Humans of TRACTION: Luke Iles

By Oscar Sullivan

Humans of TRACTION is an opportunity to showcase our staff and their stories.
It will highlight how they came to be involved in our organisation.
Their stories are unique and deserve to be shared.

I was born in Brisbane but went straight to a little town called Oakey, just outside of Toowoomba. I lived there until I was 12. It’s a small population town and if you’re not in the army or working at the abattoir then there seemed to be no real reason to be out there. Out of the 20 odd houses in my street I was lucky that I had 3 boys my age that loved riding bikes. Every day was just spent riding around and staying out of trouble.

I was lucky to be sent to private school in Toowoomba, however I hated school from day one. Mum said I would just want to jump back in the car and go home as soon as I got there. It just wasn’t for me; school was full of things that I just didn’t see being of any benefit. When I was 12, I moved to the Sunshine Coast, it was different, and I didn’t really know anyone. We didn’t even have a house yet, but I was already learning to surf, so I would spend most of my time on the beach. School was different, I went from an all-boys school to a co-ed school. I had no idea how to get along with girls so that was interesting. I was lucky that I had a teacher that realised I didn’t really want to be there and helped me to see that there were other options. I got into as many courses as I could. By the end I was only really at school one day a week but was at TAFE 2 nights a week trying to get enough points to graduate.

Finding the dream job

I did a bunch of different jobs after school, there is quite a list. I eventually ended up in security, all night club work and it really sucked.

I then moved into working in Corrections in prisons. I learnt a lot about myself and about different people. Everyone has their story and a single misstep can send you down a different path.

I needed a change and went from Corrections to the Army, started basic training and got a couple of weeks in and realised it wasn’t for me. I was dealing with some things that I hadn’t really addressed before.

I thought I had my life planned out prior to leaving the Army. I was living out of home, had some money saved for a house, long term girlfriend, good stable income. All of a sudden I had no money left, was back at home living with my mum again, no girlfriend, no real job qualifications and thinking “what now?”. I had envisioned this perfect life with the white picket fence and the ideal job doing something I enjoy but now feeling rock bottom and having nothing.

I needed to step back and re-evaluate what I wanted to do. I went back to security because it was easy, but it didn’t make me happy. I was making minimum wage with no ambition to do anything.

What now?

Funnily enough, I saw a Netflix documentary called “Last Chance U” which was about young people playing football in America. A lady named Brittany Wagner was trying to help these young kids get through their education so that they could go onto university and play football at a higher level and maybe get job afterwards. I saw how much passion she had for it. I wanted to do that. I decided to help young people who’ve made mistakes or have had a rough life, and show them how they can be everything they want to be. I didn’t know how I was going to do that, but I wanted to do it. Youth Work clicked in my head and spent some time researching and started my TAFE course.

I had an idea about working with kids and bikes. I didn’t know how to do it and I told a mate about it, but he said I’d been beaten to it by a place called TRACTION… so he sent me the link and I had a look.

Getting involved at TRACTION

I went down to the Moorooka workshop and had absolutely no idea what I was walking into. I remember going in there and having no real idea how to connect with the young people. I was so used to the adult environment in corrections as an authority figure OR in the army as a subordinate. I just didn’t know how to talk to them. I would talk about bikes and eventually over time it clicked, and I learnt how to talk to young people and really put myself in their shoes. It was about just being yourself and having fun.

The reward is seeing what the young people get out of the program. It can be something small… like their commitment to simply show up every week, despite the challenges they are facing. It might be smiling while they ride their bike. It can be the tiniest thing that changes and might build and lead to something bigger for them down the track.


The biggest challenge for me was my dad dying when I was younger. I struggled to figure out how to “be a man” without that main role model to guide me. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised that a role model doesn’t necessarily have to be a male. I have had a lot of women in my life that have definitely led me in the right direction and helped me to grow as a person. The typical masculinity isn’t actually how it has to be. You don’t have to fit the stereotype. You don’t have to be stoic. You can have more emotions than being “angry” or “funny”. I realised that’s a big issue that young men face is that they have all these things going on that they want to talk about but that traditional “masculinity” doesn’t allow them to do that. Realising that I don’t have to fit the mould was huge for me.

Life now

It’s all about University life now. I am doing a Psychology degree at QUT, minoring in Indigenous knowledges.

I spend a lot of time on assignments, lectures and tutorials learning about different aspects of psychology and behaviours. Indigenous knowledges is super interesting to me. During school I never really learnt much about Indigenous culture. It has been really cool to learn about the country we live in and the world’s longest living culture.

I never thought I’d get to this point in my life. Outside of University I spend a lot of time reading and trying to stay active. Not many people would know that I really like art, poetry and music. That’s my day to day.

What I want young people to know

If I was to go back and give my 13-year-old self some advice it would be to just enjoy the ride. I was always worried about the future. Where would I be in 5 years, what was I going to do. By always thinking about the future I just put stress and pressure on myself to reach that goal. Sometimes it’s better to sit back and enjoy the scenery rather than stressing about where you are going.

As much as kids get frustrated sometimes, I really like to encourage them to just give things a go. I remember being at their point and wanting to be told exactly what to do and how to do it, however as a Mentor, I would rather them just try first. They aren’t used to that; school isn’t designed like that, so I hope that it’s something that they can get from me. If it doesn’t work, try again. We are always there to support them, but just give it a go first.