The word “Gumi” is the Pidgin English word for [rubber] inner tube, also became a byword for ingenuity, engineering genius and at times just good old ‘rat cunning’!
Organised entirely by the Central Wagga Lions Club, the inaugural Gumi Raft Race was staged in March 1976, with competitors sailing from Eunony Bridge (Brick Hill Reserve) to the Wiradjuri Reserve. A total of sixteen rafts took to the water during this first race, and they were to launch a Wagga leisure tradition that would last until 1995. At the height of its popularity, the Gumi Race drew international competitors, hundreds of entrants and crowds of spectators lined the route.
The Race was divided into 8 categories including: Junior Single, Junior Team, Women’s Team, Single Event, Gumi Team, Business House Team, Service Club Event and Best Decorated Families, friends, neighbours, sporting clubs and business firms were pitted against each other, all in the name of fun.
The World Championship Gumi Race was part of the larger Wagga Wagga Gumi Festival. The Festival usually ran for a week and featured events included the Gumi Street Parade where Fitzmaurice and Baylis Streets came alive with colour and activity. Many of the floats and displays were created by Wagga businesses and community groups. The floats were judged and prizes awarded. In 1984, prizes were awarded in 7 categories: Best Decorated Gumi, Best School Float, Most Humorous Float, Best Business House Float, Best Out of Town Float, Best Decorated Window Display and Best Sporting Club Float.
Gumi photo competitions were also run, and the Miss Gumi Queen Quest, crowning of the Gumi King and Gumi Festival Balls were also enjoyed by the community. In 1985, a carnival in Bolton Park was held at the finish of the Street Parade and it featured a Competition Bed Race with a first prize of $75 and a $25 consolation prize.
Other events during the history of the festival were the Gumi Festival Marathon Canoe Race, the Gumi Aquathon at Lake Albert and the Gumi Twilight Tennis Tournament.
Sadly the days of the Gumi have passed… but they will never be forgotten. The Gumi Race ended due to insurance, environment and health and safety issues.
In 2011 the Gumi Race returned to the Murrumbidgee River where 110 Gumi's of all shapes and sizes "cruised down the river". South Wagga Apex Club, organisers of the event were thrilled with the result and are hopeful that it will bring the same enjoyment and fun to spectators and participants that it experienced in its heyday.