For most of us, it’s been more than 12 months since we’ve seen a water ski race.
But if your local watering hole is Wagga Wagga’s Lake Albert, the situation is even worse. It’s been 3 years since the lake was last able to hold an event.
This weekend marks a turning point for our water ski community. Hopefully, it also shines a light on the issues at Lake Albert too.
The Water Ski Challenge Shield was first held on Lake Albert in 1976. That same weekend saw the tragic death of Australian trial champion and racing legend Barry Carne during the final heat. Ever since, the Barry Carne Ski Race has been held on the second weekend of May, subject to water levels.
And therein lies the problem - water levels.
Lake Albert has always struggled with fluctuating water levels. Consequently, ski racing events on the lake have always been touch-and-go.
Between 2000-2010, we only saw 5 races run. Years of ongoing drought saw the lake hit a record low level of only 200 millimeters (7.9in) in February 2010.
In fact, things got so bad that in 2009 the event was relabelled the "Barry Carne High and Dry". Instead of a race, a static display was held at the Wagga Wagga Boat Club and a community meeting was held with the local council members to discuss the future of Lake Albert.
Sadly, recent years have not fared much better. It has been 3 years since we last saw a ski event held on Lake Albert. Another Barry Carne High and Dry event was held in 2019 to shine a light on the issue and re-open discussions with local government. Yet little ever seems to change.
There is a bigger issue at play here. And the locals are taking matters into their own hands...
Copious amounts of dead fish. High levels of faecal coliforms in the water. Blue-green algae outbreaks. Fears of a Ross-River Fever outbreak.
These are just some of the concerns that Lake Albert locals have had to live with over the past 20 years. So, it’s little wonder that they’re fed up with the situation and beginning to put up a fight.
Earlier this year, Commodore of the Wagga Wagga Boat Club Mick Henderson admitted to illegally installing shutters on a drain near the lake. He told the ABC that “he had been frustrated by the lack of progress on finding a permanent solution to the lake's low water levels.”
The local community didn't mind though. In fact, they supported him. After Mick was fined $750, Wagga Wagga City Councillor Paul Funnell set up an online fundraiser to help pay the fine. It raised more than double the amount needed in no time at all.
Mick went on to say “We tried to work with the council… where are we? Still here 10 years later. Same conversation, same place.”
So what is being done to fix the problem? And how can we help out?
Only in the last few months has Wagga Wagga City Council begun talks with NSW Water Minister Belinda Pavey about finding a long-term solution. The Council has proposed a pipeline from the Murrumbidgee River to the lake.
However, the council has also accused the local community of being ‘deadly silent’ when it comes to finding a solution. Commodore Mick Henderson denies the allegations outright, saying that the community has put forth several ideas and never heard back from the Council.
The Outboard Extravaganza this weekend will be a great time. It’ll be the first time that the Australian water ski race community has got together in over a year. But it is also an opportunity for us to make a statement and show support for our friends in Wagga.
Let’s rally around Lake Albert this weekend and show the government just how important this water source is. Not only for the locals, but for the wider community and businesses all over rural NSW and Victoria.
The Savage Force team will be there all weekend and we hope to see you there too.
Let’s turn the Outboard Extravaganza into a draw-card event that can run every year. Not just one every blue moon.