It was an arbitrary decision which changed the course of Canowindra’s history and forever linked our little town with hot air ballooning.
“A Sydney University group started ballooning in Australia,” said Adam Barrow, Balloon CEO and Vice President of the Balloon Challenge. “In 1966, They needed somewhere to fly that was outside controlled airspace and Canowindra was a good option. They originally went to Parkes, but that was too far out, so they came to Canowindra where there was a good road network, great weather and friendly locals and it stuck.”
Fifty five years on, our town is famous around the world for the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge. The first seed of ballooning competition was planted in 1988, when our town held the Canowindra 88 Bicentennial Balloon Championship, an event that was reprised in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
The ecompetition shifted and grew. From 1995 to 2005, a ballooning competition known as Marti’s Balloon Fiesta, funded by Frank Hackett-Jones, drew attention to the Central West on both national and international levels.
In 2010, the event became the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge and has been drawing crowds of 5,000 ever since. Now billed as “Australia’s largest hot air balloon festival,” the organising committee has changed and a new crop of local go-getters are at the helm.
Having heard historical concernes that the Challenge caters to outsiders and not to locals, the committee has worked hard to draw the community into the event, driving tourism and business back into the town and notably Gaskill Street.
The Saturday morning street parade was created to funnel tourists past shops and businesses and keep visitors in the town, spending their money. Balloon HQ was set up at the Services Club for the same reason. Consequently, balloonists and tourists could be spotted all week, dining in cafes and browsing shops.
While some still do not see the value the Balloon Challenge adds to town, Adam argues that everyone will be reaping the profits, though indirectly.
“Not everyone directly benefits,” said Adam. “They may not get cash in their pocket from it if they are not running a business, but the money it generates in the economy supports all the businesses that locals use for the rest of the year. It has a flow on effect.”
Despite a year off and continuing COVID travel restrictions, Adam is encouraged that the event is still sought after by balloonists and is expecting an incredible turn out.
“It is easy to get balloonists to come to Canowindra. It is known worldwide. That is why in non-COVID years we get people coming from everywhere like Czech Republic, Japan, USA—they all want to come and experience it because it is such a great flying area.”
“It has been a tough year for ballooning, as you would expect. We are keeping it local this year. It is all Aussies in the event, which is great. We have 32 balloonists registered, which is a fantastic result given that there are only 70 “fly for fun” balloons in Australia. We have almost half the Australian fleet with us this week.”
As the action ramps up, the new committee, headed by Andrew “Pully” Pull, are hard at work to ensure the event goes off without a hitch. Much of the excitement centres around Saturday’s Cabonne Community Glow at the sports ground. With entertainment from local artists like Oli Statham and Cranbury Jam and Golden Guitar nominee Jayne Denham, the night is sure to be one for the books and excitement is high from the keen balloonists.
“Within the ballooning community, the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge is incredibly well known, they just do not know how to pronounce Canowindra. Everyone is keen to get out and fly after two years off,” Adam finished.