Every spring, Alice Springs, in Central Australia, is the host to a regatta, the Henley-on-Todd, sometimes known as the Todd River Race, on the Todd River which runs through the middle of the town. Since there is rarely any water in the Todd and Alice Springs is some 1500 kilometres from the nearest large body of water, special provisions have to be made for the event.
On a typical regatta day, bottomless ‘boats’ race up and down the dry river bed, the legs of their crews showing below the ‘waterline’, as they battle the dry dust lying thickly in the waterless bed of the Todd River and each other. Pirate and Viking ‘ships’ carried along by their crews battle for the supremacy of the river, often inundating the spectators with their water and flour bombs. Great fun is had by all!
“No fishing” signs are put up for the day, so that people fishing in the river don’t obstructing or interfere with the races.
Of course, lots of beer is consumed. It wouldn’t be Australian without it.
The Alice Spring regatta is advertised as “A boat race with a unique difference - on the dry sands of the Todd River.” It is claimed to be the only dry river regatta in the world.
Unique is the right word. No-one else in the world would even think of doing it!
Apparently, the regatta was started in 1962 as a joke on the Henley-on-Thames regatta in London, England, and on the English nobs who take part. This is typical of Australians’ derisive attitude towards their English heritage.
The regatta is run each year by the Rotary Clubs of Alice Springs in aid of various charities. For more information and pictures, google “Alice Springs regatta”.
In The Last Continent, Terry Pratchett describes similar bottomless ‘boats’ running down a dry river bed in the fictional town of Didjabringabeeralong which I can positively identify as Alice Springs, having lived there. It appears that he must have seen and appreciated the regatta, and that it made a big enough impression on him that he included a sideways reference to it in his book. The book is highly recommended for it’s very funny comments on all things Australian. It’s a good story, too.
Unfortunately, the year I lived in Alice Spring I was unable to take part in the regatta. It was cancelled because there was water in the Todd River. It was said that having a dry-river regatta while there is water in the river would be to make a farce of the whole thing.
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