It was just the other day I was chatting to an old friend, over beer of course, reminiscing of the fun events we used to have in Canberra. The V8 Supercars was the first to stir up passion before the conversation flew towards the hilariously entertaining Birdman Rally.
It didn’t take long before we were YouTube-ing 80’s videos of the Birdman Rally in all its glory. Erupting into laughter at the hyper-colour shirts, stack-hats, mullets and oversize reading glasses.
We were amazed as a massive rally of leaping idiots entertained the nearly 100,000 Canberrans that had flocked to the shoreline of Regatta Point and Lake Burley Griffin. The aim was to fly from a 10m platform in a custom designed craft and sore 50m into the icy lake. Now that’s a recipe for laughs.
Whatever happened to this epic, annual Canberra outing?
When I think of our biggest events here in Canberra I think of Floriade, Summernats, Skyfire and the Multicultural festival. Each year these events grow in numbers to a stage where they become somewhat exhausting to attend.
With warmer weather and longer days on the horizon, wouldn’t it be brilliant if we had more big events to entertain us instead of having to visit Sydney or Melbourne.
As you read on you’ll discover some of the information I unearthed about why the outrageous annual event flew its coop…
The Capital 7 Birdman Rally had its wings spread for 7 years form 1985 – 1992. The rally was designed to offer Canberra an event that would appeal to families. There was a mixture of home engineers and drunken larrikins that competed for the $10,000 – $20,000 prize money.
The platform that competitors leapt from was 10m high or the same height as top tower of civic pool. ACT Water Police used the Rally as a training exercise for their divers. On the 6th year George Reekie crossed the 50m line and was begrudgingly awarded $20,000.
The event organisers were very reluctant to hand over the prize money and onlookers nearly became rioters as they waited nearly an hour before George’s win was finally confirmed. We enjoyed one final event the following year before it was plucked and thrown in the deep frier.
Many rumours have emerged about why the Rally stopped; Public liability insurance, event organisers not wanting to pay prize money, Channel 7 being bought by Southern Cross Broadcasting.
Whatever the case it was a massive event for Canberra and one that had nearly half the town out to enjoy. I wonder how it would be different now with kids filming the antics on their phones and uploading straight to YouTube. Everyone’s Facebook would be flooded with outrageous footage and we’d no doubt pull out-of-towners to join in the antics.
The only other thing that I can see stopping the Birdman from returning home would be the high levels of algae that poison our lakes during summer. That’s kind of a deal breaker.
What fond memories do you have of forgotten Canberra events? If you have any old photos of Canberra when we didn’t take ourselves so seriously, please send them in for me to share.
For links to National Film and Sound Archive footage from the 80’s click through this link