Television - Eternal confrontation on Blowering Dam

16 December 1977 The Canberra Times

By Ian Warden

Wasn't it hot on Wednesday night?

The Wardens lolled and gasped a lot on Wednesday night and were excessively grateful to the ABC for showing 'Hit 300 and Smile' (8.30) in which Ken Warby and his chums frolicked in the cool blue waters of Blowering Dam in pursuit of the world waterspeed record.

A program in which Harry Butler went into rhapsodies about his favourite stretch of desert would have been agony on Wednesday night.

By its very nature television is very   selective when it comes to screening courageous things. Some kinds of courage are very photogenic, but others are as photogenic as dalmatian droppings.


There were no television cameras on   hand when Ian Warden walked across the tarmac and got into a Boeing 727 bound for Melbourne the other day after a year spend vowing that he would never fly again. For a con- genital coward that took a lot of courage. I dare say there arc people whose decision to go to the dentist, or to have a vasectomy, or to eat in a Canberra restaurant, or to join the Young Liberals stamps them as heroes of a kind, but none of those things can compare with the spectacle of some-one fizzing across Blowering Dam with the row from his jet engine ricocheting off the hills in a great roaring echo.

And yet, although it was obvious that those who made the film thought they were making a film about a courageous man, I couldn't help thinking of the daredevil Warby as an obsessive man. I doubt that it ever occurs to him to be scared. Not that the program suffered from being a program about an obsession. Not a jot.


The program made the point that Warby is a prophet not without honour save in his own country. Warby is the fastest man on the waters of the world but Australians don't seem to care very much. There were touching scenes of Warby working on his monstrous marine juggernaut in the backyard of his proletarian house.

I remain unconvinced that this reflects badly upon Australians. Just because the whole of Britain was always agog and came to a standstill every time Donald Campbell surged across Coniston Water in the ill-fated Bluebird this needn't indicate that nations ought to behave this way. In fact, given that Warby is obviously doing it all for Warby I think that the nation can be forgiven for not being beside itself when he chooses to be- have like a bionic porpoise on an obscure stretch of water near the obscure hamlet of Tumut.

At the end of the program, having beaten the record, between slurps of champagne and some generally yahooesquc horseplay on the shores of the dam, Warby crowed, nationalistically, "We did it for Australia" to which I'm sure several hundred thousand Australians sitting at home watching replied, "But we didn't want you to".

But it was a grand piece of television. There was that real sense of being among the participants that all good documentaries give you, and, apart from the magnificent spectacle of the Spirit of Australia dashing across the dam there were some good complementary moments on shore with Warby's venerable parents, glowing with pride and suffering all of their offspring's doubts and depressions a thousandfold, and a wonderful confrontation between Warby's obsessive band and a group of weekend water sports people who inadvertently mucked up one of his record attempts.

I'm sure that this confrontation was included to underline the point that Australians are not treating wild Warby with the veneration he deserves. I didn't interpret it that way.

Warby was scudding across the dam at about 250 knots, you see, when suddenly he came upon the wash created by "some clown" in a humble motor boat, and had to slow down or kill himself, thus aborting the record attempt.

Warby's furious team descended upon the good folk of the Blowcring Boat Club and a delicious row ensued between two entirely different races of human beings. In a way I don't know that I have ever enjoyed anything that I have ever seen on television as much as I enjoyed that.

We missed the first fusilade from Warby and his camp but it is my guess that it did nothing to endear them to the Blowering Boat Club. The latter folk seemed peculiarly unimpressed by Warby and entirely lacking in contrition. Some of them even seemed to resent the fact that his brutal great galleon should be let loose on the dam at all.


"This is the co-operation you get", bellowed one of Warby's men. "He puts his life on the line ... etc, etc".

It was a confrontation between the Warby obsession-religion" and the Blowering Boat Club's hobby. Trial by television. Wonderful stuff! Fanatics versus the laconic. One of the eternal confrontations of mankind. I hoped they'd show it .again in action replay but they didn't.

I was on the side of the weekend boaters. Not only had they to contend with these weirdos, one of them buzzing across the dam in a torpedo, but also with an army of television people, all intent on capturing them and their sins to show to an audience of millions when all they had wanted was a quiet afternoon up in the mountains. What a shock!

And anyway Warby eventually got his record, so no great harm was done. And wasn't his Mum pleased!