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When the gumboot’s firmly on the other foot

The Jaycees were champions – but in 1978, a new team from the Wairarapa Times-Age
upset the balance of power. The Wairarapa Archive’s MARK PACEY reviews the 1978 Gumboot Throwing Tournament.

Gumboot throwing, or “Welly Wanging” as it is known in England, can trace its origins back to the 1970s. It is thought to have first been played in the West Country and quickly became a popular carnival sport. It didn’t take long for the event to make its way to New Zealand.

It first seems to have been played in Masterton in 1977, when the Jaycees won a match against staff from radio station 2ZD in a showdown at Queen Elizabeth Park. The 1978 tournament would see these two rivals face off again. But, this time, there was a new team on the field: “Four hefty fellows from the Times-Age”.

The Times-Age team comprised of Bob Donnelly, Gordon Kinvig, Dave Nielsen, and Ivan McNicholl. These newcomers wanted to prove that it wasn’t just the outdoorsy Jaycees that could chuck a boot across a field.

The Jaycees team of Glen Sutherland, John Bunny, Geoff Tansley, and Lew Davis had a title to defend and were confident they could do it.

Not to be left behind, the 2ZD team of Roger Tonkin, Rex McKay, Barry Cook, and Jim van Issellroy also wanted to prove that they weren’t just voices on the airwaves: they were a physical force to be reckoned with.

The competition was straightforward. The team that made the greatest combined distance would be crowned the winner.

It was a close contest. The Jaycees showed that they were still a powerful team, with Glen Sutherland recording the longest individual throw of the competition.

All up, the Jaycees managed a respectable total distance between them, but would it be enough to maintain the title of Gumboot Throwing Champions?

The newspaper, in perhaps a slightly biased article, reported on the day’s event.

“The Times-Age team gained a combined distance of 92.3 metres in the best of three throw-offs. Miles behind came the Jaycee team with a distance of 91.7 metres.

The boys from the radio, making weak excuses throughout, struggled to finish with a distance of 88.9 metres.”

It’s a funny old world when 60 centimetres can be described as “miles” – but journalistic favouritism aside, the results were unimpeachable, and the Times-Age team were crowned as the undisputed 1978 Gumboot Throwing Champions.

For a year, the newspaper maintained bragging rights as gumboot champions.

However, it was inevitable that this clash of welly wangers would happen again – and, at the end of 1979, the defeated Jaycees would get their chance at revenge.

They had been planning their comeback for over a year and, on the day of the competition, had several cards up their sleeves to ensure a victory.

The Times-Age reported on the underhand tactics employed by the opposition. “Crude provocation”, “superior numbers”, “the introduction of various international professionals” and, worst of all, a claim that the Jaycees team “managed to suborn the judges and threaten the scorers into giving their team the nod”.

The results were not surprising. The Jaycees were crowned the victors, claiming back the trophy. The truth behind that darkest of wanging days may have been embellished and skewed by bitter journalists – but there was one honest, inspiring, and educational comment that was attributed to the individual champion of the third-placed 2ZD team, Tony Williams.

“Always let go of the boot when you throw. That’s my secret.”

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