Dragons on the river

LifeStyle Wimmera - - INSIDE - By Dean Law­son

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.”

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