Mums on Bikes riding high after needed support
It’s been something of a rollercoaster for a group of mothers on Elcho Island since they began riding bicycles around town and along surrounding scenic graded roads each night to get fit back in September 2021. Initially, they could not get enough bikes to meet demand. However, after an ABC story, people across the world offered bikes, money and support.
The Dusty Divas running group in Alice Springs held a fundraiser; a Scottish woman said that since a Scot invented the bicycle, she was connected to them; and Heather Seidel from Texas, USA, knew she couldn't send a bike, but wanted to donate the cost of a new bike. “It’s no longer safe for me to ride a bike here,” says Seidel. “It’s so wonderful seeing the joy on the women’s faces.”
Galiwin’ku — the local name for Elcho Island, which sits off the coast of Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory and also the name of the island’s largest town — is 515kms east of Darwin, the territory’s capital. Sending a container of bicycles by barge to the island would cost thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the operator donated its services-in-kind.
Postal worker and one of the Mums on Bikes, Verity Burarrwanga, 31, was overwhelmed by the response. “I felt so touched when I first heard the people on the radio, and saw the comments, what they were saying about me,” she said. “It really touched my heart. I’m really proud of myself for what I'm doing for my kids. I feel so blessed.”
Burarrwanga, who had not been on a bike since a childhood cycling accident, was coached by her daughter Amelia to ride again. “She was my first teacher since my childhood,” she says. “It was great when I started my first ride, it was amazing. When my kids saw me riding a bike, they gave me a big smile, which cheered me up. I was so surprised. I would like all you guys to come and enjoy your life riding a bike instead of just sitting in the car. Because riding a bike, it's exercise for our body inside and out. It’s really helped our fitness and health.”
Another member of the group, Belinda Morton, stores scores of bikes that are awaiting shipment to the island at her other home in mainland Palmerston. She spends her holidays and spare time collecting donated bikes and a local handyperson helps service them. The bikes are destined for a purpose-built cage in her carport in Galiwin'ku. That’s because all the group’s initial fleet of nine bikes were stolen after riding became popular on the island.
“In a community like this where resources are scarce, and a kid’s bike at the shop will cost over A$200, I think young people were seeing the fun we were having and they wanted in on that,” Morton says. “It was an indicator of success. You’re onto a winner if everything gets taken.”
However, bikes can only go so far on a 60km-long island. “It's a game of hide-and-seek,” she says. “The Mums on Bikes went around to the houses and just sat down and talked with families and with the young fellas about what this means to us.”
While the bikes were returned, the group has faced some other setbacks, including the essential school bus needing a service in Darwin, local sorry business — which can shut down an entire community — and the arrival of covid.
Morton says the group is considering using its donations to secure weatherproof premises, more bikes, equipment, helmets and tools. “We want to look after what we’ve got before we ask for donations again,” she says.
Also on the cards is maintenance training for men “to upskill in that area and help support the women in the community”.
“And the mums can learn about it too,” she adds.
TOP Katelyn John-Forest pumps up the wheels before heading out for a ride.
PHOTO ABC Radio Darwin/Conor Byrne
ABOVE PHOTOS ABC Radio Darwin/Conor Byrne