Champion goanna puller calls quits
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," Mr Phillips said.
"I'd never even heard of goanna pulling before."
Imaginations 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, Mr Philips is a big man.
Even back when he was smaller, he wasn't little.
"When I was 12 I was already a foot bigger and a foot wider than anyone else my age," Mr Phillips said.
"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, Mr Phillips 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 sec- ond most other years.
This year, the 37-year-old 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," said the former champion and now goanna pulling expert.
While Mr Phillips 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 Mr Horne, 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 every- where and you have to continuously tell people what's happening.
"You can't stop and leave people wondering what's going on."
The 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 Mr Horne is quiet is the day after the festival.
"Yes, after talking into a microphone for six-odd hours straight, I always lose my voice and can't talk the next day," he said.
Over the years, Mr Horne 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.
What: 26th Australian National Goanna Pulling Championships
When: Sunday, September 30 (long weekend) from 9am
Where: Wooli Sports Ground
Includes: The day's events and activities include goanna pulling, sprint races, brick carrying, woodchop, market and food stalls, giant Ferris wheel, dodgem cars, bungee trampoline, rock-climbing wall, various children's races and Old McDonald's baby animal farm