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Transition: 40 Years of Beenleigh BMX Park

An interview with BMX historian Ross Lavender on his latest project, the ‘TRANSITION: 40 Years of Beenleigh BMX Park’ book. 

First emerging in 1983, the Beenleigh BMX Park is beyond iconic, a long-established, highly unique and history rich facility which many a BMX biker would be supremely proud of and maintain some level of association with. When Australian BMX riders first started to get recognition in the hotspot that is America (at the turn of the millennium), they were almost exclusively associated with the Beenleigh BMX Park. Think Colin Mackay, Clint Millar, Ryan Guettler, Corey Bohan, Dave Dillewaard and many more. Continuing to this day, Olympic gold medallist Logan Martin is a Beenleigh local, even having helped design the park. 

From producing such incredible talent, to hosting some of the wildest DIY jams (i.e. Heavy Metal Heroes) and continuing to grow and support freestyle BMX, the Beenleigh BMX Park has a remarkable 40 years of history. 

In celebration of this four decade milestone, BMX lifer, Brisbane resident and freestyle historian, Ross Lavender has master-minded yet another project, this time chronicling the spirited memories which linger within the Beenleigh BMX Park. Titled ‘TRANSITION: 40 Years of Beenleigh BMX Park’, the project will exist as a 208 page (gloss) document featuring images from some of Australia’s best BMX photographers as well as contributions from over 60 past and present associates. In a world obsessed with instant digital content, ‘TRANSITION: 40 Years of Beenleigh BMX Park’ will stand as an antithesis to the way BMX is currently consumed. 

Excitingly, the many months of hard work in producing the book are nearing a close with the project due to be premiered in mid-2023. For those with close links to the Beenleigh BMX Park, the book will be a lifelong memory. For those with passing interest, the book will be a highly informative and entertaining read. Either way, the project is a mammoth effort and one which deserves the support of the BMX community. As Ross describes, “Beenleigh BMX Park’s history is a rabbit hole of myths and truths melded together from stories passed throughout each generation. Beenleigh BMX Park is not just a sporting or recreational facility; it is a cultural and community hub. 40 years of history proves this.” 

To get the lowdown on the project, LUXBMX reached out to Ross to find out more about what went into producing the book and all things Beenleigh BMX. Read on to find out more!

Clint Millar in 1992  at an early freestyle comp. Image - Michael Canfield

Can you talk about your connection with the park, what it means to you and your first experience with the facility?

My first memory of the park was during my racing years in early 1989. Beenleigh BMX Club held their annual Twilight Race meet - it rained that night, and there were delays with the nights racing so the meet finished at something like one in the morning. Our Dad wrote a heavy handed letter to one of the Australian BMX magazines sharing his disgust. For a quiet nine-year-old, new to BMX and trying to find his place, that letter was embarrassing. Also, I remember not wanting to go near the ramps because local freestylers looked scary as hell hahahaha. That was my first experience of the park.

From a freestyle perspective, I moved from racing to freestyle in 1990 and took up flatland. I entered my first two freestyle competitions in 1991 down at Beenleigh; the first one was held by the Sloths, the same guys I was afraid to go near a couple of years earlier. As it turned out, they awarded me my first freestyle ribbon and made me feel welcome and a part of the freestyle community. From there I spent a lot of time down at the park during the Prody era of the mid to late 90s. Clint Millar would pick a couple of us riders up and we’d ride Beenleigh most Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays. While most of the guys rode the ramps, I rode flatland behind the vert ramp.

In recent years, I would go down there to ride with some of the older riders and document the park’s history through Unscene. When the Logan City Council announced the $3.1m upgrades, I was partially involved in the consultation process to ensure the original concrete mini wasn’t demolished due to its historical significance. These days I am a stakeholder of Beenleigh BMX Park that liaises with the Council from time to time. I also try to ride flat there once or twice a week. The park feels like home. Besides it’s the only place I can ride at night that is lit up, level, and where I still feel a part of the broader freestyle scene.

Ryan Guettler (another one of the 'sloths') in 1993. As Ross details 'Ryan Guettler is considered the ultimate success story of Beenleigh BMX Park. Lots of high profile riders can be associated with the park, but Ryan grew up in the area and was a true local. Image credit - Anthony Brown

It’s understood you chair the freestyle advisory board (for the BMX hall of fame), champion the Australian BMX freestyle archive, coordinate a freestyle BMX timeline and have recently contributed to the Prody 8 video. With so much going on and so much passion for documenting freestyle BMX, what motivated you to first start this process and what fuels the continuation of this particular project?

Unscene started from a culmination of a few life events; one of which was that I had lost a handful of BMX friends at a young age. It occurred to me that their stories and contributions to Aus BMX would never be recognised or documented. So, in 2012, I started interviewing and researching as many older Brisbane freestylers and industry people as I could. I used their stories for an exhibit I held in 2013 to pay tribute to the Brisbane Freestyle scene of 80s and 90s. From there, it just snowballed. The amount of historical information, photos, footage, trophies, clothing, and bike parts I had accumulated was insane. I became a freestyle historian for a lack of a better word, and that’s how Unscene History was born.

Unscene has two main projects – the Australian BMX Freestyle Timeline, which is a 400 page working document outlining key events in Australian Freestyle history; and the Australian BMX Freestyle Archive. The archive is a dedicated space that holds all the historical items. I use these items for research and for preservation. Unscene is about keeping our history as honest and raw as possible.

What fuels me to continue today? The same reason I started. But now I have collated so much information that I feel it can benefit our scene in a number of ways. On a personal note, as an older rider in my mid 40s, I still want to contribute to freestyle, and I feel documenting and preserving our history is my way of giving back to the scene.

The TRANSITION book! It would appear as though this has been a long time coming and a labour of love - including spending time down at the local library searching through microfilm for relevant news articles. Can you give the reader an understanding of this project, who is involved and what your goal is in producing such an item?

Beenleigh BMX Park is the ultimate story of how something came from nothing. What started off as a couple of ramps next to the BMX track is now Australia’s oldest and longest running facility designed for BMX Freestyle. The park was built with next to no funding and the park’s visionary, Doug Larsen, utilised whatever resources he could to expand the site for the local kids. While documenting the recent upgrades in 2019, I was curious about the origins of the earliest ramps. With a lot of digging, I learnt Doug was given ramp plans from a 1982 BMX Action magazine and the first ramps were delivered to Beenleigh BMX Club in mid-1983. Basing the 40th anniversary of those first ramps, I wanted to tell the story of how the park was built, document the key events in the park’s history, as well as have riders and local community members share their insights of the park.

So many people have been interviewed or written words for the book from Beenleigh’s freestyle pioneers, the Sloths – who were the main crew of the late 80s and 90s, and a large chunk of the riders there after; Clint Millar, Tim Wood, Mark Schneider, Dave Dillewaard, Corey Bohan, Colin Mackay, Nick Richardson, Nick Cooper, etc. A number of photos have also been supplied by some of Australia’s greatest BMX photographers, including Jim Brock, Chris Polack, Wayne Cant, Nitai Whitehurst, Chris Moore, Cooper Brownlee and Andras Pentek.

Ultimately, my goal with TRANSITION is to celebrate the history of Beenleigh BMX Park and provide a documented historical foundation for the park to stand on for future generations to learn from.

Intimate - a behind the scenes look at Ross' desktop as the book comes together

An extract from the book - beautiful gloss and the magic of Josh Dove, a splendid pairing

Can you talk about what it means to produce a piece of high quality, tangible BMX content in a landscape where print is undervalued and struggling?

As immediate and beneficial as digital media is, I feel print media still has a place in BMX. Digital media is great to distribute information on the latest news and to watch the latest clips, etc. You can access that information at any place and time which is perfect for a rider on the go. Print on the other hand, is a slower and more meaningful experience. It freezes the words and images; and captures the content in a way the reader can get lost in the moment. So to me, print media is really a form of reflection and documentation.

From Ross himself "I spent a couple of months at the State Library of Qld digging through old newspaper clippings on Microfiche finding information on the park. That info was later transferred into a document that made a comprehensive timeline of the park.

Without giving too much away from what is printed in the forthcoming TRANSITION book, can you share a story about Beenleigh which does well to symbolise the character of the park?

In the early 90s, there was a time that many referred to as the death of BMX. Basically, it was a recession from the BMX boom of the 80s. Freestyle’s sport and culture drastically changed, a lot of the older riders left the scene, and BMX’s popularity through the eyes of the general public faded.

At the same time Beenleigh BMX Park was flourishing with the expansion of more ramps and facilities that suited all types of riding disciplines and became an ideal place for the remaining core riders to come together, ride and hold comps. From there regular sessions just started happening. Doug trusted the riders enough to access the lights for night sessions and by the mid 90s riders were travelling religiously on a weekly basis, from all over SEQ to ride with one another. Beenleigh inspired so many riders and allowed them to progress to a level where by the early 2000s, the majority of Australian riders that competed internationally were associated with Beenleigh BMX Park.
From my perspective, Beenleigh BMX Park is most notorious for the Heavy Metal Heroes series of the early-mid 2000s. Given that the current generation of BMX bikers would not have been around for this contest and with limited content available online, can you detail how these competitions came about and how they contributed to Australian BMX at the time?

Heavy Metal Heroes came at a time when a lot of changes were happening in Australian Freestyle. Firstly, the ‘action sports’ or ‘xtreme sports’ competition culture was being introduced here in Australia. The Planet X Games (the Australian version of the X Games) were introduced in 1998. These were corporate competition events with sponsorships from big name tech, fashion, food, and beverage companies. They were proportionally larger than the local events and focused on the ‘professional’ or early ‘elite’ freestyle riders as well as invited international pros to compete in Australia. It didn’t really cater for beginner or expert level kids who wanted to compete.

HMH was in the vein of the previous DIY roots type competition series held at Beenleigh and throughout Australia. Organised by riders on shoestring budgets, these events were open to everyone. Beenleigh had two sometimes or three independent DIY events down at the park per year. When those ended in 1997, Mark Schneider started HMH and picked up the baton and continued that tradition of DIY roots events. The beauty of HMH was that it catered for all riding styles (Park, Street, Vert, Mini, Flat, and Dirt), and all age groups, and experience levels which the larger corporate events didn’t do. Also, comps like HMH were an excuse for riders from different states to come together and hang out and have some fun. This kind of inclusion doesn’t exist in the larger Australian competitions today.

Nick Cooper at Heavy Metal Heroes in 2003. Image - Chris Moore

Nick Richardson at Heavy Metal Heroes in 2003. Image - Chris Moore

Your ventures in chronicling BMX include support from the QLD government ‘Regional Arts Development Fund’ (in association with Logan City Council). While this is not front and centre in the mind of most BMX bikers, the support of this program would be critical in progressing a project like the TRANSITION book. Can you explain how this program works and how you go about navigating a bureaucracy in funnelling support to BMX?

Printing a high end book is a costly process let alone the additional hidden costs like researching, interviewing, digitising photos and negatives, graphic design, photography, promotion, travel expenses. Logan City Council’s Regional Arts Development Fund were able to assist in covering some of these additional costs.

Because TRANSITION documents a part of Logan’s modern history and cultural heritage, the book was able to meet RADF’s criteria. This was my first time applying for a grant and the process was fairly straight forward. In my experience, the most important thing when applying for funding is making sure your project is well planned, be mindful of how it meets the funding criteria, and how it will benefit the broader community. Keep your budget realistic and fulfill your timeframes and planning accordingly.

Follow the hyperlink for more information on Logan City Council’s Regional Arts Development Fund

As I understand, the project is due to be completed and available for purchase mid 2023. What is the plan in terms of unveiling and where can people find the book?

At this stage the book launch will be down at Beenleigh BMX Park at the end of May or possibly June. The date will be locked in once I have a definitive delivery date from the printer. Hopefully an informal jam, a place to hang out and catch up with other riders, watch some old Beenleigh footage, and hopefully have some kind of food and drinks available. Once the book is with the printer, I will have more details on the book launch.

Copies are currently available for pre-order through the Unscene online store and will be available for purchase at a number of BMX and independent book stores. A handful of copies will be donated for Logan City Council libraries and a copy will be submitted with the National Library of Australia as part of their legal deposit requirements.

What would the Beenleigh BMX Park say if it could talk?

Oh man, it could say a lot of things. Hahaha. The park has seen everything you could imagine and then some. Far too much in fact. But I think what Doug Larsen used to say to the locals back in the 80s and 90s embodies the spirit of the park - “If you look after the park, I will look after you”.

A 1995 news article featuring Doug Larsen. Not an easy man to find a photo of, a quiet bloke who did not like attention. 

Final words and thanks? 

Massive thanks to the project’s major supporters – Colony BMX, Beenleigh BMX Club, Beeno Sessions, the Sloths, and Logan City Council’s Regional Arts Development Fund.

A special thanks to Craig Fuller, Mark Schneider, Clint Millar, BMX International, Gumdale Demolition, Tim Wood, Roberto’s Custom Powder, Simon Mulgrew, Anita Dorwald, Ben Franklin, Crossley Cycles, Wayne Cant, Andras Pentek, my wife Jasmine, Phil and Amanda Lock, and to all of the Beeno locals and contributors of the book. Finally, a special thanks to Doug Larsen to whom this book is dedicated to.

From old to new, Logan Martin at the newly renovated Beenleigh BMX park in 2020. Image - Wayne Cant

That's a wrap. 

Huge (seriously huge) thanks to Ross Lavender for taking the time to answer our questions, as well as provide such incredible images. Make sure you head over to the Unscene page to read more about the project and get your pre-order in. 

Lastly, for anyone interested in this project or BMX memorabilia in general, Colony are releasing a limited edition 40th anniversary, Beenleigh BMX park inspired chainwheel. Head over to the Family Distribution page to cop one of these badboys.