25 March 2024

Lake Burley Griffin's dragon boats move in to new home after 12-year wait

| James Coleman
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Dragon Boat ACT crew on Lake Burley Griffin.

Dragon Boat ACT has more than 600 members, some of whom represent Canberra on the world stage. Photo: Dragon Boat ACT, Facebook.

It’s been years in the making, but Canberra’s fleet of dragon boats now has a new home that isn’t a glorified shipping container.

The Dragon Boat ACT club has been making do with a base in Lotus Bay since the early 1990s, but began talks with the ACT Government 12 years ago about the need for something more substantial.

President Donald Jenkins says it’s been “quite a journey” to raise the funding.

The volunteer-run organisation had to raise $360,000 (excluding GST) for the construction, and apply for $2.1 million from the ACT Government over a number of funding cycles.

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The new state-of-the-art facility at Grevillea Park finally opened on Saturday, 23 March, after a year of construction. It includes boat storage, training and timekeeping rooms, office space, new amenities and changerooms.

“Dragon boating is an inclusive sport for all genders, with a high number of women making up its membership,” Minister for Sport and Recreation Yvette Berry said.

“It’s a sport that continues to grow in popularity in Canberra and this new facility will support the needs of the growing dragon boating community into the future.”

Dragon boat racing originated in China more than 2300 years ago when poet Qu Yuan (pronounced ‘choo wan’) drowned himself in the third century BC as an act of protest against the corrupt government. Legend has it the townspeople attempted to rescue him by setting out in boats and beating drums to scare fish away from eating his body.

Yvette Berry cuts a ribbon

ACT Minister for Sport and Recreation Yvette Berry cuts the ribbon on the new Dragon Boat ACT facility. Photo: Dragon Boat ACT, Facebook.

In his honour, a festival was held every year on the fifth day of the fifth month when teams of rowers in boats decorated with ferocious-looking dragon designs to frighten away evil water spirits would race each other.

In 1976, dragon boating became an official international sport.

The boats were originally constructed from teak planks (with ornamental camphor wood heads and tails); today’s are nearly all fibreglass. They measure about 12 metres long – enough to accommodate 20 people two abreast – and have a sweep to steer at the rear and a drummer at the front.

Competitions are separated into categories depending on the crew’s mix of gender and age, and run over a course of 200, 500 or 2000 metres.

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The sport was first officially introduced to Canberra in 1990 with the formation of Dragon Boat ACT (DBACT). The club now has more than 600 members across nine sports teams and two school teams.

It runs a monthly regatta from September to March, followed by the ACT Championship over two days in March. Many of the boaters go on to compete in the Australian championships, this year to be held in Perth.

“We also run corporate events, where schools, businesses and other organisations can come and have a go, just to try something different for the day,” Mr Jenkins says.

“We sometimes do a few events for the Chinese community, and put on a few show races to support their activities as well.”

Dragon Boat ACT

Two-thirds of the members of Dragon Boat ACT are women. Photo: Dragon Boat ACT, Facebook.

About two-thirds of the club’s members are women, largely due to several all-women teams. One, named ‘Dragons Abreast’, was originally formed in Canada to support women with breast cancer. But it’s now represented by teams all over the world, including here in Canberra.

Mr Jenkins says the club lost a number of its school and university teams over COVID, and hopes to attract them back.

“I think having a proper facility rather than a container will be a lot more welcoming when we’ve got visitors coming to our corporate events, and we hope it will drive up our membership numbers a bit,” he says.

The new facility was designed by Cox Architecture and construction was completed by local company Projex.

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