Neil Oatway says it was four years ago that he got conned into taking on the job of promoting the Aquafest. “This media stuff; I’ve had no experience and I’m still trying to get the hang of it,” he adds.
Yet, when you meet this bloke you’ve got to love him because of his honesty. No airs or graces, just peeling off the words as they come. And believe it, his passion for this fabulous annual event run so well by the Goolwa Aquatic Club is so amazing he sells it like no other.
In his own way, this spritely 73-year-old captures your imagination about the thrill of speedboats; the real people behind these amazing machines. And for the record, the Aquafest on April 9-10 is not a race. “It’s a spirited demonstration,” he insists. “There are no trophies or times recorded, and the insurance companies have been told.”
Neil’s thirst for speed is ferocious.
“I have been around fast boats a long time now,” he said. “I used to ride passenger in them because back in them days you always had one in the back to keep the prop in the water.
“The adrenalin rush for me comes from my dad who raced motor bikes. He had his own Norton and he used to swing in his sidecar for his mate down Rowley Park Speedway. Every Friday night as a kid I was there in my chair watching my old man. Gee they were good days.
“At 16 I had my first car. At 17 I had my first V8, a big Customline (Ford V8). I was a first-year apprentice mate, earning five quid a week and mum took two quid off me for board. I could afford to have one tank of fuel per week.
“If you like fast cars you’ve got to have a love for going quick on water. Who hasn’t? With speedboats you can go fishing in them, go water skiing or you can go racing… it’s the thrill of going fast in the water.
“It’s so skilful to manipulate a corner at high speed. It’s exhilarating, and it’s challenging especially when there are four or five boats side-by-side heading for the first buoy with no brakes.
“There is a great culture in speedboat racing. They’re just knockabout blokes like me. It’s like motor racing… you get men’s men; you know what I mean… you don’t get solicitors racing. They’re hard-working blokes who like going fast and then having a beer. But hey, they play it very safe on land. It’s all good.
“I hate to say this, but we’re a dying breed. The costs are unbelieveable. It was always getting expensive to race; everyone has always wanted to go faster so they put in bigger engines, but that side of it has dropped off a bit.
“They had a ripper race meeting at Berri a few weeks back where they had these BAD boats – that’s Blown Alcohol Displacement – and they had supercharged 2000 HP engines. The fastest one was 151 mph – and I mean miles. Big dollars to run that event.
“The Adelaide Speedboat Club may have 10 events a year. When I was a kid they had one a fortnight. It’s all about cost; it’s huge.
“I was a member of the club when it raced at Snowden’s Beach down at Outer Harbour, and blokes like Dick Traeger were legends there. He’ll be racing here in a boat called The Sting, and he still holds two Australian records he set driving this speedboat back in 1971.”
Neil genuinely believes our Aquafest is a great event, and leaves nothing to imagination when he says it is a vital revenue stream for the Aquatic Club.
“The event is good for Goolwa,” he said. “Last year the crowd was magnificent with 8000 people here over the two days. If the weather is good the people will come and the boaties will go fast in the calmer water. Gee mate, when they come down the river at 140mph it’s unbelieveable. Blokes will come out the woodwork to see that.
“We spend up to $6000 putting on this event, which is not bad for a not-for-profit mob. We can’t charge for people to get in because there is no fencing. It’s a good community event and we make our money out of sponsorship to help us out. We run a bar in the Aquatic Club below, plus we do a few sausage sizzles and I’ll do hamburgers again.
“This is all something that I am so passionate about if you hadn’t guessed (we had) so I help them. There are 10 of us on the committee and the other blokes also have a job to do and they all do it well, my word they do.
“The Aquafest is a gathering of speed boats, and it’s an opportunity to compete out on the water in a controlled event. They have raced boats here at the Aquatic Club since 1959, and when we ran out of water that finished it; everything stopped.
“So five years ago after the water came back they built this huge extension here and brought the boats back for our first Aquafest on opening day. It was so successful we decided we’d run another one and then another one and so on.
“Some of boats are capable of going 150mph, others can go 70 or a 100mph, and we put them in categories.
“We have a set course, we have a starting boat, and an officer of the day from the Adelaide Speedboat Club who runs the day. We have a diver in case a boat goes down; we have the Sea Rescue guys and they also control the river so no one outside goes on our water.
“The blokes come down here on the Saturday and set a course, and we stick to that. The big day is the Sunday. We have the flyovers with the old Tiger Moths and a Spitfire. The crowd just loves them.
“We’ve got the hot rods that the blokes are bringing down from Adelaide and the new hot rod club at Victor Harbor is bringing some. The classic and vintage club run a few cars here too along the lawns.
“We’d like this day to be even bigger, but we are restricted as to how many boats we can fit in the car park. We started off with 30 boats, and it’s got bigger every year. Last year it was 38.
“I’ll get shot if I don’t mention our great sponsors including Murdoch Insurance Brokers, Moritz Marine, Adelaide Turbo Services, Victor Motorcycles, Kies Home Hardware, D&D Mechanical & 4WD, South Coast Marine, Goolwa Camping & Tourist Park, and City Discount Tyres.
“Did I tell you we’ve got a hirdy-girdy thing and a bouncy thing for the kids and stalls?”
Neil is a great character, alright, and he has character. And he does an amazing job promoting this “spirited demonstration”. We need more blokes like him.