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
It was in 1891 that moves began to make the Barwon River navigable for small craft to carry goods from the main riverside factories down to Barwon Heads. The rowers had long complained of the obstruction caused by the Breakwater and now had the weight of commercial enterprise behind them. The Public Works departmental surveyor called for costings on clearing the Moorabool River from the Fyansford bridge to the junction with the Barwon, removing a number of obstructions near Queen's Park and a small point of land opposite Pakington Street which interfered with the regatta course, and replacing the Breakwater with a lock. However, financial considerations and an inability to reconcile all the parties involved led to a gradual loss of interest. At the 1893 regatta a small steam launch, the Clyde made pleasure trips at 9 m.p.h. up and down the course in the breaks between races.
The end of these good times began with the death, in July 1891, of former captain and secretary, Henry Frederick Steedman, aged 28 years, of tuberculosis. Steedman had first joined the club in 1885 but had been ill for some years. An accomplished athlete, being captain of the Geelong Football Club, he was also a skilled musician. Several thousand people assembled in Moorabool and Malop Streets to view the funeral procession which included ninety vehicles, one of the largest yet seen in Geelong. His obituary told of "a young man of great promise, bright, genial and intellectual, brave as a lion in all sports, gentle as a girl in society and domestic circles. He had no enemies, but could count a host of friends not one of whom but will feel his loss a personal one, and hold his name in affectionwe remembrance". His fellow rowers were coffin bearers and at an evening service held at Christ Church, the Rev. Canon Goodman spoke of his shining example to Geelong youth. J. L. Cuthbertson was so moved by his early death that he put down in verse a tribute to the young man:
He may row no more as he rowed of old,
With the flag of the Barwon o'er him,
On the river's breast that he loved the best,
In the Eight that in triumph bore him.
Captain and comrade, fare you well,
Light lie the turf above you,
Our lips shall be cold, and our hearts grow old,
Before we forget to love you.
Following the death of their comrade, that year the club's ball was postponed due to an influenza epidemic. Then August floods reached a level of two feet in the shed and left a filthy deposit of mud, severely damaging the grounds and reserve. At the same time the captain of the club decided that no more crews would be sent to the Colac and Warrnambool regattas, for at Colac the boats were always badly knocked about on the choppy lake and the Warrnambool Regatta coincided with the Boxing Day holiday. By 1892 the club was experiencing first-hand the effects of the depression of the 1890s. Victoria was the hardest hit state and Geelong, with its reliance on wool and wheat exports, suffered particularly. In an effort to hold the club together, membership subscriptions were halved and the entrance fee abolished, but the number of rowers continued to decrease. However, training continued and equipment was maintained as usual, with new slides and seats installed in the gigs. In 1893 the club was represented in the Intercolonial Boat Race by H. B. McCormick. W. Jarman of Corio Bay was also in the crew, whose expenses were paid by appeals to the public purse.
In June 1893 the club suffered another loss with the death of C. F. Poynter and by then carried a substantial deficit in the form of unpaid subscriptions and entrance fees. A local regatta was held in November in aid of both the Barwon and Corio Bay clubs, with 6d charged to spectators on the bank and 1/- for entrance to the reserve at the finish line. A series of Cinderella dances held during the winter also added to the club's funds. Not so a Fancy Fair held at the Recreation Club which realised only a small profit of £26 which was "altogether incompatible with the amount of trouble incurred". However, it did assist in the eventual discharge of all outstanding liabilities.
There was a general recovery by the 1895/6 season. During the summer, monthly regattas were held in conjunction with the Connewarre Yacht Club with -the program consisting of a yacht race, a trial fours competition, a sailors' race, greasy pole contests, tub and barrel and pleasure boat races. All this had become necessary to combat the appeal of other sports, particularly cycling, which was attracting young people in their hundreds. Geelong had by then several cycling clubs, well patronised by both sexes. Adding to their troubles, rowing was an expensive sport with a new boat costing £500.
In March 1895 the secretary, Harry Speed proposed that a branch of the club be established on Corio Bay as an inducement to new members. A special general meeting gave approval and by June a new tub gig, an outrigger four and double scull were taken to Blunt's boatshed as the nucleus of the stock for the new venture. This innovation was short-lived, as two years later in 1898, Speed tried again. The committee decided then that one boat could be housed at Blunts for the convenience of members who did not have time to get down to the river. At about this time boats were taken to regattas on the top of railway carriages, which was a considerable saving on steamer rates.
By the end of the century the worst was over. In 1899, 21 new members joined and the club won the Maiden Eight at the VRA Regatta and the Junior and Maiden Four at Barwon Regatta. The club looked forward to the beginnings of a new century and a new era in rowing.