The Jacaranda Raft Race in 1981. Phil Johnston is keen to bring them back.
The Jacaranda Raft Race in 1981. Phil Johnston is keen to bring them back.

Putting new life into Jaca festival

THE newly elected Grafton Jacaranda Festival president Phil Johnston literally has a 'raft' of new ideas to help rejuvenate the 80-year-old festival this year, including revisiting some of the long forgotten events.

Mr Johnston said he was passionate about revitalising the festival and keen to see events like the river raft races and bathtub derbies back on the agenda.

"I'd love to see river events like those again as well as a sailing regatta and kayak races. Any water- related activity would great. The Clarence is an under utilised river and council are really keen to support this."

Mr Johnston said he had spent the past few months talking to committee members and businesses to get a feel of what people wanted. And while he didn't expect everything to come off this year, there was one thing he was aiming to improve in his first year as president.

"I'm determined to increase the numbers of out-of-town visitors to the festival. We will be targeting the Grey Nomads and Motorhome Clubs direct and travel agents for coach packages. Years ago we had busloads of visitors here for Jacaranda but not so much anymore."

Mr Johnston said the committee wanted to make Jacaranda a full 10-day festival so people were encouraged to stay longer by offering more attractions for visitors to enjoy.

"You can't keep putting on the same things each year so combining the traditional events with some newer ones is what we want to achieve."

Other ideas floated by Mr Johnston include a wine and food event, professional buskers, roving high profile entertainer, who would make appearances at various venues throughout the 10 days and more family orientated events. The committee will also be rejuvenating their social media presence and festival website.

"We are keen to create a real carnival atmosphere. We could have the greatest festival in the country but we need businesses, visitors and locals to come out and support it."

Nominations for Jacaranda Queen candidates are now open. With one young lady already putting her hand up (and officially announced shortly), Mr Johnston is also keen to see the number of entrants increase to mirror competitions from years gone by when there were eight or more girls vying for the title.

Mr Johnston emphasised the competition was not a beauty but more an ambassadorial role, and the Jacaranda Committee would offer their full support to all candidates.

"We already have four fundraising events planned to help take the pressure off the candidates including a trivia night, Christmas in July function and the ball of course."

Mr said he encourages all businesses to get involved and sponsor a candidate and would be happy to come along personally and talk about the benefits.

Interested sponsors or candidates can phone Phil on 6644 6105 or 0488 446 105.

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