Words: Angela Skujins
Pictures: Andre Castellucci
Lighthouse Youth Projects gives troubled young people a sturdy set of wheels with which to travel back onto the straight and narrow.
There’s a mirror in Lighthouse Youth Projects’ Port Adelaide warehouse that speaks to you.
White text affixed to the bottom of the looking glass declares:
YOU’RE LOOKING AT THE PERSON MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS AND SAFETY!
The mirror belongs to bicycle industry veteran Jamie Moore and local BMX celebrity Ryan Lloyd, and it sits in the headquarters of Lighthouse, the not-for-profit they co-run.
Nearby, there are stacks of BMX frames and associated parts – tyres, chains, and other mechanical bits – lined up in boxes.
The mirror’s message is intended to convey a valuable lesson to young people who take part in Lighthouse’s mentoring programs: you are responsible for yourself.
Dylan is a quick-witted blonde with a penchant for trouble. He’s the first teen we see enter the mirror’s view. Wearing a Thrills Co t-shirt and a bunch of plastic bracelets on his wrist, the Year 10 student says he’s been mentored by Lighthouse for “a year or two”. Every week, he attends the ad-hoc mentoring program Cadence, where older mentors hang out with younger riders. He turns up because it’s “something to do”.
Outside of riding, scootering, playing Fortnite and going to school three days a week, Dylan collects rocks and amphibians. His favourite is an albino green tree frog he bought online.
Dylan says Lighthouse has made him “more responsible”, and if it wasn’t for Cadence, he’d “probably be in juvie”.
More Cadence attendees enter the warehouse. Dylan introduces us to Tyler, whom he calls ‘Styler’ – a tall, softly spoken teen bursting with “freestyle” BMX talent. He can nail tailwhips, bunny hops and turndowns. Everyone reckons he’s the cream of the current crop of Lighthouse riders.
As Tyler pulls a helmet covered in stickers over his mop of brown hair, he tells CityMag he started riding with Lighthouse “around COVID”. Something about the program clicked with him, and it’s now a highlight of his week. “I wake up every morning waiting for this,” he says earnestly.
Tyler doesn’t share much about what led him to Lighthouse, but all the people who engage with the program come from disadvantaged backgrounds. He says the initiative has been transformational.
“You learn a lot of lessons here,” he says. “We learn a lot of skills outside of bike riding that we can use in real life.” The young rider has learnt to see riding as a metaphor for the rest of his life. While you might feel limitless flying through the city on a set of wheels, “in life, not everything’s gonna be as happy as when you’re on the bike,” he says. Eventually, you need to hop off.
A third Cadence mentee enters, the doe-eyed, brooding Jacob. The mulleted adolescent slinks to the back of the warehouse and straddles a borrowed black BMX bike; his was stolen from the Seaford train station. While playing with a loose thread hanging off his Tommy Hilfiger hoodie, the 15-year-old says he’s been with Cadence for two years and has noticed a change in his character. He doesn’t consider himself a “drop-kick” anymore.
“I’ve done some pretty screwed up shit in my past,” Jacob says. “I basically grew up on the streets, although I had a perfectly good home.”
The teenager, who has peach fuzz growing around his jaw, says he also no longer smokes weed or racks clothes from David Jones. And although he’s still up to some problematic activities, “the criminal shit, I stopped all that,” he says. Without Cadence, Jacob says he would be in “Cavan”, referring to the Adelaide Youth Training Centre.
These boys are bound by a shared love of chaos. They found this program by chasing trouble. But on the dirt track, years after being mentored and moulded by the team at Lighthouse, they’re finding thrills in a different kind of danger. They’re risking losing a tooth, scraping a knee or landing a freestyle trick, all of them hungry for the calculated, instinctual risks of a BMX track.
With the boys assembled, Lighthouse co-founder Jamie drives us to a local bike track. Jamie, who has speckles of grey peppering his neat buzzcut, says he and Ryan got into not-for-profit work in late-2013. The Department for Corrections invited them to give a talk at a local youth prison, and instead of lecturing the kids, they got a pair of bikes through security and just let them ride. Jamie says it was “a runaway success”, and the spirit of the day has guided all of their youth outreach work: let young people lead.
“The next time we took 10 bikes, and then it’s kind of grown from there,” Jamie says. “We genuinely went in there thinking – and we still do – that we want to help make those young people’s lives a lot better.”
Almost a decade since that initial program, Lighthouse has sprouted a range of offerings. They run Cadence, which is what we’re witnessing today, as well as a Trails mountain-biking program, and youth justice work. The ethos that propels Jamie and Ryan is the transformative power of bicycles and the right for every
kid to ride.
“Some of the kids we work with, their grandparents may be raising them, or they are in the care of the state, or their parents are kicking them out of home,” Jamie says.
“A lot of them haven’t had the opportunity that we’ve taken for granted, which is being able to ride a bike and having someone help fix it.”
We pull into the 1980s Bower Road Bike Park, located on the corner of Old Port Road and Bower Road in West Lakes. The park has a pump track, race track and advanced drop-in hill. From its tallest peak, you can feel the ocean breeze on your face. This park is for advanced riders only, and a sign by the local council enforces this:
NO – RC cars
NO – Scooters
NO – Skateboards
Most importantly, it stakes a claim on behalf of the boys:
This is their patch of dirt. Somewhere to feel free, ride with abandon, make those calculated risks. And to bond with each other and their mentors over their shared knowledge and experience of the track.
Our trio of teens heave their bikes up a hill and ready themselves to drop in. Tyler is nominated as the first go. Dylan screams “Let it rip” and Tyler obliges.
A flurry of grey pebbles flies into the air as the young teen jumps headlong into the unknown. Only they themselves are responsible for what happens next.
This article first appeared in CityMag‘s 2023 Winter Edition, on streets now.