Celebrate history and community at this year’s Dragon Boat Festival

Lottie Twyford 11 June 2021
dragon boats

See clubs like the Ice Dragons out on the water. Photo: Ice Dragons.

The 2021 Dragon Boat Festival is set to take over the shores and waters of Lake Burley Griffin on Sunday (13 June).

It’s an event designed not only to celebrate the community of keen dragon boaters in the ACT, but to share the history of the sport and its Chinese origins.

CMS FM91.1 Chinese Voice Program Coordinator Wenjin Zhou said the annual Dragon Boat Festival is actually the fourth largest event in China.

“It comes in only behind events like the Moon, Lantern and Spring festivals.

“It’s traditional to get family together to celebrate,” she explained.

The festival commemorates the death of poet and minister Qu Yuan who lived between 340 and 278 BC.

It’s said that the minister came to be a an enemy of the king and later on, when the capital of the state in which Qu Yuan lived was captured by the king – he drowned himself in the river.

“The locals jumped into their boats to save him but they were too late.

“Now, we ride in boats that look like dragons to scare off evil spirits in the water. That’s the same reason we beat the drums – to keep the devil away,” Wenjin said.


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Rice balls called zongzi are also eaten as the legend goes that when Qu Yuan’s body could not be found, the locals dropped them into the river so the fish would feast on them instead.

Luckily for visitors, Wenjin said this year’s iteration of the Dragon Boat Festival will be a little less gory.

Instead, local clubs have been invited to come and compete and there will be traditional performances such as dancing, singing poetry and reading.

Wenjin says a highlight of the day will be a dragon and lion dance.

Cultural game stalls and activities will entertain families for the whole day and there will be plenty of food as well.

According to Wenjin, the event is going to be much bigger than usual to make up for the loss of the multicultural festival which couldn’t go ahead this year.


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The Chinese Voice organisers have also reached out to Dragon Boat ACT teams who will also participate in the day and share their own love of the sport.

President of Dragon Boat ACT John Corcoran said it’s a good sport for fitness, friendships and getting out on the water to enjoy Canberra’s beautiful views from the lake.

“It’s a beautiful community in Canberra because we store all of our boats in the one place so we get everybody converging together,” he said.

As well as sharing of equipment and stories, he said the community also extends beyond Canberra as clubs from the surrounding region including the South Coast, Western NSW and Victoria often come in for races and carnivals.

“This is great not only for the community, but also for the ACT economy,” Mr Corcoran said.

He initially got involved with the sport 11 years ago when he was coming back from a knee injury and needed something to do that was lower impact than other exercise.

Today about 640 people are registered with Dragon Boat ACT ranging in age from 12 to more than 80.

According to Mr Corcoran these range from social paddlers to those who compete at the international level.

“We’ve got clubs that have popped up in the last few years and are actively trying to recruit new, young members,” he explained.

Dragon Boating in the ACT happens right through the year although racing is traditionally held in the summer.

Several ACT teams will be giving a demonstration on the day of the 2021 Dragon Boat Festival to be held on Sunday 13 June from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm.


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