In the spirit of Christmas I thought I’d share a unique Christmassy event I’ve had the pleasure to experience twice now: the Scotland Island Dog Race.
Every Christmas Eve in the late afternoon at Pittwater, north of Sydney, a motley collection of dogs and their owners assemble at Church Point, pay their entry fee of a tin of dog food and longneck bottle of beer, and jump onto a barge across to Scotland Island.
All sorts of breeds are represented – labradors, border collies, golden retrievers – along with a range of unidentifiable others.
On the shore at Church Point the Pittwater community gathers to meet, catch up and share Christmas good wishes over drinks and picnics. It’s one of the best community events I’ve been a part of. There’s a sense of spontaneity about it and an atmosphere of everyone enjoying themselves.
On the water, boats line the route the dogs and their owners will swim and paddle 500m-600m to return to the finish line back at Church Point.
On shore, looking across to Scotland Island, there’s little indication of when the race has begun. But after a little time, the figures of each dog’s owner on kayaks or surfboards, encouraging their dogs along, become clearer.
It’s then the excitement begins to build, as those on shore try to work out which dog is leading.
There’s plenty at stake. Will it be a local dog that wins? And if so, from which bay? Or will it be a ring-in from outside the area?
The last time I was there, in 2012, the winner was Slick, a big dog of indeterminate breed, who belonged to the son of one of the residents of our bay. So we claimed him and the celebrations for Slick continued when we returned to the bay.
Legend has it that the race began in the 1970s when two ferry boat captains raced their dogs from Scotland Island to the mainland. It’s grown since then to become one of the highlights of the year at Pittwater.