With a fully inflated hot air balloon, a basket full of politicians and local pre-school infants, and a crowd of visiting balloon pilots and print and TV media, the 2014 Canowindra Balloon Challenge and its 19th Australian National Balloon Championships was officially launched on Monday.
It all took place in the grounds of the Age of Fishes Museum where Challenge Committee leaders Graham and Jan Kerr put one of their balloons up on a tether, piloted by Graham, to highlight the opening ceremony.
Challenge Committee chairman, Arthur Falconer introduced the event by noting the increase of overseas competitors this year, with Japanese and Russian pilots joining the Americans in the titles.
One of the new entrants, in fact, is graduate student Ryohei Tanaka from Japan who’s making his first flight outside his country.
Cabonne’s mayor, Ian Gosper, reminded the gathering that 16,000 people poured into Canowindra last year to spend $1.5 million during the challenge.
State MP for Orange, Andrew Gee pointed to a $30,000 government grant for this year’s event and the challenge’s support for the national counselling and treatment group for acute depression and anxiety, beyondblue.
Graham Kerr announced that the challenge becomes a “fully fledged international event” next year after being awarded the status of Cat II as a globally sanctioned event by the world body that oversees all Aero Sports.
But it was the kids that stole the moment – dozens of them from Canowindra Pre-School who marched in with their teachers to crowd excitedly around the balloon.
At one stage the balloon’s wicker gondola was packed with them, most of them barely able to see and wave over the rim as pilot Graham lifted and lowered the balloon gently on its tether.
Alongside the ballooning there are plenty of activities and attractions scheduled for visitors during the five days from April 22 to 27 including the charity YBM Ambrose Golf Day at the Canowindra Golf Club, Canowindra Cabaret starring Tallulah Style ArtIST , a 100 Mile Dinner with Friends at the Old Vic Inn, Canowindra Pre-School Fundraiser Trivia Night at the Canowindra Bowling Club, and a Bike Brag on Gaskill Street.
As Arthur Falconer says: “We wanted to make sure the event is even more memorable this year”