By JULIUS DENNIS
The story of the Alice Springs skatepark is one of missed opportunities: Starting as a story of promised expansion and growth in 2003 it now sits at an unusable standstill after a misguided step from the Town Council.
In September, skatepark users began complaining of the new paint job at the skatepark: it was too slippery.
Greg Barnes, a vocal advocate for the park and the community that surrounds it who has worked in “skatepark specific youth engagement” for 15 years, says that some long-time users of the park fell, in some cases “breaking bones”.
In conjunction with an appropriate paint job the council began to seek feedback from the community on their dreams for the skatepark, which was posted on the Youth Action Group Facebook page.
While apparently emails were sent to the council about the dangers of the paint, it wasn’t until an online petition on the matter started doing the rounds that council abruptly closed the park in May. It remains shut today.
Mr Barnes runs the Instagram account alicespringsskatepark which he started a year and a half ago “in response to a feeble attempt from council to start talking about a skatepark extension,” which he says has “completely dropped off”.
The paint job is the latest in a run of ill advised moves by council. In 2014, the council attempted to design their own skatepark extension without expert help. Much to the chagrin of skaters, that included a set of stairs with no run up. Similar to the current skatepark, that would be un-skateable.
Mr Barnes, photographer (the image at the top is by him) and editor of the only freestyle BMX magazine in Australia, says that while he is a strong advocate for expansion of the current park as well as the construction of a new facility, council should “remove the paint to start with.
“That really isn’t that difficult. That doesn’t require machinery to be shipped in from interstate or some magic potion.
“I believe Convic [the designer and manufacturer] were recommending we just grind it back.”
Without a park, skaters and users are left without a place of congregation where all generations of the community can come together.
Many skaters have turned to the flood drains around town, but that cannot facilitate every level of skater.
Mr Barnes says he sees young people who would have been at the skatepark who are now hanging around town instead.
“I would see them down there everyday. It’s one of the only free youth places in town that a young person can go to without any judgement, any fear of being surveyed or chased. They can come down and they can just hang out.
“This is a place you can actually sit for a minute.”
He says that without the skatepark, many “opportunities to mentor or tutor” young people are being missed.
That said, Mr Barnes adds that the skatepark, with or without the slippery paint job, was not a safe space for many skaters anyway.
The park is crammed, good for good skaters and lithe bodies, but not for those who fall outside of their primes. Young learners and old heads, some of whom have been waiting for an expansion since 2003, are not equipped to skate the park as it is currently constituted.
Skating has a culture which can be seen across the globe: older skaters are respected by young skaters in a unique way. Without supplying a place for all ages to skate, Alice Springs risks not taking advantage of this culture for good.
Mr Barnes says there is a contingent of older skaters who would make great role models for young skaters, but the current park is “not what they’re looking to skate — it’s technically quite difficult in a lot of ways.
“There is a lot of love for the current skatepark … if there was a new one built, a lot of people would like to see it extended from the current one or a new one built because of the necessity for it.
“A lot of parents would like to see some more diversity in that space so that some of the more professional skaters can still be hitting it as well as beginners, without collisions.”
He says that there is a “tried and true” example of creating broader public youth spaces around the nation that involve skateparks as well as other activities such as basketball hoops, providing alternative activities as well as flat surfaces to skate.
He points to Darebin City in Melbourne’s inner north as a perfect example, where concrete seating is edged with metal so it could be skated without damage.
In Prahran in Melbourne’s inner south-east, a basketball court and skatepark sit side by side, both heavily used by all generations of ballers and rollers.
Kat Hope, the mother of two skate obsessed boys, says the skatepark in Mullumbimby, on the Far North Coast of NSW where her family spends part of the year, has been “so popular” since its resurfacing this year.
Ms Hope says her kids have been at a loss without the park since they arrived in Alice, especially as the sport gets its moment in the sun at the Tokyo Olympics.
Along the drive through western Queensland from Mullumbimby to Alice, Ms Hope says they saw and skated “some awesome skateparks,” in places like Longreach.
In her opinion, Alice Springs is missing out on providing a centre for the Centre’s skating community, especially as the sport grows in communities, in no small part thanks to the efforts of Spinifex Skateboards.
“It would be great for these communities who are starting to get good at skating, if Alice Springs had a great skatepark, they could come together.
“Really try to encourage that shared fun of skating between different mobs.”
Meanwhile, the skatepark has drawn the interest of more than one mayoral hopeful, all promising some sort of action.
Mr Barnes hopes the hole that has been left by the park is filled soon: “We’re getting towards a year now since the park was made unsafe by the council and the community being dispersed. That’s a long time.
“In a town that has what is considered to be an all time youth crisis by the media, we have no free youth space in town of that nature. To me that’s mind blowing.”
PHOTO by Greg Barnes: Skaters are diverting to drains as the Town Council’s skate park has been made dangerous by being coated with the wrong paint, and has been closed since May.