Reg Smith was the creator of the Henley-On-Todd, a unique, mad-cap event, which had its inaugural regatta in December 1962.
Earlier that year members of the Rotary Club of Alice Springs met for a picnic at 16 Mile Creek, where over a few beers they discussed ways to raise money for charity. Reg came up with the idea of holding a waterless ‘Regatta’ on the dry bed of the Todd River.
“Okay, what about the boats – do we tow them or push them?”
“Neither,” said Reg. “We cut the bottoms out and carry them!”
Reg was born in Oakleigh, Victoria, on Friday, 13 August 1926. He first came to Alice Springs in 1946 as a meteorologist after his discharge from the RAAF. Reg then went on to work for the Met Bureau on Heard Island in Antarctica as a weather observer for twelve months, Reg returned to Alice Springs in 1949 as a local weather observer. He met and married Pat in 1950.
The day was made even more special by the Todd River running a ‘banker’, stranding the flowers and food on the wrong side of the river. And, there was a beer shortage! Supplies had to be brought up from the William Creek pub, on the Oodnadatta Track, by rail.
He took over the Met house and the dog “Teddy” from fellow observer Murray Weaver at 86 Hartley Street (which incidentally is now heritage listed) Reg left the Met Bureau after eight years and joined Wal Mason at W. J. Mason Sales in 1959. Wal was a Alice Springs foundation Rotarian and Reg couldn’t be accepted under same category of occupation. He joined the Rotary Club of Alice Springs in 1962 when he became Manager of S. C. Eyles when they bought Wal out, and was President in 1965/66.
There is no doubt about Reg’s commitment to the Alice Springs community. In 1950, he compiled Alice Springs’ first tourist brochure, complete with map of outlying tourist attractions. In 1964 he was elected President of the newly formed Tourist Promotion Association. He was President of the Alice Springs Memorial Club (hub of the town’s social activities at that time) from 1959 to 1963, and was subsequently offered life membership but modestly declined.
He was also very active in local government, elected to the Town Management Board in 1966, Alderman on the Alice Municipal Council and Chairman of the Works Committee in 1970, and later appointed by the NT Government to the Town Planning Board.
It is for his contribution to Rotary however, that Reg will be remembered most. In 1984 he was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship for services to Rotary and the community.
Sadly, Reg passed away in 2004. However, we would like to believe that his spirit is resting peacefully in Davy Jones’ locker, which is located at the bottom of that mythical inland sea in the Simpson Desert. Let’s not forget that the waters that feed that sea flow deep below the surface of the sandy river bed on which we hold our annual regatta!
The Henley-On-Todd, recently officially declared an iconic event by the NT Government, is in its 54th year and continues to be a world famous tourist attraction.