Australia in mourning over death of speedboat legend Ken Warby

Known as the fastest man on water, Ken Werby's world record still stands today.

Ken Warby, pictured here after breaking the world water speed record.
Ken Warby has died at age 84 in America. Image: AAP/Getty

Australia is mourning the death of speedboat legend Ken Warby, known as the fastest man on water for his record-breaking feats. Warby died in the United States at age 84 this week after a short illness.

Warby first broke the world water speedboat record on November 20, 1977 on Blowering Dam - south of Tumut in NSW. He then broke his own record in the 'Spirit of Australia' on October 8, 1978, with a time of 511.11km/h (317.59mph).

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It was the first time anyone had broken the 300mph/500kmh barrier on water, and the first time an Australian held an unlimited speed record on land, water or air. The record still stands to this day, 45 years later.

"Ken was a fantastic man, he had a wonderful and charmed life," Warby's friend Bayden Gardem told the ABC. Close friend John Reid added: "He just had nerves of steel and he was just focused. It didn't matter what he did, whether it was racing vintage power boats at high speed, he just always went at it."

Warby was invited by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to take the 'Spirit of Australia' on a tour of the United States in 1980 to help promote Australia. He remained in America until his death.

"Everybody loved Ken in America. Unfortunately he suffered from tall poppy syndrome in Australia," Gardem said.

Ken Warby, pictured here with son David in 2003.
Ken Warby with son David in 2003. (Photo by LAURENT FIEVET/AFP via Getty Images)

In an interview with the ABC in 2016, Warby said breaking the speed record was the "pinnacle of his life". "It was quite amazing. In my wildest dreams I never thought that I would hold the record this long," he said.

"In fact, it was an easy run [that day]. With the power that we had in the engine at that stage, it was pretty much a walk in the park, and the boat behaved perfectly.

"It was a dream that I'd had since I was a teenager - of breaking the world water speed record, [so] to achieve it, that was the pinnacle of my life, it really, really was."

Ken Warby, pictured here with a model of the Spirit of Australia II in 1981.
Ken Warby with a model of the Spirit of Australia II in 1981. (Photo by Paul Murray/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).

Australia in mourning over death of Ken Warby

Warby had been working with son David on the 'Spirit of Australia II' in the hope that David could break the record again. "I've done my deal. I've proved what I set out to prove, done everything I've needed to do in the way of world water speed records … now's the time to sit back," he said in 2016 about David's attempt to break the record.

"There's no doubt I want David to break the record. The record should never live forever. As a matter of fact, I hoped early on that people would've broken my record, but nobody did.

"I'll be there to support him in every way that I possibly can and if he gets it, and when he gets, or [however] it turns out, I'll be a proud father, hell yeah."

'Spirit of Australia 2' is currently being tested on the Manning River at Taree, as well as on Blowering Dam. Team Warby Motorsport wrote on social media: "His knowledge and Australian sense of humour can never be replaced."

Warby was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1978 and was one of the first 200 inductees into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Tributes have been pouring in on social media.

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