In most cases, clouds do have a silver lining. After returning to Alice Springs with car issues, we were able to stick around for the 53rd Annual Henley On Todd Regatta. This unique event is NT’s longest running event and it’s all about having fun and raising money for the three local Rotary Clubs, which in turn support various charities like the Salvation Army, Royal Flying Doctors Service and the RSPCA.
The Henley On Todd Regatta was started in 1962 by a bloke called Reg. Originally from Oakleigh in Victoria, Reg first came to Alice Springs in 1946 to work as a meteorologist. He went on to work on a brief assignment in Antarctica, before returning to Alice Springs to become a weather observer. He stuck around after meeting and marrying his wife Pat in 1950.
After joining the Rotary Club of Alice Springs in 1962, and during a member picnic that year, discussions on how to raise money for charity lead to Reg’s great idea to hold a waterless regatta on the dry bed of the Todd River. Since then, the regatta has been an integral part of the community, supporting businesses and services, and bringing the locals together for a day of fun.
The Henley On Todd Regatta has only been cancelled once since it began – due to rainy weather back in 1993. It turns out that the only thing that can ruin this kooky boat race is water!
The regatta is held on the second last Saturday of August and begins with a parade through Todd Mall. Lots of people line the street to check out the participants and their boats, which range from elaborate battleships to crude crap stacks. After the parade, everyone heads to the banks of the Todd River where food stalls, merchandise stands and live music are ready to go.
Activities were held throughout the day, and most were about speed. Barely seaworthy boats raced along the river and ended with shipwrecks at the finish line, sand was shovelled into 44 gallon drums as fast as possible, foursomes strapped to skis shuffled down the track, and Tour D’Todd hamster wheels rolled along too. With speed comes stumbles and injuries, but there was no hard feelings and the show would always go on. There were also tug-of-war battles, lolly scrambles for the kids, and to keep the entertainment flowing, the Battleboat Spectacular teams would have water fights in the middle of the arena with fire extinguishers filled with water.
The main event was the Head of the River and it was between the Yanks and the Aussies. We are extremely happy to say that the Aussie team won and the crowd went wild!
Nearly everyone at the regatta was sporting a pair of hot pink sunglasses. We asked what the deal was and we were promptly directed to the TIO Party Safe stand, which was probably the most popular stand at the event. They were giving away pink sunnies for free and it wasn’t long before we were sporting our own.
One of the day’s highlights was the Budgie Smuggler Race. Brave blokes dropped their strides and bolted across the sand for the crowd’s entertainment. They were given Tony Abbott masks to hide their identity but some contestants had no hesitations about exposing their cheeks.
Watching the Tour D’Todd hamster wheel races was cringe worthy. Overzealous racers in their giant metal wheels were prone to tripping and many were overcome and rolled into painful contortions while some got their fingers stuck in the grate and needed to be pried free.
The closest re-enactment of a locust plague we have ever witnessed was the lolly scramble. The air was filled with dust as manic children raced to collect as many lollies as they could from the sand. One little boy had run out of arms so Dave offered his hat as a basket and took care of the boy’s loot as he went scrambling for more.
The last event of the day was the Battleboat Spectacular. There were three teams – the Vikings, the Pirates and the Navy – each with their own customised battle boat that was fitted with cannons, water bombs, flour bombs and hoses! Our media access allowed us to stay within the arena, so we were right in the middle of it all. The cannons were shockingly loud and sprinkled us with layers of sawdust, that got into our hair and underpants, and there were a few times we got sprayed with the hose. After an epic battle, the crowd voted with their cheering and the Navy boat was awarded with their first victory.