The Dragon Boat.
It’s a strange and beautiful and otherworldly thing, isn’t it?
What business does a dragon, that big fire-breathing beasty of the skies, have with being on a boat?
Well here you go:
The dragon boat dates back some 2,000 years, to the Pearl River Delta region of southern China, where the lives and fortunes of those ancient Chinese villagers and farmers depended very heavily on good rainfall to grow crops. (A bit like our farmers here in East Gippsland.)
The mythical dragon was a very important figure in Chinese life (still is), revered and feared as the controllers of rain, monsoons, winds and clouds.
Venerating the dragon deity was meant to avert misfortune and calamity, and encourage rainfall, and so the original purpose of the dragon boat was as a folk ritual, or display of respect for the gods.
In recent years in Australia the dragon boat has enjoyed an unlikely resurgence, with dragon boat racing becoming a popular sport and exercise challenge, particularly for people recovering from breast cancer surgery.
Right here in Bairnsdale, the Dragons Abreast Gippsland Waratahs started up about 10 years ago, and today paddles once or twice a week, depending on the season.
BRHS Radiographer Karen Downie is one of the core organisers of that group, which is this week getting ready for one of the biggest events on their calendar – the Lunar New Year Dragon Boat Festival at Docklands in Melbourne.
(This is a big event, let me tell you. How big? The dragon boat races are streamed on Kayo and Fox Sports.)
Karen says that although the connection to breast cancer survivors and organisations certainly helped grow the sport in recent years, a lot of people that come to the sport these days do so for other reasons entirely.
Like her colleagues Andrew Dow and Grace Hart, who got into dragon boating because they wanted a fun and active way to explore East Gippsland’s waterways.
“We’re so lucky to be close to all these beautiful rivers and lakes, but not every might feel comfortable going out by themselves in a kayak or paddle board,” Grace said. “I wanted to get out on the water and see the area, and the dragon boat gave me a way to do that while also being around people.”
Andrew tells a similar story.
“I’m from the Dandenong Ranges, and so when I moved here a couple of years ago I really wanted to make the most of the area and spend lots of time on the water,” Andrew said. “Karen said ‘come and have a paddle with us,’ and that’s how it started. It’s been really fun. It’d be good to see more guys getting involved, though.”
Karen admits that dragon boating is having a hard time shaking its reputation of being mostly for middle-aged women.
She hopes young people like Grace and Andrew will help change that.
“Just come and give it a go,” Karen says. “We offer free, no obligation sessions for anyone that might be interested. You don’t need any gear or experience – just a sense of adventure and the right spirit.”
The Dragons Abreast Gippsland Waratahs paddle from Howitt Park in Bairnsdale at 9:30 am on Sunday mornings. During daylight saving there are twilight paddles midweek from about 5.30 pm.
The people are good and the shirts are cool.
Get into it. Here’s a video.
To learn more, chat with Karen Downie in Medical Imaging, or visit www.dragonboatvictoria.com.au/dbv-clubs/da-gippsland/