Goanna pullers no longer need to face ‘Tank’ in 2012

By Micky Stuivenberg

A modified version of this article appeared in Clarence Valley newspaper The Daily Examiner, 19 September 2012

When he moved to Wooli back in 1995, Wayne ‘Tank’ Phillips didn’t need much convincing to have a go in the Goanna Pulling Championships – after finding out what it was, anyway.

“I’m from Melbourne,” says Wayne. “I’d never even heard of goanna pulling before.”

National Goanna Pulling Championships Wooli, NSW AustraliaImaginations tend to run wild when people first hear the term goanna pulling, with many breathing a sigh of relief when they discover no animals are involved.

After 25 years of hosting the Australian Goanna Pulling Championships in the picturesque seaside town of Wooli, most Clarence Valley residents know it’s a type of tug of war between two people on their bellies and a leather belt around their necks.

At 6.1ft and 145kg, Wayne Philips is a big man. Even back when Wayne was little, he wasn’t little.

“When I was 12, I was already a foot bigger and a foot wider than anyone else my age,” says Wayne. “I played AFL, and when I go hard, I go hard.”

His footie mates compared him to a German army tank, earning him the nickname ‘Tank’.

Not surprisingly, even without preparation, ‘Tank’ came second in the men’s heavyweight division that first time. Since then, he improved his technique and has taken out the title three times, finishing second most other years.

This year, 37-year-old Wayne has decided to hang up his hat – but not his whistle.

“I’ve been refereeing the championships for years as well, and I’m still doing that,” says the former champion and now goanna pulling expert.

While Wayne is refereeing, running commentary will be delivered by John Horne, the popular local MC who has called the event for all but four years since the titles were first held in 1985.

Talking to John, who knows just about everyone in town, it becomes clear why he’s a successful MC. As he himself points out: “I never stop talking. There are different events going on everywhere and you have to continuously tell people what’s happening. You can’t stop and leave people wondering what’s going on.”

The now 70-year-old walks to keep himself fit – and locals will confirm he talks (and talks), presumably to keep his voice in shape for the big event.

The one day in the year John is quiet, is the day after the festival. “Yes, after talking into a microphone for 6-odd hours straight, I always lose my voice and can’t talk the next day,” he says.

Over the years, John has seen the event transform from a casual contest between local boys into a family-friendly festival with the Australian Goanna Pulling Championships held on a specially built Goanna Mound, plus a host of other races and competitions for all ages.

“The sprints, brick carrying races, wood chop – they’re all great fun,” says John. “The kiddies all get bags of lollies for their prizes.”

Much more than a bag of lollies is at stake in the Goanna Pulling Championships, however. The Men’s Heavyweight Champion for example wins $500 in addition to the coveted Australian National Goanna Pulling Championship Belt.

Although they will need to pull plenty of strong men over the line by their neck in order to win, at least this year they won’t have to face that big guy with the intimidating name of ‘Tank’!

EVENT DETAILS (2012)

What:                   26th Australian National Goanna Pulling Championships

When:                  Sunday 30 September 2012 (October long weekend) from 9am

Where:                 Wooli Sports Ground, Wooli NSW

Website:               www.goannapulling.com.au

The day’s events and activities include goanna pulling, sprint races, brick carrying, woodchop, market & food stalls, giant ferris wheel, dodgem cars, bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, various children’s races and Old McDonalds baby animal farm

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