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February 2018

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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Burnie Carnival - a trailblazer

Burnie Carnival - a trailblazer

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1 Burnie Carnival - a trailblazer on Sun Jan 01, 2017 10:46 pm



Carnival a trailblazer

The Examiner
1 Jan 2017.

Burnie Athletic Club secretary Alan Johnson knows that for the iconic New Year’s Day carnival to survive beyond this year’s special anniversary it must dare to be constantly different.

But then again that’s exactly what it’s been doing for much of the 129 previous editions – 12 of them delivered before the first of the modern Olympics.

Forget World Series Cricket, new women’s sports leagues, event presentation initiatives and the like, Burnie has been ahead of the game for decades.

Far too much history has been re-written by spin-doctors promoting the cause of johnny-come-latelies.

The first night-time events at the Burnie Carnival were in 1922, 15 years before Kerry Packer was born, let alone thinking about how to revolutionise cricket by playing it under lights.

Twelve years later a “unique lighting system” was trumpeted by some early spin wizards as “turning night into day”, so much so that Burnie has been a full day-night carnival ever since. 

Whilst it has taken other male-dominated sports until the second decade of the 21st century to embrace women’s leagues, female athletes have been running in their own events at Burnie since 1990.

It may have been a struggle to get things moving initially, but it was done, and that was 25-plus years ago.

Nowadays the nation’s best women athletes, and more recently cyclists, are billed equally on the Carnival program.

And they are not simply talented on the track – this year’s complement of women runners includes a couple of doctors, a dentist, an architect and an occupational therapist.

Whilst prize-money parity is still a work in progress, none of the newbies look like solving that too soon, let alone from the outset.

As for event enhancement, Burnie has been delivering side show alleys, band contests, fireworks and even whippet racing to augment the running, cycling and woodchopping for more than 100 years.

Didn’t take the Big Bash or half-time entertainment on AFL or NRL grand final day to invent any of that.

Kerry Pink’s Centenary History of the Burnie Athletic Club, a fine work already 30 years on the shelves, should be compulsory reading for event gurus planning a focus group session to see what might bring fans along to the next grand concept.

At least it should rule out the whippet racing which in 1936, included a cup race worth 50 pounds – the same as the gift and wheel.

Unfortunately the 32 events for the medium-sized greyhounds caused such chaos in the timing of the overall program that the final event was not staged until the early hours of the next morning.

Thankfully that unique lighting system saved the day.

And lesson learned, there has been no appearance by a whippet since.

Under the leadership of Johnson and new president, Ricky Aitken, the club has revitalised its committee and strategies, adopted a new constitution and wrested back control of the Carnival from the City Council’s events and promotion arm.

The latter move exposes risk a little more, but creates incentive and opportunity.

New Year’s Day crowds have been on the rise in the past few years, creating hope that there is indeed a future for one of the grand old men of Australian sport.

For those who make the journey to West Park today there is every reason to do so with much anticipation.

Australian women’s 400-metre champion, Morgan Mitchell after winning the Latrobe 120m and Devonport 400m gifts, the latter from scratch, has abandoned plans to hike up Cradle Mountain now that the possibility of a magnificent treble is in play.

The 2015 world champion in both the omnium and team pursuit, Annette Edmondson has likewise been in super form, taking the major wheels at the same two carnivals.

A third 2016 Olympian, Sam Welsford, who also triumphed at Latrobe (in the men’s wheel) is surely a superstar of the future in world cycling, but he is already very, very good.

This year’s series has already delivered up a new Tasmanian star in the making – King Island middle-distance runner, Stewart McSweyn.

The 21-year-old surprised even his experienced coach Nic Bideau with his strong run in the Latrobe mile – just missing the placings, despite starting from the tough mark of 20m.

Clearly that gave him a boost two days later in Devonport where he looked confident and almost effortless, taking the second big mile of the series with ease.

It means at Burnie he will rightly be dragged to scratch, perhaps prompting him to put up his hand to go back another nine metres or so, to try for a sub-four-minute mile on grass.

Either way his appearance alongside Olympic finalist Ryan Gregson and another rising talent, Victorian Jordy Williamsz (10m) will help provide a special celebration of the 126-year tradition of mile running at Burnie.

For ahead of them on very competitive marks are a host of real contenders – male and female.

On this birthday, the mile may well upstage the traditional star attractions of the gifts and wheels.

Burnie is the only one of the carnivals to incorporate the spectacular sporting contest that is tree-felling, as part of the chopping program.

It may not be uniquely Tasmanian – but quintessentially at least.

It is simply always an attraction.

"Let's Go While We're Young"

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