Spirit of Australia driven by Ken Warby on Blowering Dam, 1977. ANMM Collection ANMS1163, reproduced courtesy of Graeme Andrews.
On 20 November 1977, Ken Warby set the world water speed record, piloting his wooden jet-powered boat, Spirit of Australia, into the history books. Warby’s home-made wooden hydroplane reached speeds of 464.44 km/h, breaking the previous ten-year-old record of 458.98 km/h held by American Lee Taylor. The current record of 511.11 km/h (317.68 mi/h) was recorded by Warby on the 8th of October 1978, but, Warby first claimed the water speed record 40 years ago today.
But where Lee Taylor’s record attempt had cost close to $1 million in 1967, Warby had built his hydroplane in a suburban backyard…with a military-surplus jet engine that cost $65!
On Friday 25 January David Payne and I made our way north to Taree from Sydney. With one of David’s derivative plywood nardan (or derrka) strapped to the roof, and sheets of stringy bark in the boot of the car, we were on our way to the Saltwater Freshwater Festival on the banks of the Manning River on the mid north coast of New South Wales.
The festival is held every year along a river or on the coast at a centre within the 10 local Aboriginal Land Council areas grouped in the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance. This festival, the fourth, was held in Taree after the 2012 event was washed out by the floods.
Saltwater Freshwater CEO Alison Page accepting a nawi model made in the workshop with David Payne (L) and Daina Fletcher (R).