The Avon Descent is a 133 km, two day boat racing event that takes place
on Western Australia’s Avon River in August, each year.
The event was established in 1972, when a group of Northam residents tested the feasibility of a power boat and
canoe river race from Northam to Bayswater by taking a dinghy down the Avon River. Though the boat became wedged between
rocks 35km downstream, the following year the first official running of the Avon Descent began at Northam.
The event attracted 49 entries of which only 23 finished. Word soon spread about the exciting and difficult
water course and the next year saw 139 teams enter of which only 63 finished.
Today the Avon Descent is Australia's biggest whitewater classic event and
attracts over 800 contestants each year from around the world. It is considered to be one of the toughest
river races in the world. In the early years of the event there were no rules or safety regulations and people
went down the river in anything that could float, including homemade rafts and rubber inner tubes.
Today, however, there are strict safety rules and regulations which include a compulsory swimming
test. There has only been one fatality in the history of the event. The first leg of the race begins at a concrete
chute at the weir at Northam.Historically this starting line has claimed many victims, however a concrete chute was
built in 2003 to make the start less hazardous.
As the race proceeds entrants must face hazards which include tea trees, rapids, meter drops and
rocks. In some years fog has reduced visibility to less than 10 meters making the descent even more hazardous. Day
one ends at Cobblers Pool where all entrants camp overnight in a paddock along the river bank. The second day sees
the contestants shoot the rapids at Bells Falls and wind their way through the rocks to the finishing line at
Guildford on the Swan River. The event sees all types of craft from speed boats to Kayaks to rubber dinghies.