Weather News

Popular 1988 hot air balloon challenge from Perth to Sydney might be making a comeback

By Shannon Corvo, Friday February 21, 2020 - 12:26 EDT
Audience submitted image
The 1988 Bicentennial Balloon Challenge involved roughly 900 participants. - Audience submitted

In 1988, the Bicentennial Balloon Challenge saw 78 balloons travel from Perth to Sydney to celebrate 200 years since the landing of the first British settlers.



Fifty-two of these balloons were shipped from overseas countries such as the United Kingdom and America.

Hundreds of participants travelled for 16 days, stopping at regional locations on their way across Australia, including at Kalgoorlie, Kimba, Barossa Valley, Mildura and Broken Hill.

Bicentennial Balloon Challenge director, Ruth Wilson, is planning a similar event for 2021.

"I'm working on doing a gas balloon race across Australia next year," Ms Wilson said.

"At this stage, it would be from Perth across to Sydney because the upper winds blow from the west most of the time.

"I just need to find a hydrogen sponsor or some more funding to get it off the ground, but I'm working on it."

The event is still in the planning stages, but Ms Wilson said there will be stopovers in regional towns: it just has not yet been decided where.

"You have all the crew chasing the balloon — they have to sleep because the balloon would fly for three or four days non-stop, to see which one could fly the furthest to win the race," she said.

"But then we would create stopovers and communication with the locals."



One of a kind challenge

To win the 1988 Bicentennial Balloon Challenge, the pilots in their air balloons had to try and throw a marker onto a target at each location.

One of these pilots was now 72-year-old Graeme Scaife, who was one of the last participants to be registered for the event.



He used to run a photo lab in England, but one day he spotted two hot air balloons flying over his house in West Sussex and decided it was his calling.

Mr Scaife's sponsored balloon was sent from the UK to Sydney, where it was then driven to the challenge start point at Perth.

What followed was 16 days of tiring work, partying and mingling with the locals at each stopover.

"You go out and fly in the morning and then you can go and sleep during the day and then you go out again at about four o'clock in the afternoon and try and fly," Mr Scaife said.

"When you finish flying in the afternoon, you tend to all go down to the nearest pub and there's loads and loads of people."

Mischief along the way

It was when the group of about 900 participants made it from Mildura to Broken Hill that some unusual and dangerous incidents happened.

"We all went to a bar at Silverton and I always remember they had a horse in the bar and a parrot that drank out of a beer can," Mr Scaife said.

But that wasn't all.

"They decided to put a gold nugget up on a post in the air and the balloon had to fly in and if you grabbed it, you got a $20,000 gold nugget," he said.

"These American guys flew straight into the top of a house with an air conditioning unit on it and knocked the air conditioning unit off.

"The balloon caught alight and then of course he went shooting up into the air and broke three ribs."

Despite some injuries and broken bones, Ms Wilson said all 78 balloons made it to Sydney, and David Levin from Boulder Colorado in America won the overall challenge.



Advances in technology

Ms Wilson said next year's proposed event would be easier to organise than the one in 1988 because of technology.

"[Back then] I wrote long letters letting different contacts in the different countries know this event was on," she said.

"You can imagine letters coming in and out of from overseas and a few faxes darting back and forth.

"It [next year's event] would gain more exposure just because of the nature of life these days through social media and television."

She said today's technology will also improve the safety of the event.

"In some of the weather conditions there were a couple of injuries," Ms Wilson said.

"We didn't have access to the meteorology and the weather information that is now so readily available."


- ABC

© ABC 2020

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
9News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Strong winds lash the southeast

13:15 EDT

A vigorous cold front has swept through parts of the southeast, bringing wind gusts in excess of 100km/h to some exposed and elevated parts.

When it rains, it pours over NSW

13:07 EDT

Parts of New South Wales have recorded their best daily April rainfall in decades, as a strong cold front and trough sweeped over the state overnight.

Sunflowers brighten up the Liverpool Plains countryside after years of drought

10:41 EDT

From dry and dusty paddocks an increasingly rare crop is flowering on the New South Wales Liverpool Plains, standing as a symbol of recovery from an intense one-in-100-year drought.