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History of Essendon Rowing Club

7. Recovery from the War 1920-29

The Clubhouse was opened on March 6th 1920 by the Mayor of Essendon, Cr. E.H. Kinnear. The Club was very appreciative of the great amount of support and help they received from the City Council which included the Clubhouse site, the free use of Queens Park for the fete and for providing cash prizes as incentives for the submission of designs for the layout of the Clubhouse - this was won by H. Hutchinson.

To open the season from the new Clubhouse, the 'Clarke and Watson' Fours were programmed for March 6th, the same day as the official opening. This race began all following seasons until the early years of the depression.

A special general meeting was called on April 20th 1920 in an effort to discover some means of boosting the Club's financial position. The suggestion of issuing debentures of £1.0.0 each, which would be repaid, interest free by means of a ballot was accepted. A new Amusement Committee was elected and proceeded to organize a concert in the Moonee Ponds Town Hall.

The first Annual General Meeting to be held in the new Clubhouse was held on September 4th 1920. An amendment to Rule 5 was passed due to the financial hardships being experienced, annual subscriptions had to be increased - full members 35/-, Honorary members a guinea and new members 27/6. Full members were the only oarsmen to compete in classifying regattas. Subscriptions had to be paid in full by January 1st, and if they weren't the guilty partys' name would appear on the notice board and were denied the use of the club facilities, of holding office and voting at meetings. C.W. Mears and N.S. Muir were nominated as permanent trustees of the new boathouse, a position both held until their deaths. Cr. E.H. Kinnear and Cr. W. Royle donated trophies to be awarded during the next season.

The new season saw Essendon victorious only in a few maiden events because the Club lacked senior ranked oarsmen; there was only one senior crew organized to compete. There were a few wins in Challenge races - the Hawthorn Challenge Fours on February 12th and the Challenge Fours at Henley on the Maribyrnong.

On December 7th 1920 four new practise boats were added to the fleet - two clinker fours christened "W. Birkenhead" (the club captain) and "N.S. Muir" (secretary) and two clinker pairs the "Ted Salamon" and "Ellis Middleton", after the first two soldier members killed in the Great War. The Essendon Rowing Club fleet was said to be “…at this stage one of the best in the State, consisting of one clinker racing eight, one clinker practise eight, one streak four, two clinker racing fours, two clinker racing pairs, four practise pairs and two practise sculling boats…”.

At the Annual General Meeting the revised club rules were adopted, one major change was the increase of Vice Presidents to seven. The new President was C.W.H. Mears taking that office from the retiring A.P. Watson, who was President since Alex McCracken, died in 1915. The first trophy for the Points competition was presented to Bert Weir.

The Clubhouse lighting was inadequate, which limited the use of the building. lt was decided, in August 1921, to install a Gloria Lighting Plant because the cost of electricity would prove to be too expensive.

The 1921-22 season was the Clubs most successful since World War 1. The Maiden Eight won at Nagambie, the Maiden Four at Barwon, the Junior Four at Sale. At the Preston Regatta the E.R.C. took away the Colenso and Buckan Cup by winning the Challenge Fours. Successes at Henley on the Maribyrnong came with the winning of the Hisken and Benwell Challenge Cup. At club level a Novice Pair competition was introduced. This was open to members who had never won a race. The Club, at this time was financially secure, due to the work done by the Social and Amusement Committees.

A complimentary social and dance was organized for November 26th 1921 to show the Club's appreciation to the ladies who assisted and conducted many stalls at the 1919 Garden Fete. The first picture night was held on November 8th, it was conducted by Mr. Les Stanley at the Moonee Ponds Theatre. It was decided that the Club should use the Theatre's billboard to advertise the opening of the new rowing season in an endeavour to entice new members.

Correspondence between the Club and the Council resulted in the signing of an agreement by the Club and it's trustees in which the Club was granted permissive occupancy of the site, subject to nominal payment of 1/- per oar.

At the inter-Bank Regatta on May 22nd 1922, the Bank of Australasia stroked by W.R. Fraser (E.R.C.) won and took the perpetual 'Henry Gyles Turner Trophy'.

Mr. McRae donated the Club's first fire extinguisher and the committee decided to procure a piano for the clubrooms - functions were run throughout the season to raise funds for this instrument. Their aim was to obtain one for less than £70, fortunately Mr. Cresswell guaranteed £50 to the Club and N.S. Muir offered to donate the piano case - both offers were gratefully received and a note of appreciation was entered in the minutes. The piano was then offered as collateral to the National Bank until the Club overdraft was met.

The Essendon Rowing club was notified that the premiership season would conclude with the V.R.A. Boxing Day Regattas. As a result of this Essendon altered their opening from November to August 1st. Consequently the rowing season was shortened but a record number of club races, 12 in all were contested.

A Clinker Racing Eight craft was purchased from the Xavier Rowing Club for £41.0.0 and became the "C.W.H. Mears" on November 11th 1922. This was the first time Essendon had approached another club to buy a second hand boat. Racing success came to the E.R.C. when they won the Hisken and Benwell Cup for the second year in succession at Henley on the Maribyrnong.

The first dance for the piano fund was held at the Clubhouse, a moderate profit was realized.

Through the Essendon River League, the Committee tried to maintain and improve the environs of their river; on December 6th, the Essendon City Council Town Clerk was contacted to have the Public Works Department remove the sandbank from the drain.

F.G. Wishart was nominated and accepted as a Life Member on August 15th 1923.

Rule 5 was amended to read "…The Annual subscription shall be £2.2.0 for full members and £1.1.0 for Honorary members, but a special reduced rate of £1.10.0 shall be paid by new members for the first season after joining''. A trophy was awarded, for the first time, to the most successful coxswain - the individual who coxed the greatest number of winning crews.

Fraser again stroked the Bank of Australasia to victory in the Inter-Bank competition.

The Club did not annex any points in the Senior and Junior races in the 1923/24 season, but was successful in the Challenge Four races at Preston and Henley on the Maribyrnong, Essendon won their third in succession entitling them to hold the Buchan - Colenso Challenge Cup and the Hisken and Benwell Cup respectively. W.R. Fraser stroked the Bank of Australasia to their third successive victory.

From September 11th the Points Trophy was donated by F.W. Hale; points were allocated as previously …"and each member credited with one point for attendance before 2.45 p.m. on the regatta day."

A Press Secretary was created within the club and this position was held by N. S. Muir who was to "maintain communication between the E.R.C. and the Essendon Gazette and other major Melbourne newspapers.”

As a result of negotiations with the S.E.C., the Gloria Plant was sold and the proceeds practically covered the cost of wiring the premises.

At the preliminary A.G.M. on August 14th it was decided to acquire a truck to transport boats to country regattas instead of sending them on the railways.

N. S. Muir resigned as Secretary; a position he held for 9 years. T. Mannix accepted the nomination. McRae withdrew his nomination for Treasurer and the position was filled by F.E. Parr.

During this season membership increased to 95. The fleet was in good condition except for the racing pair the “A.P. Watson" which was badly damaged when being taken off the railway truck on return from the Easter regattas. The Club acquired two new boats and a clinker pair was donated by Cr. G.J. Gilbertson, a patron of the Club.

Essendon won it’s second junior premiership during the 1924-25 season, the most impressive of these was made by the Junior Eight crew who won a double at the Ballarat and Barwon Regattas; on March 14th, this crew entered the Champion Eight (a first for the club and the crew) and “…undergoing no special preparation for the race, finished a credible fifth out of seven…”. The Club was successful at the Preston Regatta and won the Challenge Fours - the Colenso-Benson Cup. At Henley on the Maribyrnong Essendon won the Challenge pairs which carried with it the Benson Cup.

At the A.G.M. held July 23rd 1925, R.C. Breese was elected as a Life Member and it was decided to provide an Honour Board for Past Presidents and Life Members.

Rule 4 was amended to read …"The Rowing season of the Club shall commence on the July 1st in each year ….”.

The first Club Ball was held in the Moonee Ponds Town Hall on September 4th 1925.

Success was not widespread during the next season, though for the first time, the Club was prominently represented in Maiden, Junior and Senior events. The Victorious Junior crew was promoted to Senior ranks and this fraternity won two Senior Eight races - at the Melbourne Regatta and at Henley on the Yarra on October 24th 1925 which entitled the E.R.C. to hold the Grand Challenge Cup for the first time.

The Grand Challenge Cup

At the Sale Regatta on April 5, 1926 the Senior Pair gained second place; and the perpetual J.V. Gunst Cup was won in the Challenge Fours at Preston.

G.J. Adams, the captain of the club and who rowed No. 7 in the victorious Senior Eight was selected to row No. 2 in the Victorian Eight which finished a good third in the King's Cup Race.

1926 Victorian crew with G.J. Adams in two seat

N.S. Muir and W. Birkenhead were elected as Life Members at the A.G.M. on July 15th 1926, M.J. Cresswell became President and T.L. Mannix became captain. R.W. MacIntosh was elected Secretary. A vote of appreciation was extended to Morton Cresswell for the use of his speed launch to coach crews. The Treasurer reported a credit balance so the committee decided to build up the fleet to cater more comfortably for the increase in membership now 104. A practice eight was purchased and named "Arch Kelly" in memory of Lt. A. Kelly who died in World War One.

The Club suffered a terrible setback both competitively and financially when a disastrous fire broke out in the boathouse of Messrs James Edwards and Sons on October 21st 1926. Craft destroyed were a Best and Best Clinker Eight on loan from Footscray, a clinker eight, two clinker racing fours and two clinker racing pairs, 43 oars, two bicycles, tables and trestles and other miscellaneous training gear. The replacement value for this equipment was valued at £554 and as the insurance cover was only £360 it was decided that this policy should be increased an amount reviewed annually. A special committee meeting was called and a ”Boat and Oar Replacement Account” was opened with the State Savings Bank, into which the insurance money was paid and used exclusively “…for the necessary racing boats and five sets of oars…”.

By the conclusion of the season the Club's fleet was almost operational. Through the generosity of the Moonee Valley Racing Club and Cr. A.A. Thomas, the Club received a clinker racing four and a racing pair. A best and best racing eight was purchased from Melbourne University and a clinker racing four from Wendouree Rowing Club; a clinker racing eight, a racing pair, two open racing fours and an open racing pair were purchased from the builder.

The Social Committee worked diligently organizing dances every alternate week fund raising in an effort to get the Club's finances stable. The Library was established at this time under the leadership of W.G.H. Birkenhead. Books were donated by club members and a minimal annual subscription was levied - 400 books were acquired over the first two years.

Naturally racing success was limited. H.E. Ricketts won the Champion Scull on October 13th then again on the 27th of that month at the Footscray Regatta. At the Preston Regatta April 18th 1927 Essendon Rowing Club again won the Challenge Fours and the J.V. Gunst Cup for the second time. On May 28th, the United Services Rowing Association held their regatta on the Yarra and the Essendon Rifles, 55th Battalion, won the Vice-Presidents Challenge Cup. This crew was coached by R.A. Jones, R.S. Fleming rowed number 2 and R. Keilar bow.

“The House Extension Fund” was established during the 1927-28 season to enable the necessary repairs and extension to the Clubhouse. The Social Committee continued to conduct fortnightly dances and it was decided that raffles would be restricted to one bi-weekly. T. Mannix donated a trophy to be awarded to the coxswain who steered the greatest number of successful crews in Club races, (heat and finals included.)

The Club donated an old practice four to the Essendon Ladies Rowing Club. It had been club policy in the past to lend these boats to the ladies.

The Club sustained a severe loss when the new clinker racing four donated by the Moonee Valley Racing Club was badly damaged en route to the Colac regatta on January 1st 1928 - as a result, after only a few starts the boat was declared "... totally unfit for further use …”.

The Club was rather unsuccessful in competitive racing. The Junior pair won in the Upper Yarra Regatta and the Maiden Eight was won in a borrowed boat at Colac.

Early in the season T. Mannix displayed his intent to form a Metropolitan Rowing Association committee. Two delegates from each affiliated club were elected to form the Association which was to handle business concerning rowing in the Metropolitan area. Mannix was appointed Honorary Secretary to the Committee.

1928-29 proved to be a very successful season, in all respects - rowing, socially and financially. After a close struggle throughout the season the Club was in the position of having to win the Champion Junior Eight of Victoria to gain the Junior Premiership by one point. This race was held on April 20th, and it was, for the first time, a two mile race for junior oars. The Champion Eight of Victoria was won by the Mercantile Club, and with this defeat, Essendon gave the Junior flag to Albert Park.

A report taken from the Herald read:
”the wonderful finish of Essendon will live long in the memory of those who had the privilege to witness it. Their final sprint was timed almost to perfection. Mercantile's timely response, however, upset their calculation. What a wonderful crew Essendon are, and what a brilliant stroke they have in E.C. Edmonds. Next season should see them in the fore front of senior racing.”

For the second time in the history of the Club, practically the entire racing fleet was destroyed by fire in the Yarra Yarra Clubhouse on January 28th 1929. The boats lost were one clinker racing eight, two clinker racing fours, two racing pairs, 36 oars and other equipment. The total loss amounted to £425. The replacement of these craft was aided by generous donations from Life Members N.S. Muir and W.C.H. Birkenhead, the balance came from the Boat Replacement Fund. A practise eight with swivel oar locks was ordered and was named “C.J. Adams” on delivery. A clinker racing eight, two racing fours, a racing pair and three sets of oars were placed on order also.

Towards the end of 1929 the Club was experimenting with swivel row-locks; hence the “C.J. Adams" and on May 5th the motion was passed “..that all new boats on order be equipped with New Zealand pattern swivels to be interchangeable, and these be obtained for boats already in use…”. Sliding seats were introduced into the training·boats and pamphlets issued by the V.R.A. on this innovation, were procured for the Club members.

An Honorary Solicitor was appointed at the last A.G.M. and Mr. J.F. Flanagan accepted this position on November 1st 1928. It was decided on October 4th 1928 to include in the seasons racing a 'Cock of the Walk' four race. It took some years to institute this race successfully. The boat truck was finally purchased and during the next month (June 1929) the first annual "Learn to Row” month was conducted.

At the conclusion of this season a number of constitutional adjustments were made.

“The annual subscription for full members be raised to £3.0.0 and that of first season members to £1.15.0 subject to the condition that a new member joining at any time during the season shall pay his subscription of £l.15.0 on joining and that any balance after subtracting pro-rata subscriptions for the remaining portion of the season be credited to his account for the next season."

H. La Roche was unanimously elected Life Member to the club and the new practise eight was named "R.C. Breese" after the Club's esteemed Vice President and Life Member who passed away in mid-1929. New office bearers for the ensuing 1929-30 season were M. Cresswell President, L. Freeman Secretary and W.R. Fraser Captain.

A sub-committee was elected in October to negotiate the construction of new boats with consideration given to the best class of rigger, they were to try to gain uniformity in the Club's fleet. It was decided by this committee to revert the boats with the experimental swivel rowlocks back to the original fixed poppets.

Three new boats were christened at the Opening Day races in September; "W.R. Fraser", a racing four, the already used "F.E. Parr" a racing pair, and the "Arthur A. Thomas "; a replacement for the one destroyed by fire in January 1929.

The committee reported their regret ".. that this season was almost unproductive of wins for the Club in competition Regatta racing - their only victory being gained by a maiden four oat Henley on the Murray (Mildura) on Easter Monday….”’ Finances were bruised as a result of Clubhouse extension and payments on new crafts.

The launching of a "Learn to row" month in February was very successful as 29 new recruits became members out of the 60 who enlisted in the course. A sub-committee consisting of N.S. Muir, T.L. Mannix and the Secretary, L. Freeman, was appointed to revise the constitution where necessary.

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