Snapping Henley on Todd out of its midlife crisis


The battle of the big boats at night? A budgie smuggler race including prominent politicians? Marching lifeguards? Resurrecting the greasy pole? An Afghan chariot race?
These are just a few ideas being tossed around by Rotary members to help the Henley on Todd over its mid-life crisis: Of late, HoT hasn’t been as hot as it used to be.
Crowds have been down to between 3000 and 4000, revenue has dropped, and locals – well – for many it’s same old, same old. All this is something the service clubs are determined to turn around.
The first Henley on Todd was staged in 1962 and it has – arguably – become the town’s iconic event.
The Finke Desert Race has many more spectators (12,000). The Camel Cup is also very popular. And all three are run by volunteers. However, there are motor and camel races around the world.
Having a boat race in a river without a drop of water in it, whilst taking the Mickey out of the toffy Henley Royal Regatta on the other side of the world – that’s the kind of whacky stuff they could come up with only in The Alice, during its heyday.
HoT is run by the nearly 100 members of the town’s three Rotary clubs who spend thousands of unpaid hours a year preparing and running it. HoT has raised an estimated $1m (at today’s value) over half a century for charity.
The push to rejuvenate HoT is headed up by local CDU business lecturer Eric Bailey who says not just Rotary members, but the whole town should be given a say about how to bring the event back to its former glory.
And if it’s not for the fame and the fun of it, it should be for the money: the local business community earns $200 a day from every visitor in town, says Mr Bailey.
“We need to make it a ‘must do event’ again. We need you to give us ideas.”
PHOTOS, top: A budgie smuggler race with political doorstop thrown in?  • Left:  Wenching, an Irish pastime. •Below: ‘Afghan chariot’ race – these are actually Diggers in Egypt during World War I.
DECLARATION OF INTEREST: The writer is a member of the Rotary Club of Stuart.


  1. Check out his daughter’s companies and one of them he is involved in. All the Perks is the name of one of them. Nice choice. Sydney based. They supplied services. I bet you they got paid. ORIC inquiry, please.
    All suppliers should have been paid. No excuses, Neville.

  2. It’s very interesting to see the photo of Australian soldiers engaged in a “chariot race” in Egypt in WW1 – because the very first Henley-on-Todd race in Alice Springs was staged in 1944, when the Australian Army exercised military control over the NT.
    This is according to Mrs Lorna Moss, who served as a nurse in Alice Springs at the time. In 1986 she wrote a letter to Alan Wauchope, who in the 1980s was contributing a regular column on local (mainly anecdotal) history of Central Australia in the Centralian Advocate – Wauchope largely republished that letter in one of his columns.
    Lorna Moss went on to describe how this race (and it was called “Henley on Todd”) was staged in the Todd River bed, about where the Stott Terrace Bridge is now.
    This is just one example I’ve found of a number of prominent events or institutions that have unacknowledged precursors, several with Australian military links.
    For example, the Bangtail Muster and Alice Springs Show were predated in 1953 as part of the celebrations for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II; Tourism Central Australia (the former Central Australian Tourism Industry Association) was also pre-empted in 1953 (and the former Australian Army officer in charge of the NT during WW2, Brigadier Noel Loutit, was its inaugural chairman); and the Desert Knowledge Precinct and its various incarnations is a descendant of the Ultimate Knowledge Institute that Colonel Lionel Rose envisaged way back in 1948 – when he surveyed and acquired the lease of land now known as the Arid Zone Research Institute.
    Everything old is new again, and what goes round comes round!

  3. Good on the Rotary clubs for looking at or for new ideas, because the tourism bodies once more seem to have their heads in the traditional past sand.
    A few years ago in Japan I witnessed a senior school running relay over 100 kms and 10 runners. It attracted an audience on TV of 80 million viewers. I immediately thought of the West Macs Glen Helen to Anzac Hill. I passed the idea around back here, but it got not even a passing interest from governments or politicians.

  4. I was at Alice Springs High School when Henley on Todd was first staged on the river at the back of the High School. I had arrived in Alice Springs from England two years earlier so I knew about the races in England. Our version of the Henley on Todd was great, very clever and extremely funny. Frankly very Australian.
    Instead of trying to update this very entertaining show, may be the organisers should go back to the beginning.
    Everyone was able to be involved, from races to bathing beauties and kids competitions.
    The event also had side show alley, art show and all sorts of activities with the Alice Springs flavour.
    I am looking forward to seeing it again when I visit the Alice this year.


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