National Maritime Museum Grant Puts Australia Day Regatta On The Record

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22nd January 2010, 06:24pm - Views: 861

People Feature Australian National Maritime Museum 1 image

People Feature Australian National Maritime Museum 2 image

National Maritime Museum grant puts 

Australia Day Regatta on the record

It has hosted raucous colonial parties, battled storms on Sydney Harbour and seen at least one

participant shot by the starting gun, but this year’s Australia Day Regatta will really go down in


With the help of $3200 funding from the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Australia Day

Regatta Management Committee will record the oral histories of people associated with

Australia’s longest enduring boating race. 

The Australia Day Regatta sets off from Clarke Island in Sydney Harbour on the 26th January of

each year. In a sport frequently known for its exclusivity, the regatta boasts the rare claim that it is

open to all yachts and yachtsmen, irrespective of the size of their boat or their level of skill. 

Now in its 174th year, the history of the Australia Day Regatta closely maps the fortunes of

Australian society. 

“Before fireworks and events at the Opera House, the regatta was the major event of Australia

Day,” explained Colin Davidson, Australia Day Regatta Committee Member and the coordinator

of the project. “We are a maritime nation.”

The first regatta on 26th January 1837 was a boisterous event, designed to celebrate the founding

of the colony. A truly motley crew of boats competed, with participants registering whalers,

lifeboats and even rowboats, some of which held dancing onboard. 

The Hobart packet Francis Feeling, sailing complete with ladies and a band, was set to be a

contender but after running aground on Milson’s Point, stopped and stayed there for the day.

The regatta of 1871 was buoyed by self confidence with the Governor of NSW toasting the

achievement that “not a single bushranger was at large in the colony”, but by 1907, the papers

bemoaned decreasing interest in the regatta due to horse races and cricket onshore. 

Celebrations of nationhood were naturally muted during WWI, when all attention was diverted to

the war effort and only a small regatta took place. The regatta was cancelled outright in 1944, but

dedicated racers held a belated December regatta in order to maintain the historical continuity of

the event.

The project will record the stories of contestants, supporters and boat builders associated with the

regatta. Historians have already interviewed four eminent yachtsmen for the project, including Sir

James Hardy, who first competed in the regatta in 1962 and Bruce Gould, a veteran of 25 Sydney

to Hobart races and a survivor of the 1988 tragedy. 

“The Australia Day Regatta is an important thread in Australia’s maritime history,” said Australian

National Maritime Museum Director, Mary Louise Williams. “We are pleased to be able to support

this oral histories project through the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme


The first twelve interviews will be complete by March 2010, with a book on the complete history of

the event due by the end of 2011. 

The MMAPPS scheme, which the museum funds with Australian Government’s Distributed

People Feature Australian National Maritime Museum 3 image

People Feature Australian National Maritime Museum 4 image

National Collection Program, helps regional museums, community groups and volunteers to

promote and protect Australian maritime heritage. For more information, phone (02) 9298 3777 or

22 January 2010

Australian National Maritime Museum – Shirani Aththas (02) 9298 3642; 0418 448 690

Images and interviews are available upon request from

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