Longreach ducks out for river fun

Inaugural outback paddle regatta at Longreach hailed huge success

Events
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It may have seemed like a daffy idea in the middle of a drought but the inaugural Outback Paddle Regatta got all its ducks in a row for a fabulous day out at Longreach last weekend.

It may have seemed like a daffy idea in the middle of a drought but the inaugural Outback Paddle Regatta got all its ducks in a row for a fabulous day out at Longreach last weekend.

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The long reach of the Thomson River, first explored by pioneer Nat Buchanan and the lifeblood of cattle duffer Harry Redford and thousands of residents since, turned into a watersports playground with 700 spectators.

As well as locals, people travelled from the Redlands district in the Brisbane region to race dragon boats and from as far north as Cairns to christen their outrigger canoes in muddy water.

The day began with five and 10km paddles in a gale that would blow the mortgage off your house.

Once that was negotiated, four giant ducks took to the water for some more racing fun.

Brought out from the PA Foundation in Brisbane, 24 local businesses paddled them downriver in a number of heats before the $1000 prize went to the Ag and Earth Diesel team of Grant Laidler and David Marsh.

Six hundred bathtub ducks also bobbed their way down the river, each sponsored to raise a total of $6000 for cancer research.

'Ducklings' - young attendees - were catered for with a 'Big Wedgie' waterslide, a rock climbing wall and plenty of other entertainment, while food vendors and market stalls were also on site.

In the process the Outback Water Sports clubhouse, the district's waterski headquarters, was christened, and Agriculture Minister Mark Furner opened the day.

The event was one of many funded by the Queensland government's Year of Outback Tourism program.

Read more: Happy hour for outback tourism

Local organiser Breckon Curtis said the feedback had been fantastic and it would definitely remain on Longreach's events calendar.

"We weren't sure what to expect but everyone really embraced it and said they loved the way there was so much fun down at the river, and that it was something different," he said.

Free skin checks offered by Beard Season were another of the day's hits, with 60 people inspected and at least one lifesaving discovery made.

A wet idea born out of drought

Four years ago the Walker family at Camden Park Station east of Longreach were looking at empty dams and no stock, and trying to envisage what opportunities they could find in the drought that had its grip.

Thanks to some brainstorming with media mate Peter Lewis and Scotland visitor Jane Craigie as the sun set over the turkey's nest they were sitting at, the idea for an outback yacht club was born.

"Droughts are the pause button you might not appreciate but long term might just be thinking time you need to see a fresh way forward," Mr Lewis said.

"As a regular visitor to Longreach it struck me the place was missing one important thing.

"The Thomson River was already a huge drawcard for tourists so what about a fun new way to generate some water-based activities for the folks who live here and wider publicity for those who don't."

The Outback Yacht Club was born the following year, receiving global attention, but it could have stalled there without the persistence of James Walker and his brother "Outback" Dan Walker.

Related: Red sails in the sunset at Longreach

According to Mr Lewis they encouraged others to see the opportunity for a regatta on the Thomson that could both involve the local community and inspire visitors.

"The three Thomson River tourist boats, packed with people, hit the water late in the afternoon of the regatta - what a great spectacle they'll have to talk about now," he said. "The ducks were the icing on the cake."

Mr Lewis said it had been a masterstroke to partner with like-minded water sports groups from other parts of Australia, bringing everyone together in the Year of Outback Tourism.

"The legacy is that they've been able to build a facility for all to use, plus a dragon boat has been left behind.

"Both of those things guarantee the event will continue to grow."

The story Longreach ducks out for river fun first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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