Northam rises to occasion for world hot-air ballooning championships


Northam has hosted national ballooning competitions before, such as this one in 2015, but the Women’s World Hot Air Ballooning Championships will be the town’s first international championship. Photo credit: Shire of Northam

The skies over WA’s Wheatbelt will soon be filled with dozens of colourful hot-air balloons as two major competitions come to the town of Northam.

Northam will host the Australian National Ballooning Championships in August this year and the Women’s World Hot Air Ballooning Championships in 2023.

Tourism Minister David Templeman said the two events would draw a combined 29,000 visitors and inject $3 million into the local economy.

Northam Shire president Chris Antonio said he was elated when Northam Ballooning Events’ bid for the World Championship was successful.

“It was absolutely fantastic … I was quietly confident that we were going to win, but it’s a coup,” Cr Antonio said.

The World Championships were originally planned for later this year but had to be postponed because of COVID-19.

It is the first time they will be held in the Southern Hemisphere.

Last month the National Championships were arranged to take their place.

“[Two events] is a great, great outcome for the locals,” Cr Antonio said.

“Postponing ended up being a bonus … a lot can go back into the local economy.”

A range of community events will run alongside the competitions, including a reprise of the popular “Balloon Glow” light show that has taken place in previous years.

“I think [Balloon Glow] is better than the Australia Day Skyworks [in Perth]. You get heavy metal music and the beautiful colour of the balloons, just popping out in time with the music,” Cr Antonio said.

Northam Ballooning Events operations manager Gren Putland said each event would require competitors to fly around a course within set distance and time limits, scoring points for how accurately they can fly to targets.

Mr Putland said the National Championships would select Australian representatives for both the Men’s and Women’s World Championships.

The successful women will likely return to Northam in 2023 for the World Championships.

Hot-air ballooning has taken place in Northam since the 1960s.

“We’re the friendliest [ballooning] location in Australia and the most suited to competitions, no doubt about that,” Mr Putland said.

“It’s due to topography … rivers run every which way, producing local [wind] effects that can be used in the competition.”