The sport of dragon boating has given a group of country breast-cancer survivors and their supporters a new social outlet.

Story By Jenet Stewart

There's a brisk, chilly winter breeze on the Macquarie River in Dubbo in the Central West of New South Wales. Stagnant fog hangs above the water as far as the eye can see and the silence of the river is broken only by a group of ducks fighting on the foreshore and the occasional screech of white cockatoos nesting in the grand old river gums above.
Soon, though, a four-wheel-drive emerges over a distant riverbank, towing a long thin trailer with an unusually shaped boat. Following is the sound of laughter and incessant chatter from a large group of women and one man hurrying behind the boat and trailer.
It’s the Orana Dragon Boat Club – they’ve arrived at the river’s Sandy Beach, the launching pad area of their dragon boat Fay Reay, named after a club member who passed away. It’s 7am as the team unloads the boat into the cold water. Each person is called up to take his or her position on board, while a couple stay behind to help push the boat in. A call comes from John Holliday, the sweep, who sits at the end of the boat directing the crew. “Paddles up,” he calls and every oar is held high above each paddler’s head. He then gives another quick call and the paddlers are off on their training run up and down the Macquarie River.
The Orana Dragon Boat Club began in 2005. The driving force behind getting the club up and running was breast-cancer survivor Prue Blanche, who placed an ad in a local newspaper for expressions of interest. Louise Martel, a current member of the club, remembers seeing the ad and recalls that, “Prue had a dream of initially starting Dragons Abreast, a dragon-boat team for breast-cancer survivors”. Louise, a breast-cancer survivor herself, decided she should get involved and support Prue in her quest. Louise has been with the club ever since and loves the diverse group of people she paddles with.
Fellow member Graeme Board is also a breast-cancer survivor. (Less than one percent of all breast cancers are found in men.) Graeme and sweep John are the only two active male members.
“I enjoy paddling with the crew,” Graeme says. “It’s a sport where you don’t have to be a super athlete, you just have to paddle. You don’t even have to use your legs! It’s a great team environment. There are dominant and not so dominant paddlers, with people from very diverse parts of the community. There are nurses, accountants, school teachers … I’m a stock and station agent.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #72

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2010