Rotary Club of Alice Springs: Hen­ley on Todd Dry Regatta

Exhibited by
Ben Eden-Davies
June 28, 2024
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Individual donors, companies, local groups
Type of Charity
Rotary Club
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
December 1962

SOFII’s view

‘Why let water get in the way of hosting a good boat race?’ - Ben Eden-Davies

In this case study, Ben Eden-Davies extols the virtues of a very clever Australian fundraising event that continues to stand the test of time. We agree that any fundraising campaign that is still going strong, raising money for good causes and growing after 60 years, is surely a concept worthy of admiration.

Creator / originator

Reginald George Smith (1926-2004). According to the Henley on Todd website, ‘Reg Smith was the creator of the Henley-On-Todd, a unique, mad-cap event, which had its inaugural regatta in December 1962.’


In 1962, members of the Rotary Club of Alice Springs met for a picnic at 16 Mile Creek. They had a few beers and chatted about how they could raise money for local charitable causes. Reg Smith, a former weather observer who had become active in the local community, came up with the idea of holding a waterless ‘regatta’ on the dry bed of the Todd River.

It’s been told that when others asked if they would tow or push the boats, Reg said, ‘Neither. We cut the bottoms out and carry them!’

Summary / objectives

The unique dry regatta is a great fundraising idea – and the event raises money from ticket sales and sponsorships.

Over the years, it has now grown to encompass more than just the regatta itself. It’s a full family affair. There is a street parade, followed by a range of both individual and team events, like the kayak races – done ‘Flintstone style’ on the sand.

You can watch a clip of a team race, below:

Children have the chance take part in the lolly scramble, and there’s also a human hamster wheel. And you wouldn’t want to forget the famous the budgie smuggler run!

The finale is a battle of three motorised ships with water cannons and coloured flour ‘bombs’, where the crowd determines the winner.

In fact, the fundraising success of the event has grown so much that now the event features corporate partnerships – with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) sponsoring one of the ships in the finale!

Special characteristics

This fundraising event is made possible by not only the three rotary clubs that are now involved, but by plenty of dedicated volunteers. Selected volunteers, who have made a big impact on the regatta are even chosen to be part of ‘Henley’s Heroes’ – which is a wonderful way to recognise those within the event team who have gone above and beyond in their role.


Not only is this event entertaining, but it’s also the primary fundraiser for Rotary clubs in Alice Springs, having raised over AU$2 million throughout its history.

The funds raised have gone toward local schools, setting up bursaries, as well as supplying vital equipment for children’s hospitals and cancer units. They’ve also supported a number of international programmes too.


This unique event has taken place every year (except during the Covid-19 pandemic) and continues to be a world-famous tourist attraction. It raises vital funds for charitable causes – even over 60 years on from Reg’s single, great fundraising idea.

It has attracted huge media coverage within Australia and globally. People now travel from all over the world to participate in one of Australia’s craziest sporting events. Plus, it’s still the one and only dry riverbed regatta!

Influence / impact

As fundraisers, it’s very easy for us to look over the fence and copy what everybody else is doing, we’re sometimes guilty of developing community fundraising ideas that only look good on a balance sheet – but won’t necessarily stand the test of time.

But the Henley on Todd Regatta is more than a silly idea. It’s a moment in the calendar that HAS had longevity.

It’s entertaining, it’s competitive, it’s audience-centric, it’s newsworthy. It develops great viral content that has cut through. Most importantly, it has raised millions of dollars for local causes.

So, if you’re a community fundraiser – get out there, work with your community groups and co-create. Because they are the ones that are going to turn a simple idea into a long-lasting event.

I Wish I’d Thought of the Henley on Todd Regatta, because the rising tide of a community lifts all boats.

Final notes

The next Henley on Todd Regatta is on August 17th, 2024 so if you’re local to the event, click here to find out more about the many events on the day.

IMAGES: ©Shutterstock/see individual credits in image captions

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Alice Springs, Australia Northern Territory – the home of the Henley on Todd Dry Regatta. Photo © Morgane LAVIEC/Shutterstock
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Competitors in the Racing 8s event on the Todd River, August 21, 2010 in Alice Springs, Australia. The Henley-On-Todd Regatta event is the only dry boat race in the world. Photo © Lauren Cameo/Shutterstock
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Spectators in Todd Mall waiting for the beginning of the Henley-on-Todd Street Parade. Photo © Annalucia/Shutterstock