into one and the transition bridge is Skateboarding

Having painted their board and learn’t to find balance on the board and begun their exploration of the landscape they begin to define it on their own terms and intertwine Aboriginal relationship with Country through the sculptural forms of the city which will give them a sense of belonging and creativity. Weaving urban public spaces into the rocky outcrops and undulations of Country as one Land and with one paintbrush, a Skateboard.

Land Caretaker and land Interpreters with one foot on earth and one foot on pavement

The land shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders what to do, the flow and balance that comes from Country. Passing on lessons of history and kinship through stories, dance, movement and song.

“Skateboarding gave me a creative outlet and in turn, self-respect and hope. In my youth, the spirit of skateboarding was all about individuality. Empowering me with a very physical yet productive form of self-expression. Skateboarding is a positive experience and moreover a language, a language that allows for the land to own you and for you to have a relationship with the land and not just on it. It shows you the potential and the possibility of the terrain all around you. Like ridable sculpture that hooks up kids with the ability to redefine their surroundings and reinterpret not only their landscape but the landscape of their lives. If you can redefine your environment you can redefine anything.”

Jon Burns Skateworks founder

The Balance Stick, Implementation Team

Recycledfun is a subproject of Skateworks and like Skateworks, is an indigenous education outcome focused organisation.

Skateboarding creates learning outcomes by youth challenging themselves through Skateboarding and education by setting personal benchmarks. Through a process of repeated failure and focused effort, skill-based growth is attained and aspirations are heightened as well as enriched.

Jon Burns Founder & Executive Dir of Skateworks

Jon Burns Founder & Executive Director of Skateworks Ethiopia’s Ambassa Skateworks Native American project “ Turtle Island” & Skateworks Australia’s “ The Balance Stick

Kieran Reilly Skateworks Australia

Kieran Reilly First Sovereign Nations Skateworks Australia Coach.

Kieran is a highly successful Australian Skateboarder who has his two feet firmly set on the ground with his ties to family & Country as a young Dunghutti Man & his Indigenous education from his Dunghutti Elder Grandfathers teachings of Country, Law, Kinship & his relationship with the Land as his parent. Kieran has a long term relationship with THEEVE Trucks & had his own Indigenous designed Skate shoe with DC designed by his Grandfather.

Brodie Jarrett First Sovereign Nations Skateworks Australia Coach.

Brodie Jarrett’s name rings through the mics of Australian Skateboarding’s Pro events as a front runner in the Australian Skateboarding scene. Brodie is a proud Gumbaynggirr Dunghutti Man from the Gumbaynggirr bloodline, the Dunghutti extended family. Brodie expresses his culture and dreaming through his paintings and board designs for his company Dreamtime Skateboards.

Dreamtime Skateboards ( Instagram ) dreamtimeskateboards

Ella Geia Skateworks Indigenous Women's Mentor for Numbulwar South East Arnhem Land Australia

Ella has lived and worked in Numbulwar South East Arnhem land since 2008. She is currently working for Roper Gulf Regional Council, Numbulwar, whilst attaining a Diploma in Screen and Media. Ella is the manager of a local dance group and band Yilila Band and Red Flag Dancers. Ella has vast experience working in remote community settings delivering high-level arts and program management. Her background in media, film and community development programs has seen her continue advocating for ongoing Numbulwar arts and cultural programs. She has been Festival Director of Numburindi Festival since 2016 and is now Project Coordinating the Numburindi festival and strengthening culture and country bush camp program from 2018–2020. Ella acts as a project advisor and is one of the crucial Aboriginal voices guiding Skateworks delivery side by side as an Indigenous organisation.

Grant Nundhirribala, Skateworks Youth Mentor for Numbulwar & traditional owner in South East Arnhem Land

Rowland Nundhirribala, Skateworks Youth Mentor for Numbulwar & traditional owner in South East Arnhem Land

Nathan Gray, Northern Territory & Queensland Manager supply chain manager Australia

Nathan Gray is our longest serving Volunteer and now heads up our Recycledfun Network across the Northern Territory and Queensland. Nathan has been instrumental in our growth and securing Recycledfun as the largest of its kind in the world. Nathan started with us when we were in Ethiopia and has followed through to the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander space. For all enquiries re Recycledfun in NT or Queensland, Nathan is your man.

We acknowledge that the lands we speak of today is the traditional lands for the Jawoyn, Alawa, Binbinka, Marra, Ngarnji, Wilangarra, Yanyuwa & Kaurna peoples & that we respect their spiritual relationship with Country. We also acknowledge the Jawoyn, Alawa, Binbinka, Marra, Ngarnji, Wilangarra, Yanyuwa & Kaurna peoples as the traditional custodians of the Northern Territory & South Australian regions & their cultural & heritage beliefs. In keeping with the spirit of Reconciliation, we acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands & recognise that these have always been places of teaching & learning. We wish to pay respect to their Elders — past, present & emerging

*Children’s names have been changed in line with Child Protection Policy.

Find out more about Skateworks, our programs, where we work and how you can support


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SKATEWORKS is a children’s development organisation devoted to the development of indigenous education through skateboarding in Ethiopia, Australia & the USA

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