Port Lincoln gives a toss for its fish throwing tradition

Fish don’t fly. Or do they?

Once a year in Port Lincoln, tuna can be seen hurling through the air for the town’s annual Tunarama – Australia’s longest running regional festival.

The Port Lincoln Tunarama will unfold this long weekend and organisers say enthusiasm for the three-day event isn’t dampening anytime soon.

About 15,000 people are expected to descend upon the Eyre Peninsula from January 26-28 to celebrate the festival and its highlight event – the tuna toss.

Tossing a tuna into the air is no easy feat. The world record is 37.23m.

Port Lincoln local Barb Davies is the Tunarama Festival’s committee treasurer and office volunteer.

She marched in the first Tunarama Festival parade in 1962 at the age of 10 and says the event continues to entertain thousands of people 56 years later.

“The whole foreshore will fill up and the town usually doubles in size,” Barb says.

“Tourists stay in nearby Coffin Bay, Tumby Bay and Cummins – people stay all over the place, so it’s a huge boost for the town and everybody benefits.”

The Tunarama Festival aims to highlight the significance of the tuna industry and features a schedule of other quirky traditions including the salmon and prawn toss, prawn peeling contests and sheep shearing competitions.

The tuna toss sees strong contenders hurl fish across the foreshore lawns in a similar style to hammer throwing.

While whole frozen tuna were originally used in the event, polyurethane replicas were introduced in 2008 to ensure seafood supplies weren’t wasted.

The tuna toss is only one aspect of the Tunarama.

Barb says competition is fierce among contenders.

“It becomes quite competitive, and we’ve had a father and son duo compete in previous years – Michael and Levi Proude,” she says.

“A lot of the time it only comes down to inches of difference.”

The world record is 37.23m set by former Olympic hammer thrower Sean Carlin in 1998.

Despite its popularity, the Tunarama hasn’t been without its hurdles as last year the future of the event was in doubt.

But Barb says the community banded together to support the event and the benefits it brings to the region.

“This year we’re back on track,” she says.

“The amount of people who have come out of the woodwork to help has been great.”

The keg roll is another of the festival’s quirky activities.

The Port Lincoln Tunarama Festival dates back to 1962 as a celebration of the local fishing industry – the largest in Australia.

The event comprised a ‘blessing of the fleet’ from a local priest to bring a safe and promising season.

The event also included a parade and Ambassador Quest where local women would line up in hope of being crowned Miss Tunarama.

The beauty aspect of the quest faded and today the contest focuses on the contender’s ability to represent their town and develop personal growth.

Men were also included in the quest.

Despite the many traditions of the festival, it’s the tuna toss that has attracted the most attention, with contestants travelling from Japan to take part.

Thousands of people line the Port Lincoln foreshore for the event, which includes the popular plywood boat making contest.

The tuna tossing act itself pays tribute to the men who would unload the tuna from boats in the port by hurling them off the deck and onto trucks.

Barb has called Port Lincoln home for all her life and says it’s an “amazing place”.

“I went to the same school my father went to and now my kids and their kids are going there too,” she says.

“We have beautiful beaches and it’s a great, safe place to grow up.”

“My husband was a prawn fisher for 40 years and my son is in the oyster industry.

“Fishing has been the backbone of this town.”

For more information about the Port Lincoln Tunarama Festival visit the Facebook page.

Check out this compilation of Port Lincoln tuna tossing from the ’80s – 2010.

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