PHOTOS from above: The control centre of the Finke Desert Race – the club has devised a sophisticated system of tracking each of the hundreds of competitors through a series of checkpoints along the 220 km track and report the positions to the public in real time on the internet. • The “naval battle” at the Henley on Todd • Thousands of beanies on display during the festival • Dragsters revving up at the start.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Yet another jovial truckies’ reunion at the National Transport Hall of Fame, with a huge attendance, is just behind us, and the Red Centre Nats are getting under way today: Alice Springs is the big winner in our volunteer driven annual gigs.
They’re in good company: The National Drag Racing Association fixture, Finke, the Beanie Festival and the Easter event of the Mountain Bike Club are in the vibrant mix that makes life great for locals and are a huge driver of the town’s economy.
The Finke Desert Race is the mother of them all: Its 370 volunteers have fine-tuned the national event since its start in 1976.
President Antony Yoffa says the core group of helpers puts in an average of 10 hours a day for the three race days.
A second group of 60 people work 70 hours a year, and the 10 or so main organisers do 1000.
Their efforts funnel $6m into the town.
It comes from 6000 competitors and crew plus spectators.
Their number is hard to judge, says Mr Yoffa, as many camp along the track but there are 17,000 entries through the gate (some of them the same people on different occasions).
People from outside town stay an average of six nights.
Half of the huge bike field of 550 are first time competitors, locals and from all over Australia.
The NT Government contributes $60,000 for huge TV screens and media management, and provides in-kind support such as vehicles and computers.
Drags is a relatively new sport in town, just seven years old. Mark “Yak” Probst, president of the Central Australian Drag Racing Association (CADRA), says it is still struggling to build up a volunteer force.
Numbers fluctuate from six to 20: “We always need more, for working bees every Sunday,” he says, as well as the two big meetings every year.
The nationals this year had 80 entrants, 5% from outside Alice Springs.
With drivers, crews, hanger-on and spectators that amounted to 550 visitors, 85% repeat visitors.
“We didn’t get one whinge. They’ll all be back, bringing more people.”
Alice is more likely to get an interstate crowd: “Darwin is too far,” says Mr Probst.
The NT government kicked in $80,000 for this year’s Desert Nationals.
Jo Nixon says the Beanie Festival she heads up has 150 volunteers clocking up a total of 1500 hours.
Half the crowd of 7000 are from out of town and stay for four nights. More than 1500 have been to the festival before. It started in 1997.
This year the NT Government provided $10,000 (Tourism NT), $20,000 (Arts NT) and $20,000 (Festivals NT).
Henley on Todd was started in 1961 and is run by the town’s three Rotary Clubs.
On the day it takes 200 plus volunteers but treasurer Eli Melky says the HOT “is 12 months in the making. It takes thousands of hours.”
This year it had 4000 people through the gates, 60% of them tourists, almost all of them first-time spectators.
Gate and stall hire income was more than $50,000 plus $60,000 to $80,000 from sponsorship – all profits go to charity.
The NT Government this year contributed $100,000 for a shed on the industrial block where HOT stores its paraphernalia, including the three legendary battleships.
The Easter races held by the Alice Springs Mountain Bike Club (one of two organisations in that sport in here) requires 50 volunteers.
Organiser Paul Darvodelsky says 150 riders took part, about half of them from interstate. There were 180 accompanying travellers.
More than $15,000 had been spent on promotion nationally “to raise the profile of mountain biking in Alice Springs,” he says.
The event had a Facebook reach of 13,000 over the weekend and post engagement of 9,000.
“Initiatives like mountain biking are grass roots economic endeavours which have the capacity to bring long term growth and prosperity to the town,” says Mr Darvodelsky.
“Unlike big projects they have a wide range of community benefits.
“They inspire more people to exercise and be healthy, have an influx to local businesses, bringing life to the Mall, restaurants and town.
He estimates the direct spending benefit “at about $600,000 over the Easter weekend, excluding chocolates”.