The Tunarama Festival was devised by the burghers of the town that describes itself as “The Seafood Capital of Australia”, Port Lincoln on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. In November 1961, the secretary of the organising committee, Brian Hurrell, told the local newspaper that “The object of Tunarama is to project the tuna industry, and to make known – throughout the State and Australia – the many attractions of Port Lincoln and Boston Harbour”.
The festival was to run annually – and did so for 60 years. The tuna fishing industry had been established in Port Lincoln since the mid-1950s and the first festival was sponsored by the local cannery, SAFCOL. The first festival, in January 1962, opened with a sail past of decorated boats, led by the tuna fleet. A pageant with decorated floats, brass bands, marching girls and members of the town’s sporting associations moved along the foreshore, with other attractions including a dance fiesta, the Maid of Tuna contest, the blessing of the fleet and a re-enactment of explorer Matthew Flinders’ landing. The first festival was opened by the South Australian Premier, Thomas Playford.
It was nearly two decades before one of the more eccentric events of the festival began: the Tuna Toss. According to the Port Lincoln Times, this was first held in 1980. (Although some sources claim it began in 1979.) One of the inaugural participants was the South Australian Minister for Agriculture, Mr Ted Chapman, who opened the competition. He even won the first heat, but had to be content with coming second in the finals when he hurled the 15lb (6.8kg) tuna 45 feet 2 inches (around 15 metres). The winner was the local school principal who won with a throw of 53 feet 10 inches (16.4 metres).
Originally, a fresh tuna was used for the competition. However, in 2008, a weighted, plastic tuna was substituted, at least for the heats. For the finals, a 9 or 10-kg frozen Southern Bluefin Tuna was used, with a rope handle threaded through its gills. The record for the longest throw is held by Australian Olympic hammer thrower, Sean Carlin, who threw 37.23 metres in 1998.
Tunarama made a come-back in 2023 after a two-year gap during COVID-19. However, later that year, the organising committee announced that it would not be held in 2024 owing to problems with sponsorship. At the time of writing, the future of the festival is in doubt. Which means Sean Carlin’s tuna toss record may never be challenged.