News & Events

16th Nov 2008 40th Anniversary for WHCC

“The club’s forty this year.   Perhaps we should do something?”   Paul’s words were where it all started.   Forty years is a long time for any club but for a white water kayak club in one of the driest continents in the world, definitely an achievement.  

We set a date, 16th November 2008 and commenced working on the logistics.   We started by emailing current and recent members.   It was on.   Now to track down previous members.

Searching through old records we found membership lists from different eras and then we came across a box of membership cards.   We’d struck gold.   These were the original membership cards.   It was then that we found out when the club actually started, 18th November, 1969!   It was the 39th anniversary, oh well, close enough.

The day arrived and members, old and new, came, with partners and children in tow.  

A selection of kayaks graphically demonstrated the transformation of kayaks over the last 40 years.   From fiberglass to plastic, long to short, light to heavy, fragile to strong, homemade to manufactured and most importantly from cheap to expensive!   Also proudly displayed was the famous spit.   For many years the spit has turned meat into a fantastic taste sensation.   A variety of maintenance over the years has almost totally replaced the original parts but club members still sit around patiently watching the spit slowly turn and the meat sizzle, wondering when they will actually get to eat.

In the windows printing screens were displayed.   Classic screens such as the stinking pig, the canoe polo player in the boat and the famous WHCC flipper like screen.   A theme of many screens was the Whitehorse Bush Triathlon, including the screen depicting a horse with a paddle in its mouth, a sick looking horse and the cycle, ride, run screen.   

Stinky Pig

Nearby a collection of photos and old albums were displayed showing people and activities from different eras.   A black and white photo of a paddler in a home made kayak, helmet less and paddling a rapid now underwater gave a glimpse of the club’s beginnings.   Other photos showed the transition in kayaks and gear.   But mainly there were lots of people.   People standing beside rivers, sitting on river banks, wearing paddling gear, holding paddles and kayaks, sitting around camp fires and paddling canoes and kayaks.   Certainly it is the people that the club is all about.

Projected on a screen were more photos, photos from Alan Wells’ collection of early trips on the Mitta Mitta, Thomson, Yarra, Big and slalom events, particularly events on the now gone Whale’s Head rapid, slide shows of past trips and Jol Shelton’s famous video of a trip down the Snowy River at 2 metres.   Amazing how much younger we all look in it.   But probably the display that attracted the most attention was Walter’s river matrix.

Walter had prepared a matrix of river sections.   Some were popular trips, some were obscure and some long disappeared under dams.   Arguments raged over rivers that hadn’t made the list.   But the judge’s decision was final.   It came as no surprise that as it was Walter’s idea and Walter selected the river sections, that Walter ended out recording the most river sections.

While the river matrix held the attention of the old paddlers, the next generation of paddlers took to the water.   The club raft, ‘Reg’ proved a hit with the kids.   No rapids but lots of action was had and fortunately no swimmers!

Reg the raft

Finally to the formal part of the evening, first the cakes!   Louise and Catherine had made some great cakes.   Louise’s cake represented a typical paddling trip, a swimmer thrashing around in whitewater while a throw rope sailed overhead.   Catherine’s cakes depicted the club’s 40th anniversary logo and the always present river.   

Cake yum

Now the speeches:

It was only fitting that Trevor Thiele was the first speaker.   Trevor recalled the creation of the club by brothers, Trevor and Kevin, friends and family.   Original members were Neville and Pat Armstrong, Bruce and Dora Pearce, Ian Richards, Kevin and Linda Thiele, Lorraine and Trevor Thiele, Bronwyn Thiele and Alan Wells.   Those original members argued about a name but finally settled on ‘Whitehorse’ as most of them lived in the Boxhill area.   A large amount of time was spent making boats in various parent’s houses for that first big trip to the Mitta Mitta.   Many trips followed with jaffle iron and Stones Green Ginger wine vital ingredients.   They were adventurous times with rivers and rapids being run for the first time.   Slaloms were a focus of those early years but a trip by brothers, Ian and Peter Richards and Rod Harris clearly shows the adventurous spirit of the early members.   In 1971 they paddled their kayaks across Bass Strait.   They hopped from one island to the next but a storm nearly brought disaster.   They finally made it to Tasmania and the title of the first people to paddle from Victoria to Tasmania.


John Templer took over from Trevor to continue the story of the club.   The creation of the Barkley River Race and some epic swims by participants.   Then the morphing of the river race into the Whitehorse Bush Triathlon and major sponsorship.   The development of the annual club itinerary with the Christmas/New Year trip down the Snowy River, the triathlon and the Queens Birthday Mitchell trip.

Then it was Walter’s turn to regal us with days past but he couldn’t be found.   Apparently he was called away at the crucial time by work but said his speech was the best ever and would have put all the others to shame.

Finally it was my turn as the current president, and here are the edited highlights….

‘A lot has changed over the last 40 years.    We now have to decide which boat to use; should I take the creek boat, the play boat or just settle for the river runner.   Paddles are made of carbon fibre and there are another set of decisions to make; bent shaft – straight shaft, symmetrical blade – asymmetrical blade, no off set – small off set.   New fibres keep us warm and dry.   Gortex dry tops, dry suits, thermals, skull caps, poggies and neoprene socks all help to keep us comfortable.   We have GPSs, river maps, river guides and river levels on line to make sure we don’t get lost and that the river is just right.

However for the last 10 years we’ve had droughts and low river levels.   And this seems likely to continue, making it a constant challenge to be a white water paddler.

But some things haven’t changed:

The challenge of pitting your skills against the rapids and hopefully coming out the bottom upright and exhilarated.   The sense of adventure.   The companionship.   Being able to share experiences with others, whether it’s working together to get down a river or sharing a meal at the end of the paddle.    And finally the pure joy of getting away from it all and being on a river.

The purpose of celebrating the anniversary was to remember and reminisce about the past but to also look forward to the future.   So happy anniversary and may there be many more returns.’

Thanks to the committee, Paul, Walter, Brandon, Margarita, Anthony, Charlotte, Jimmy and me, Alison, for making it a day to remember.   Now for the real 40th anniversary!