Short History of Dragon Boating in Bunbury

On 17 March 1990, The South West Chung Wah Association first brought dragon boat racing to Bunbury with the running of the inaugural Dragon Boat Festival from the Bunbury Rowing Club on the Lower Leschenault Inlet.

Following the success of that day, the South West Chung Wah Association, Bunbury’s major dragon boat clubs, Spirit of Bunbury, Forza Italia, the Bunbury Rowing Club, and a number of Corporate teams including SCM Chemicals, Worsley Alumina, Westralian Sands, Cable Sands and the Lord Forrest Hotel, worked to increase the sport’s profile.

Bunbury’s Aqua Spectacular secured the March long weekend and The Dragon Boat Festival became a two day event with Perth clubs competing against local crews. Bunbury crews dominated the open events, and a host of Corporate, Novice, Ultra Novice and Junior crews competed in close and competitive racing over the two days.

Bunbury paddlers competed internationally in Taiwan 1990, Penang 1991, 92, 95, 97, 2008 Sebah 1992, Hong Kong 1990, 93, Macau 93, Singapore 96, and Hawaii 2000.

The Bunbury event became known as the International Dragon Boat Festival, with International teams travelling to Bunbury to compete – Japan 1993, Penang 1994, Penang and Singapore 1995, Singapore 1996.

Bunbury clubs have won a host of WA State and National Titles in open, corporate and novice divisions. Bunbury clubs have also been awarded the coveted WA Dragon Boat Association Grand Prix Title – Spirit of Bunbury 1993, 94, 95 and 96 and Forza Italia in 1997 and 1999.

City of Bunbury’s Waterfront Spectacular came into being in March 2002 and once again dragon boat racing was a part of the weekend’s festivities. In 2003 the event was renamed the Three Waters Festival, with Forza Dragon Boat Club, the Bunbury Rowing Club and the Port Bunbury Outrigger Canoe Club working together to put together a dragon boat and outrigging event. The organising committee of the Forza Dragon Boat Challenge Festival, which took over from both the Waterfront Spectacular, and the Three Waters Festival, included members who were part of the original Dragon Boat Festival in Bunbury in 1990.

Since 2012 Forza has run “Paddling Under The Star” dragon boat festival, incorporating paddling at night into the revived Aqua Spectactular Festival We are hopeful that the event will see a resurgence of interest in the sport in Bunbury, and look forward to a return of the heady days of the mid 1990’s. Our thanks go to everyone who has assisted us to make these regattas possible.


The History and Traditions of Dragon Boating

The Dragon Boat Festival in China is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and is a major Chinese holiday. The Dragon Boat Festival began as an occasion for driving off evil spirits and pestilence, for finding peace in one’s life, and to supplicate the God of Water to prevent disaster and bring fortune. Traditionally all debts must be made good on that day. Homage is paid to ones ancestors and the dragon is appeased.

The festival was later enriched by the legend of Qu Yuan 332-296 BC (pronounced Chu Yuan), the legendary poet and statesman who lived during the Chou dynasty. He was Privy Councillor to Emperor of the Kingdom of Chu, and enjoyed his esteem and confidence. However, other ministers who were jealous of his position, whispered damaging rumours about him to the sovereign and he was banished from the kingdom.

Qu Yuan – From an ancient Chinese Manuscript

Heart stricken by his injustice, he wandered for many years throughout the countryside composing poems about his love for the people, which he hoped would be heard and heeded by the Emperor. His inconsolable desolation grew until one day he grasped a large stone to his chest and threw himself into the Mi Lo River.

The local fishermen were so moved that they raced out in their boats to recover his body, banging their drums to frighten away the fish and to prevent them eating his body. As they did not find him, they then threw rice dumplings into the river to succour his spirit.

Before a dragon boat can enter the competition, it must first undergo a ceremony to “bring it to life”. Local leaders offer prayers and the eyes of the dragon are painted on, to give him sight. The ornately decorated boats are carried to the shore amidst the clamour of gongs and drums and a ceremony is held involving incense, prayers, throwing rice on the water and the lighting of fireworks.

The most popular dish during the festival is Tzung Tzu (glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves).