17 November 2020

The top sporting events that no longer take place in Canberra

| Tim Gavel
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Birdman Rally

The Birdman Rally attracted a variety of homemade constructions that were meant to fly. Most didn’t. Photo: Supplied.

Of the sporting events that we no longer have in Canberra, some had a long run of many years while others burned brightly but briefly.

Even driving to the coast, there are frequent reminders of yesteryears’ sporting events.

Wherever there are road works and the concrete barriers are rolled out, the signage on the side of the bollards is an instant reminder of the Canberra GMC 400. The barriers were an integral component of this V8 Supercar race that lasted just three years into a five-year contract.

The street circuit through the Parliamentary Triangle, designed by Mark Skaife, was the venue for the event between 2000 and 2002 before it was halted because of concerns over government expenditure on the race.

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The race livened up the city in more ways than one. It attracted thousands of motorsport fans to Canberra over the Queen’s Birthday June long weekend. It also resulted in a surge of calls to talkback radio and letters to the editor over the disruption to the daily commute, the cost, and noise and air pollution concerns.

The Birdman Rally was another attraction that saw thousands flock to the slopes of Regatta Point to watch enthusiasts jump off a 10-metre platform in homemade flying machines.

In 1991 we watched the late George Reekie aboard his handmade fibreglass and foam glider. He successfully flew 50 metres and pocketed the $20,000 in prize money. His was a rare success. Others on that day simply plummeted straight into the lake from the platform. (Visit NFSA for the full glory of the Birdman Rally – and the epic crowd – of the much-loved competition.)

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On reflection, it’s probably not a surprise that the Birdman Rally met its own watery grave in 1992 due to costs, including primarily, and not surprisingly, public liability insurance.

For many years the Commonwealth Bank Cycling Classic, featuring a number of the world’s top riders in a race down the east coast of Australia, had Canberra as the final stage in October.

Thousands cheered behind makeshift barriers with cyclists jostling for positions at high speed along the criterion circuit created through the streets of Civic. The race came to its demise almost 20 years ago with the loss of sponsorship among the reasons for the end.

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The ANZ Tour Golf Championship took place at Royal Canberra for three years from 1998 to 2000 featuring the top players on the men’s Australasian tour at the end of the year. Sadly for golf fans, it only lasted three years.

Royal Canberra, of course, hosted the Australian Ladies Open in 2013. But it could be many years before it returns due to the competitive nature of bidding for the rights to host major tournaments.

There are other events that Canberra has hosted including the Masters Games in 1997 and 2003, attracting many thousands of competitors to our city.

Although the examples given here have been relegated to history for various reasons, they clearly say something about the capacity of Canberra to successfully host a plethora of unique and diverse sports.

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A sad summary of glory days gone by. The nanny state, NIMBYs and a government that sees nothing wrong with wasting money on white elephants like the Skywhale and the world’s most expensive tram have been a lethal combination. Aside from local oddities like the Birdman Rally, Canberra has the potential to host world-class events as other capitals do. Instead, it looks like now we will even lose Summernats to Sydney! Craziness.

Most of those NIMBYs and fun police post on this website. I’m sure they will be along shortly to tell you how you are wrong, and how much legislation people having fun requires.

Worlds most expensive tram? Not by a long shot, not even close.

That aside you are right NIMBY’s and the nanny state have killed off a lot of these events. But it ain’t the government that needs to take responsibility but we the people. Especially in this day and age where every man and his dog have an opinion and can voice it in forums like this, nanny state will win each time.

If government doesn’t do something and people get hurt it is the governments fault for allowing it and people want heads to roll, but if government does something than it’s a nanny state. If only people took responsibility then both would be nullified.

Now we just wistfully tell younger people of the fun times we once had in Canberra before the finger wagging, over protective, zealous and emasculating nanny state took control of our lives. Yes, once we could go to the lake and watch the hilarity of the Birdman Rally. And all the other things mentioned, sadly now long gone. Once we could also buy firecrackers and invite neighbours around for a bonfire night. But Labor stopped that too.

Bird man basically killed itself after it was won.

And always a Labor jibe, yeah Labor were in power when fireworks were banned, fairly sure in other states it was banned earlier by a mixture of labor and liberal. Whilst they were indeed good days it is in fact an issue of bipartisan support nationally.

I have seen the injuries pyrotechnics can cause, both with military issue stuff in the Army, and on Cracker-Nights.

? Often after exercises, there can be a lot of such stuff around, unpacked and therefore risky.

So that the last night of such exercises can be a tad noisy. But, safer than trying to carry such stuff back to base.

Especially when you add alcohol and young men – and other ‘substances’ these days.

– I would not trust most young men with pyrotechnics, I was young once, myself! 😉

I’d suggest that putting on a lot more, large, safely watchable, fireworks displays – each year – as part of special days and memorials – would be a very good plan.

It would also be a good idea to offer wider training – to control and co-ordinate community fire-works evenings!

They could even be asked to plan their events, including the controls, and have those plans approved.

This would not reduce the fun, but it would be a lot safer.

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