Dragons on the river
The idea of paddles plunging into foaming water to the beat of a booming drum conjures mental images of an epic moment from a random sword-and-sandal movie.
The concept of a team of about 20 determined souls, rigid in concentration and powering a mighty boat forward, is surely as far removed as you could get from the Wimmera – or so we thought.
A club evolving on the Wimmera River at Dimboola is embracing the idea of dragonboat racing, which is bringing together a diverse cultural mix of people. It is also appealing to people from a variety of age groups.
Dimboola has a long history of community river activity, dating back thousands of years through indigenous people and in more modern times through boating, skiing, angling and of course rowing in the town’s historic Dimboola Regatta.
Dimboola Warreguk Dragon Boat Club started at a public meeting in the town in November last year, and is providing a unique outlet for people keen to build their fitness and social connections.
The club was the brainchild of Ann Falkingham, who with her husband Alan, brought the concept back from a 10-year stint in Bendigo.
For those unfamiliar with dragon-boat clubs and racing, the activity usually involves 20 paddlers, a drummer at the front and a steering sweep at the back on long boats based on a traditional dragonboat design.
The Dimboola club has now taken off, driven by an enthusiastic committee led by president Ross Howlett, and is set to gain momentum with the Wimmera River weir pool now full after winter flows.
The club has already been involved in a regatta in Ballarat, where it won awards, including an over-50s section.
It is also a primary driver behind October’s Horsham Dragon Boat Regatta, which includes teams from across Victoria and interstate competing on the river in Horsham.
Ms Falkingham, who is also the team coach, said the club was providing something different for people who might have retired from competitive sport but were keen to still be part of a team.
“The age minimum is 12 and in Victorian rural areas crews are made up of people from their 40s to their 60s,” she said.
“A lot of recruits have been footballers and netballers who want to get back into a team environment, to perhaps regain fitness or to just be involved in group and social activities. The age range at our club at the moment is from about 20 to 62.
“It’s also just great to get on the river, which is beautiful.
“We practice every Sunday morning and during daylight saving hours one night a week after work. We had a two-month break in winter but have been training since the beginning of August.”
Looking for members
Ms Falkingham said the club was keen to build its membership, which was open to anyone from across the Wimmera.
“For example, at the moment we have two girls from Warracknabeal, another from Goroke and one from Horsham. We welcome anyone keen to have a go can. They can have three turns in a boat before they have to commit,” she said.
“We’re also encouraging groups from schools, clubs or any organisation to come along and see what it’s all about.
“You don’t need any equipment and there is coaching available.
“There are a lot of clubs that take competition seriously, but there is also a lot of us who try hard but are more interested in the team-work, fitness and social side of the sport.
“Here in the Wimmera we are also an ageing population and relatively isolated with not very encouraging health statistics.
“But this sport, mentally and physically, is a great opportunity to help address that.”
Ms Falkingham said the club had a strong cultural foundation which included a strong indigenous background as well as recognition of the Chinese influence on the region.
Ms Falkingham, who grew up at Dimboola, said the first Australians at Dimboola were also the first paddlers on the river.
“And the word Warreguk means paddle of canoe,” she said.
The Dimboola Warreguk club has support from the sport’s state governing body Dragon Boat Victoria, which is encouraging the growth and development of rural clubs.
The organisation has lent a boat and paddles to the club, which has managed to get a grant to buy its own paddles.
Club members also hope to buy their own boat, which might cost about $12,000, in the future.
“Our president Ross and his committee are driving a fantastic program,” Ms Falkingham said.
“And as the coach it’s fantastic that we have such drive and enthusiasm at the top.
“It allows someone like me to step back, focus on coaching and just be part of the club.”