Site of 1964 World Water Speed Record – Dumbleyung, Australia - Atlas Obscura
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Dumbleyung, Australia

Site of 1964 World Water Speed Record

Australia's Dumbleyung Lake facilitated the first daredevil who ever broke both the land and water speed record in the same year. 

Dumbleyung is a small farming community in Western Australia that gained worldwide interest in 1964 when Donald Campbell broke the world water speed record on Dumbleyung Lake at 276.33 mph (444.71 km/h).

Campbell was known as the “Speed King,” having broken seven world water speed records between July 1955 and December 1964. This time, he was after an elusive “double,” breaking two world speed records in one calendar year. He had already set the world land speed record on Lake Eyre on July 17th, 1964 at 403.10 mph (648.73 km/h), and was now going after the world water speed record. His team attempted to break the record on Lake Bonney near Barmera, S.A., however with the weather and physical limitations of the lake only an Australian record was made at 216 mph (347kph) on 23 November. A national call was made for a new location, and the team moved their efforts to Dumbleyung Lake.

The community came together to assist with Campbell’s runs, including the relocating of debris and ducks from the water to ensure a smooth path for Campbell’s boat, the Bluebird. The wind yet again proved a challenge, making the double record seem all but impossible. However finally, on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve that year, as Campbell and others were flying over the lake, the wind suddenly dropped. With one last attempt, at 3:43 pm, Campbell made two runs with an average of 276.33 mph (444.71 km/h). Campbell had unbelievably achieved his record on the last day of the year, giving him two world speed records (land and water) in one calendar year. Although both individual records have since been broken, the ‘“double” is a feat that has not been achieved since.

The world water speed record has an 85% mortality rate, and Campbell later tragically died on Coniston Water in the United Kingdom trying to break his own record.

Dumbleyung Lake is now predominantly dry more often than not these days, however, it is still a stunning and fascinating spot which is home to birds and other wildlife. It fills up every few years and has a rich natural and cultural history. A unique granite memorial to Campbell’s achievement was created by the local community and placed on nearby Pussycat Hill. The memorial allows the sun to shine through an aperture at the exact moment of the record on December 31st each year, projecting a sun ray onto a scale brass plaque of the Bluebird on the lake.

The town of Dumbleyung will soon be home to a full-sized replica of Donald Campbell’s boat, Bluebird, to be ready for the 50th anniversary of his run in December of 2014, as well as a visitor’s centre to showcase these incredible achievements.

Know Before You Go

Turn off the Wagin-Dumbleyung Road at the sign for Pussycat Hill for a fantastic vantage point over the lake. The granite memorial can be found at this location.

More information can be found at the Dumbleyung Shire or at the Visitor Centre which is coming soon on the main street.

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