23 January 2024

Riverina Rewind: We really need to bring the 'Gumi' back!

| Michelle Maddison and Chris Roe
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Gumi race in 1985

The 1985 World Championship Gumi Race on the Murrumbidgee River. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

As the lads from South Wagga Apex Cub gear up for their annual rubber duck race on Australia Day on Wagga Beach, we’re looking back to a wilder time in the 1980s, when the Gumi was king.

Today’s photo puts us in the thick of the action at the 1985 World Championship Gumi Race on the Murrumbidgee River.

Organised entirely by the Central Wagga Lions Club, the inaugural Gumi Raft Race was staged in March 1976, with competitors sailing from Eunony Bridge (Brick Hill Reserve) to the Wiradjuri Reserve. A total of 16 rafts took to the water during this first race, and they were to launch a Wagga leisure tradition that would last until 1995.

At the height of its popularity, the Gumi Race drew international competitors, hundreds of entrants, and crowds of spectators lined the route.

The race was divided into eight categories: Junior Single, Junior Team, Women’s Team, Single Event, Gumi Team, Business House Team, Service Club Event, and Best Decorated Gumi.

“Gumi”, the Pidgin English word for [rubber] inner tube, also became a byword for ingenuity, engineering genius and at times just good old ”rat cunning”! Families, friends, neighbours, sporting clubs and businesses were pitted against each other, all in the name of fun.

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The World Championship Gumi Race was part of the larger Wagga Wagga Gumi Festival. The festival usually ran for a week and featured events included the Gumi Street Parade, where Fitzmaurice and Baylis streets came alive with colour and activity.

Many of the floats and displays were created by Wagga businesses and community groups. The floats were judged and prizes were awarded. In 1984, prizes were awarded in seven categories: Best Decorated Gumi, Best School Float, Most Humorous Float, Best Business House Float, Best Out of Town Float, Best Decorated Window Display and Best Sporting Club Float. Gumi photo competitions were also run, and the Miss Gumi Queen Quest, the crowning of the Gumi King and Gumi Festival Balls were also enjoyed by the community.

In 1985, a carnival in Bolton Park was held at the finish of the street parade and it featured a Competition Bed Race with a $75 first prize and a $25 consolation prize.

Other events during the history of the festival were the Gumi Festival Marathon Canoe Race, the Gumi Aquathon at Lake Albert and the Gumi Twilight Tennis Tournament. As you can see in the photo, chaos often reigned during the race itself.

In 2004, Maure Kramer, who competed in almost all of the races perched atop his unique ”Crabcycle Gumi”, reminisced: “A paddy melon, thrown by kids from the railway viaduct, hit the side of the tractor inner tube and bounced 10 or 15 feet into the air.

“After that, I always wore a construction hard hat during the race!”

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Rules of the Gumi Race mandated that all craft must be constructed and all entries entered in the spirit of the event.

  • The means of floatation must be at least 80 per cent by inflated inner tubes and the craft must be manually propelled.
  • Tubes can be held together by any means whatsoever, provided that river water flows directly and freely through, around and/or over them.
  • The Committee reserves the right to reject any entry which they may determine as being offensive because of any sign which may be painted on or carried by any craft.
  • Any hull design may be used so long as, in the opinion of the Committee, the craft is considered reasonably safe. A tow rope shall be attached to all craft at the bow and shall be at least 3.5m long.
  • All crew members must wear a suitable flotation jacket.
  • All crafts must be manually propelled – no motors allowed.
  • No entrant is to assist any other Gumi except if Gumi is in difficulties.
  • In all matters, the decision of the Committee shall be final.
  • Crafts are to be no wider than three metres when transported by road.

The Gumi Race returned to the Murrumbidgee River in 2011 with the South Wagga Apex Club at the helm.

Tragically, the low water levels in 2019 saw the event cancelled despite 70 entrants ready to roll. COVID, rising insurance costs and several years of dangerously high rivers have kept the event on hiatus, but there are hopes that it may yet be revived.

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