The Great Bi-Centennial River Relay (September 10 to December 11, 1988)

BY RIVER AND SEA - August 2019 - by Frank Tuckwell

Lions Club of Goolwa celebrated the 40th anniversary of its founding in June 1979 at a luncheon in the Goolwa Golf Club recently. It was also the occasion of handing over the Club administration at the end of the financial year and the installation of the new board. In this case President Ron Sargent OAM and his board were completing the old year to hand over to incoming President Lorraine Mc Donnell and her new board for 2019-20. The installation of the new board was conducted by District Governor David Snook OAM. During the luncheon, Charter member and Past President, Frank Tuckwell OAM, gave a history talk on one of the largest club projects of the past 40 years, the Great Bi-Centennial River Relay, which incidentally involved PDG Bob Koratcoff on the insurance planning level, who was also the District Governor who chartered the new Goolwa Club in 1979.

The Great Bi-Centennial River Relay (September 10 to December 11, 1988) proposed to celebrate the Australian bi-centennial in 1988, when the Lions Club of Goolwa decided to attempt an ambitious plan to link all riverside communities across the Murray Darling basin by conducting a community-to-community relay down the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Darling Rivers to Goolwa. It would be a national project supported by 53 Lions clubs across four states and the A.C.T., the Australian Bi-Centennial Authority’s “Sports 88” grant, and Signal Point River Murray Interpretive Centre. It would involve in each community its schools, local government, police, NSW and SA water regulatory authorities among others, as well as their local Lions clubs across the Basin. It would take 15 months to plan, execute and complete the relay which at first seemed to have insurmountable problems because of the sheer size of the proposal. Nevertheless, the club decided to take it on, appointing Lion Frank as national organiser to put it into the field. A model club and community committee was formed in Goolwa to find out what the community would need to know about the project and what would be expected of them, and how they would advance it. This committee model was then recommended to the other 52 participating clubs to be formed in their community. A standard “how to” relay manual and timetable would then be issued to them.

Discussions with the Lions Insurance Adviser (PDG Bob Korotcoff) cleared up any insurance questions of the project. Contact was made with the 8 District Governors through which the relay would pass. In Queensland, the Toowoomba West Lions Club was appointed to launch the Darling River relay and the Lions Club of Corryong, Victoria, would launch the Murray River Relay. Goolwa Lions past presidents (PP) were appointed to attend each launching with PP Stan Richmond attending Toowoomba, PP Keith Dix at Corryong and PP Frank Tuckwell attended the national launch.

The Lions Club of Canberra Valley was responsible for the national launch in Canberra from the forecourt of the new Parliament House, to begin relay down the down the Murrumbidgee. All three river relays carried a message cylinder containing the messages from Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Opposition leader John Howard and the Lions International President (Austin P. Jennings). In each community destination, shire, city and district mayors or chairpersons would contribute a message into their respective river cylinder. All relays were started at 10am September 10, 1988 and arrived in Goolwa, SA three months later, at 2pm on December 11. In almost all sections of the relay, children under supervision were involved. In all, over 30,000 children took part either in the relay or in a classroom project called “My Community, 1988” to be sent to Goolwa when completed.

The Murrumbidgee, Darling relays came together and met with the Murray River relay at a function held on the riverfront at Mildura where the president of the Mildura Working Man’s Lions Club (Steve Jones) welcomed them in the presence of the Mayor of Mildura (Bruce Weir) and visiting Mayor of the Pt. Elliot and Goolwa Council (Colin Harding) from SA. The message cylinders of the Darling and Murrumbidgee Rivers had completed their tasks at this point and passed to the keeping of the national coordinator, while the president of Mildura Working Man’s Lions Club sent the Murray cylinder to continue its way downstream.

On arrival at Goolwa on the Signal Point waterfront the relay ended, the Goolwa children received the Murray River cylinder from the children in the Meningie Lions Club relay party who had travelled over the four Lower Murray barrages to complete the last lap. Goolwa Lions Club President (Richard Keynes) greeted the Meningie relay party at a short wayside meeting at the Sturt – Barker memorial on Hindmarsh Island, then sent them on their way to Goolwa.

Arriving at the Goolwa wharf they joined the awaiting crowd gathered in the Signal Point forecourt. At this point all 3 message cylinders were formally presented to District Governor Peter Jarvis (District S3) at the ceremony witnessed by state and federal MPs, Lions representatives and other dignitaries together with hundreds of visiting and local people. The messages contained in the cylinders were opened and with other important items were conveyed by the District Governor to an awaiting time capsule in a site nearby. This Goolwa Lions time capsule was then sealed to be reopened in 2030 – the bi-centennial of Captain Sturt’s Murray River exploration party’s arrival in Goolwa in 1830.

The Great Bi-centennial River Relay was a complete success in every way due to enthusiastic cooperation of all Lions clubs, Councils, schools and other bodies along the inland rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin. No accident or injury was reported, and an excellent media coverage followed its progress from start to finish. It has been generally acknowledged that the relay was the biggest community to community event of its kind ever held across the Basin.

However, this great project is not yet finished, as the time capsule in the forecourt of Signal Point is ticking over the hours, days and years toward the date it is to be opened on February 11, 2030, as part of the celebration of the bi-centenary of the arrival in Goolwa of Charles Sturt’s exploration party.

In a little over 10 years’ time the nation will give recognition to this date with an array of postage stamps, coin sets and other memorabilia, along with events and ceremonies to mark the occasion. As with the South Australian J150 and the Australian Bi-Centennial celebrations in the past, official planning for the Sturt Bi-Centennial will begin the coundown for this event in 5 years’ time. The opening of the Lions time capsule in front of Signal Point will without doubt be the focal point for the winding up of the Sturt Bi-Centennial in Goolwa.

A massive collection of planning material for the River Relay along with reports, press clippings, correspondence, photographs and videos, have been preserved. Also “My Community, 1988” projects from many schools and other material including the 3 message cylinders used (one for each river) and logbooks, are carefully held in the Goolwa National Trust History Centre archives.

Photo caption: Relay sets off for Goolwa 10 September 1988 – Picture: Canberra Times”.