In 1972 the Northam Tourist Committee examined the feasibility of a power boat and canoe race from Northam to Perth along the Avon River. A survey run was made by four men (John Izzard, Ron Bairstow, Rob Leslie, and Gerry Post) who proved that a race was possible little knowing the impact their pioneering expedition would have on the leisure and sporting activities of thousands of Western Australians.
Plans were formulated for a race that incorporated power boats in 6 h.p. and 8 h.p classes and a wide range of one and two man paddling classes from kayaks and Canadian canoes to surf skis. The race was formulated as a two day event with competitors racing against the clock in car rally style.
The inaugural Descent in 1973 attracted 54 entries of which 23 teams finished. A “blow out” at the Northam Weir shot competitors away and made for an exciting start.
139 teams entered in 1974 and even though the river level was high only 63 finished. The Avon Descent was fast developing a reputation as being a tough event.
The race was shortened in 1975 due to low water with the start being at Katrine Bridge. Heavy overnight rain aided competitors for the second day’s racing.
In racing terms the water level in 1976 was extremely low, causing the Start to be moved to Posselts Ford which is even further downriver than the current overnight stop.
In 1977 350 teams started, again from Posselts Ford, and it was an indication of the ruggedness of the course that only 94 made it to the finish.
High water and a Northam start in 1978 saw new race records created for both the number of entrants and the time taken to complete the course.
The Committee resolved to start all future Descents from Northam regardless of the river conditions but in 1979 low water forced a complete Stage of Day One to be deleted. The Event that year proved to be more of an equipment wrecking exercise than a race.
Low water again in 1980 and the Avon Descent once again confirmed its reputation as the toughest and most demanding river race in the world. The toll of entrants was devastating with only 13% of the field crossing the finish line.
1981 saw record water levels and the race record fell. The finish was moved to Hinds Reserve, Garratt Road, Bayswater.
1982 was the 10th anniversary of the Avon Descent and attracted a record number of entries.
The river rose to a dangerously high level in 1983 and the Event looked like being postponed as little as two days before the start. The flood conditions made for exhilarating racing and records toppled in all classes.
Over 700 entrants competed in the 1984 Avon Descent in ideal conditions ? yet only 50% finished. The river is never beaten.
Late rains saved the 1985 Avon Descent from being a disastrous repeat of 1979 conditions. Another record number of entries
Heavy fog delayed the start of the 1987 race. Visibility was less than 10 metres. Conditions at Extracts worsened after the start of the race.