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History of Barwon Rowing Club

Chapter 3 - The Love of the River 1870-1979

Chapter 3 page 1 2 3 4 5 6

The Sydney Rowing Club wrote back with the following helpful advice:

There are three classes of rowing men here:-

1. "Professionals" or all oarsmen who gain their living on the water either as watermen or rowing for wages;
2. "All amateurs" [against which the professionals or allcomers cannot compete]. These amateurs consist of working men who row simply for the sport and are not dependant upon it was a means of living. They are mechanics, boiler makers, saddlers, etc., and they always row for money;
3. "Amateurs" or "bona fide" amateurs who do not gain their living by manual labor - they consist of men in mercantile or legal pursuits.
Apparently these "bona fide" amateurs rowed for trophies. In Hobart it was a free for all - everyone rowed for cash.

Strachan's motion met with solid opposition from the Corio Bay Rowing Club, for if the amendment was carried they would be unable to enter their two crews. Corio Bay argued that rowing had not a firm enough footing to allow class distinctions and the interest which had begun in the sport would be effectually dampened. Rowing was not instituted, they said, for the exclusive amusement of bank clerks and the members of Barwon could keep as exclusive as they pleased, but were not to compel other clubs to do the same. When put to a general meeting of the regatta committee, Strachan's exclusive amendment was rejected and the definition of amateur as defined by the Melbourne Regatta Committee was upheld.

A date was finally decided, a half holiday for businesses organised and so the first Barwon Regatta was held on Wednesday 5 April 1876. The Ballarat rowers and supporters arrived in a specially decorated train on Tuesday morning and wheeled their craft from the South Geelong railway station down to the rowing reserve. The Melbourne oarsmen from the Yana Yarra, Civil Service and Albert Park clubs arrived by the steamer Despatch on Tuesday night and were permitted to store their fleet of seven boats in the Dennys, Lascelles wool warehouse. The newly formed Geelong Grammar Boat Club rowed in a boat borrowed from Barwon who had received an English Clasper-built four-oared outrigger. The new boat had arrived on the ship Loch Nee in December but had been badly damaged when unloaded by the stevedores. Barwon successfully pursued an expenses claim and the repaired boat was ready in time.

The regatta was a splendid success with 3500 spectators lining the banks of the Barwon. Ballarat City won the premier event, the Barwon Grand Challenge Cup and were presented with a trophy designed by the Geelong silversmith, Edward Fisher. The base was a circle of shells above which two water nymphs supported a bowl engraved with cupids standing on wreaths of water lilies and holding oars. The cover was surmounted with an oarsman with an oar in one hand and a starting flag in the other. The first eight-oared race seen in Geelong was held that day, the Barwon Plate, won by the Civil Service Club, with former Barwon member, J. Cullin, in the crew. Local honours were shared with Corio Bay winning the Maiden Sculls and Barwon the Junior Four, thus putting paid to the local "aquatic" reporter who had dolefully predicted no Geelong wins. Later Peter Cazaly, captain of the Ballarat City Rowing Club, wrote a public letter of thanks to the regatta committee for the "complete arrangements made for the comfort and convenience of the crews, and the courteous consideration shown in every direction to them".

The Melbourne Regatta Committee formed the basis of the world's first rowing organisation; the Victorian Rowing Association, when in October 1876 eighteen clubs, including Barwon and Corio Bay, joined together to manage Victorian rowing affairs through their elected representatives. In the same year, at the annual general meeting of the Barwon Rowing Club, the committee noted that gigs were fast giving way to a much superior class of boat, the outrigger. The most successful clubs already possessed eight-oared outriggers, whilst sliding seat eights had been racing on the Thames since at least 1874. The first eight-oared boat in Australia had been launched on the Yarra River in 1869 but it took considerable time for there to be sufficient numbers to allow competitive racing.

Barwon's committee recommended the purchase of a clinker-built eight as soon as possible. The club's first eight was purchased second-hand from the Melbourne Rowing Club and arrived on 10 August that year. It had its first outing on the first Saturday in September, with the captain E. Nicholls as stroke and Sir Charles Sladen as cox. Upon the arrival of the boat an additional shed, specifically designed to house eights, was built and completed by the end of the year. At the same time an application was made to the Lands Department requesting permission to enclose a three chains frontage to the river and a one and a half chains adjoining the boatshed. Permission was granted and the area was fenced, shrubs and trees planted and a quoits ground set out. The opening of the 1876/77 rowing season for the club saw 400 people witness the procession of the fleet, led by the eight with all the rowers dressed in their new uniform of blue and white stripes, brought back from England by Charles Shannon.

The first eights race between Barwon and Corio Bay took place on 20 March 1877 at the second Barwon Regatta. Corio Bay had taken delivery of their first eight just three weeks before the regatta. It was built by Blunt of Geelong on his own in just four weeks and measured 56ft long with optional sliding seats. This second regatta saw a huge increase in entries with Banks, University, I Zingari, Murray, Williamstown and Melbourne rowing clubs competing on the Barwon for the first time. Interest in the races was intense, even to the extent of Melbourne sending down a spy in the form of the reporter "Rowlock" to report back on training.

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