If you live in the centre of a desert in Australia and you want to create an annual festival to collect money for charity, what do you do? Start a boat race, of course! Henley-on-Thames in England has a famous annual regatta. Henley-on-Todd’s version is a little less elegant!
On the third Saturday of August each year, the people of Alice Springs, Australia, make “boats” and race them on the Todd River. In 1962, a local meteorologist suggested the Rotary Club organise a charity fundraising event, a “Henley-on-Todd” Regatta inspired by the Henley-on-Thames Regatta in England. The only thing they don’t have is water. Alice Springs is built on the banks of the Todd River but it only flows very intermittently – about 5 per cent of the year.
But that’s no problem in Alice Springs. They have boats with sails but no base, so the racers can run holding the boat, and boats that move on rails. Anyone who wants to participate can, including school groups. The organisers have a collection of boats, and certain races are BYOB – not “Bring Your Own Bottle”, but” Bring Your Own Boat”. Groups rival each other to come up with the most inventive and decorative designs.
Henley on Thames
The Henley-on-Thames Royal Regatta is an English summer tradition. Pairs of boats race on the Thames River near Oxford. The Regatta started in 1839 and is now so popular there are five days of racing at the end of June or early July. There are so many racers that they often have to start a second race before the first one is finished. Like Royal Ascot and Wimbledon, the spectators are as much participants as the rowers. Many dress up in brightly striped boating blazers and watch the races from boats rather than from the banks.
The English organisers have one problem that the Australians don’t usually have — what to do if it rains! Alice Springs has an average annual rainfall of just 28 cm, whereas Henley receives more than three times that. But even in the desert of Australia’s hot, arid Red Centre, the weather can play tricks. In 1993, the regatta was cancelled because of flooding!
- Alice Springs Fact Box
– Alice Springs, Northern Territory is situated in the Australian outback, in the desert area known as the Red Centre.
– It is a traditional point of passage for tourists wanting to visit Uluru (formerly known as Ayer’s Rock), one of the most significant Aboriginal sacred sites in Australia.
– The Arrernte Aboriginal people are believed to have lived in the region for approximately 30,000 years. White settlement began in 1872 with the creation of a telegraph station, and developed after the discovery of gold in 1872.
– The city of 28,000 people is the only major population centre for an area the size of Texas. That’s why it was home to the first “School of the Air”, which still educates 125 children who are spread over 1.3 million km2. A Visitors’ Centre explains the history and current working of the distance-learning school.
For more on School of the Air,
download our A2-B1 Ready-to-Use Resource.
Home image: Allan Dixon/Tourism Australia
Other images: Henley on Todd Inc, Henley Royal Regatta, Alice Springs School of the Air