A 77-year-old retired draftsman in Cairns cleared that one up for me, explaining that back in Kuala Lumpur in 1938, a casual group of British colonial officers and expatriates began meeting on Monday evenings to run, in a fashion patterned after the traditional British paper chase, to rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend.
The 77-year-old, who can only be known as ‘Meatballs’ in this story for reasons to be explained later, also told me that after meeting for some months, the men were informed by the Registrar of Societies that as a "group," they would require a constitution and an official name.
"Hash House Harriers" was chosen, in homage to the Selangor Club Annex, where the men were billeted, nick-named the "Hash House" for its notoriously monotonous food. (The final word, "Harriers," refers to the role of those in the chase, where the "hare" was given a head start to blaze a trail and mark his path with shreds of paper, and then pursued by a shouting pack of "harriers.")
Extensive research on Wikipedia further revealed that apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and finding the "true" path, harriers reaching the end of the trail would be rewarded with beer, lots of beer, a fact which Meatballs happily confirmed.
And so began the group which has in the past seventy years expanded into a global phenomenon.
Is it a secret men’s society?
No, because women are welcomed, although they tend to be outnumbered by men three-to-one.
It has been referred to more creatively as a ‘drinking club with a running problem’ by some of its proud members. And it is secretive. In fact, while interviewing three of the Cairns Hash House Harrier’s oldest members, I was cautioned that if I was to be privileged with learning their ‘Hash names’ I was under no circumstances to reveal their actual names in the same story.
“That would earn me a down-down during The Circle at my next Hash” says ‘Superstork’, who despite my pleading would reveal no more information unless I promised to join my local Hash for a run the following Monday.
But what is a down-down? And what is The Circle? In fact, while conducting my interviews I discovered an entire vernacular of strange words for which I turned to my trusty dictionary – aka Wikipedia – to decipher.
The facts as they were revealed to me are such:
- Hash House Harriers is a non-centralised global network of local running clubs
- Membership is open to absolutely anyone who wants to go along on a Monday night for a social run – or even just a walk, and members can attend weekly or whenever you can make it along, although the location of the (average 6km) trail changes each week.
- The ‘paper-chase’ tradition has been modified somewhat so that members follow a chalked path which includes a number of false trails. This enables the ‘runners’ to run the entire path – doubling back when they reach the end of a false trail, while the ‘walkers’ get the benefit of those who have gone ahead, and avoid most false trails, generally ending up at the ‘true’ finishing line around the same time as those who have run the entire distance. It is then that The Circle begins, with club business, general camaraderie and plenty of down-downs.
“There’s no winners, just finishers,” Superstork says.
“This is not a place for machismo or bravado, and there are no tall poppies in The Hash,” he says.
“It’s about staying fit, having a laugh and a drink – you don’t have to drink beer – and getting to know a mob of good local people in your area.”
Superstork, Meatballs and Farcaknell have all been part of the Cairns Hash House Harriers since the 1970’s, when the club was first established in the region. During the years, Meatballs has completed more than 1000 Monday night runs – all in different locations around Cairns, and down-downed at least six times that many beers.
“Yeah, I’d probably average six beers during The Circle, while they were discussing club business,” Meatballs says.
“When Monday night came I just knew I had The Hash, so off I’d go, or I’d leave work early if I was chalking.”
Tradition holds that a different Hash member – aka ‘Hare of the Week’ – is nominated each week to ‘chalk’, or set the next week’s run. It’s also their responsibility to feed the members that come along on the run. (A different member is charged with ensuring beer is transported to the appropriate location).
A stroke a few years ago has limited Meatballs’ participation in The Hash to just a few times a year, but he’s still very much a member, and his fellow members Superstork and Farcaknell continue to meet weekly.
“I wouldn’t go out running every Monday if it wasn’t for The Hash,” Superstork says.
Superstork will be one of the ‘chalkers’ at the Cairns Aussie Nash Hash 2009, an event which has already received some 600 registrations from around Australia and the world. Superstork says some of the best memories are made at national and international Hashes, and has attended ‘Inter-hashes’ in Hong Kong “where the trail was chalked through the prisons”, China in 2006 “where we ran across rice paddy’s and people’s backyards – no one gave us any trouble for it so it must have been well organised”, and Cyprus, “where Chocolate Starfish (a popular music band) played – they were great”.
His favourite memory is of swapping t-shirts (another Hash tradition) with an Iranian man who during the 1970’s ran with a group of 50 Hash House Harriers every Monday night right under the eyes of the Shah’s martial law enforcers.
“Law at the time stipulated that you couldn’t meet with more than two people at a time – but all 50 Hash House Harriers used to run together with no problems,” Superstork says.
Perhaps the Shah himself was partial to a good Hash.
Beermeister: The person who supplies the beer, soda, water, and chips for the hash
Circle: Assembly of hashers at trail's end, normally for the purpose of conducting down-downs
Down-Down: The ceremony of quaffing a beverage (an honor)
False trail: A short trail ended with the Tee sign, three lines, or other mark indicating termination
Grand Master (GM): Mismanagement member, ceremonial leader of the hash
Grand Mistress (GM): Mismanagement member, female ceremonial leader of the hash
Hash Cash: Mismanagement member; the treasurer
Hash Horn: Mismanagement member; carries a horn or bugle on trail, blows it to encourage and guide the pack
Hashing: The act of running a hash trail
Horrors: Hashers' children
Kennel: Local Hash Group
Knitting Circle: Group of harriers or harriettes (usually the latter) who spend more time walking and talking than hashing
Mismanagement: Hash officials; sometimes elected, sometimes appointed
Hash Trash: Weekly hash newspaper mainly recounting the events of the last run, written by the Hare(s)
Who? Aussie Nash Hash
When? April 30 – May 2009
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