News

A Las Balsas party?

RAFT ANNIVERSARY: Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum volunteers Robert Jones and John Colville pictured last year with the Las Balsas raft on display in the museum.
RAFT ANNIVERSARY: Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum volunteers Robert Jones and John Colville pictured last year with the Las Balsas raft on display in the museum.

THERE is a possibility that a celebratory event will be held to mark this year's 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Las Balsas raft expedition in Ballina from Ecuador.

Ballina Shire Council in December agreed to a report being prepared on options to commemorate the anniversary.

This followed a report at the November council meeting on costs associated with the preservation of two other wooden vessels in the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum where the Las Balsas raft is housed, and costs of upkeep of the museum's building which needs to be re-roofed because of asbestos sheeting.

That report gave an option to councillors of "de-accession" or removal of the raft from the museum's collection, noting that it failed to meet heritage guidelines.

The councillors will meet at the museum for a workshop this month to further discuss those issues.

Cr Jeff Johnson raised the idea of a raft anniversary event in December, and his motion was supported unanimously.

"The unexpected arrival of the Las Balsas rafts in Ballina 39 years ago is something unique to Ballina and should be promoted as such," he said.

Ron Creber, curator of the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum where the Las Balsas raft is the centrepiece, welcomed the idea of a broader community celebration.

He said the volunteers at the museum were already discussing ways to mark the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the three rafts, and were keen to particularly get local schools and service clubs involved.

Owner of the tourism attraction Knockrow Castle, Tony Gilding, spoke in favour of the anniversary celebration. One of the promises he made as a Greens candidate at the last council election was to mark the occasion.

The three balsa wood rafts were crewed by 12 men of various nationalities, led by Spaniard Vital Alsar, and sailed across the Pacific with the prevailing winds and currents.

They aimed to sail the three rafts to Mooloolaba on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, where a previous expedition of one raft arrived in 1970.

But they were driven south by a strong southerly current, and arrived at Ballina on November 2, 1973, where two of the rafts were towed across the bar by the Royal Australian Navy landing craft HMAS Labuan and local trawlers.

The raft currently on show in the museum is built from those surviving two rafts.

The third raft, too water-logged to be towed, was set adrift and ended up washing ashore on a beach north of Newcastle.

The 12 men of the Las Balsas expedition had spent 178 days at sea.

A decade after the landing, a reunion was held in Ballina and three former crew members attended.



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