Table of Contents
- Just Starting to Race 1844-1870
- Here's Health to the Barwon 1870
- The Love of the River 1870-1879
- The True Hearts of Oak 1880-1900
- The Heroes of Old 1901-1919
- To Triumph Untarnished 1920-1944
- The Love of the Work 1945-1969
- Hard All to the End 1970-1990
Chapter 4 - The True Heart of Oak 1880-1900
The first half of the 1880 rowing season in Geelong was a disaster. Training had barely begun on the river when the spring rain set in and it rained throughout the first week of September. On Saturday night, 11 September about 9 o'clock, the Barwon River began to rise rapidly, eventually reaching 15 feet, the highest flood in 40 years. Late in the night the South Barwon Rowing Club's shed on the north bank and its three boats were swept away and were seen floating towards Marshalltown. At about 8 o'clock on Sunday morning the sheds of the Connewarre Boating Club, also on the north bank but protected on the east by the bridge embankment, were swept off their foundations and floated towards Barwon Terrace. They were eventually secured with ropes to the street railings on the side of the road. Some sails and oars were rescued from one of the sheds. The force of the rapidly rising water prevented all attempts to get into Barwon's shed and it eventually broke adrift and was demolished, as were the twenty boats it contained. With Barwon's shed gone, the Grammar School's boatshed was exposed to the floodwaters and broke up. The top storey floated downstream to the Breakwater whilst the lower portion was washed against Blunt's boatshed further down the reserve.
The flood meant the demise of the fledgling South Barwon and Albion clubs, for they are not heard of again, and the aftermath set Geelong rowing back a number of years. The Grammar School had lost property valued at £456, managing to save only a few oars. Barwon's losses were estimated at £600, with only two eights saved which were both badly damaged. Within a few days three of the club's boats, the Dart, the Barwon and one other, were picked up at Lake Connewarre. The blow to the club was so severe that a meeting was called for the following Tuesday night at which the club's future was to be decided. A large turnout of club members and the general public were determined that the club should continue, backing the captain, Charles Shannon, who spoke of the strong resolve of the forty members present that the club should not be abandoned. This was agreed to unanimously and fundraising started immediately with more than £75 collected that night. The two salvageable eights were stored temporarily in Corio Bay's shed until Blunt could begin repairs.
Both the rowing and general communities supported the club, with expressions of goodwill and sympathy coming from as far as Sydney. There was also great interest in the design of the new boatshed. One young lady who was involved in the fund-raising activities suggested that the new shed should be built on a flat-bottomed punt which could be moored with a long chain to the bank and thus float harmlessly in any future flood. This novel solution prompted a response from the Geelong architect, Joseph Watts, who offered to design and supervise the building of the river sheds free of charge. He intended to base his designs on the proven system of building boathouses on the large, flood-prone American rivers. The committee met with Watts within a few days and finalised arrangements for the erection of a new shed on the same site. By the middle of October John Baxter and Son's tender of £119/6s was accepted for a 60ft by 30ft building.