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Australian Rowing History

Chapter 6 - To Triumph Untarnished 1920-1944

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In September 1922 the inaugural meeting of the Geelong Rowing Association was held in the Barwon clubrooms. Major Speed was elected president, C. Richardson treasurer, N. R. Purnell secretary and a committee appointed of five delegates each from Barwon and Corio Bay. The constitution of the association was modelled on that of the Ballarat Regatta Association. Combination eights and novice events were planned for early in the season. Control of the Barwon Regatta passed to the association which conducted its first regatta in 1923. Within five years the association has raised more than £1000 for river improvements, obtained the same amount from the Geelong Harbor Trust and £500 from the state government. The improvements consisted of straightening the south bank, the removal of weeds and the building of a new staging. The association also conducted 'Trade Fours" events, where crews composed of Timber Workers, Hardware, Shop Assistants, Cement Workers, Institute of Technology, Wool Stores, Textile Workers, Wool, Engineers and Banks and Law competed for the honour of their calling. At the end of these golden days Charles Shannon passed away. In October 1922 his sons and former rowing companions carried his oak casket from his hearse to the graveside. Through they didn't know it, his death marked the end of a very special and unique phase of rowing on the river.

Barwon Rowing Club new boatshed 1923

In 1923 the first official Ladies Committee was formed. Headed by the president's wife, Mrs. Roadknight and ably assisted by Mesdames Barnfather and Belcher, they initially conducted refreshment stalls on regatta and open days. However, it was their indefatigable fund-raising abilities which were to keep the club afloat in the years ahead. The debts incurred not only in building one of the finest clubhouses in the Commonwealth, but also in administering the club's expansion, were to hamper the club's progress. The amount of debt was still considerable, despite the decision that the first £1 00 of the club's income (apart from subscriptions) be put towards the building fund overdraft. Swivel rowlocks became common this year after their successful use by a Warrnambool crew at the Colac Regatta. Bojeski's Physical Culture College opened at 71 Myers Street on February 27 and in football the BRC Football Club competed in the semi-final of the Junior Association, but only by default as two clubs had withdrawn. The footballers had not won a game for the season and were overwhelmed by Geelong West 65 points to one behind.

The state of the river was again causing concern with its foulness decried by users and residents alike. The stench was said to reach even Buckland Avenue and the river men argued that it was unhealthy for the rowers to take to the water. A conference was convened by the South Barwon Shire Council and the same problems as in 1912 confronted them. It was said that there was 60 to 70 years accumulation of filth ten feet deep at the Breakwater and the future of the Barwon Regatta was in doubt with its threatened removal to the Yarra. Mr. A. Renshaw, a member of the rowing fraternity and river resident, brought samples of river water in glass jars to the conference, but was implored not to open them. The Barwon River Improvement League was formed and strong representation was made to the state government in the form of the following report:

The proposal of the Barwon River Improvement League (which is a very representative body consisting of members of Parliament, representatives of all the Geelong district municipal councils, river bank manu¬facturers, the Trades Hall and the Geelong College, Geelong Grammar School, Barwon and Corio Bay rowing clubs) is that a trust be elected by the Geelong district municipal ratepayers, for the purpose of carrying out improvements to the Barwon River, including the removal of the first breakwater, the construction of a lock below "Sparrowvale", widening out the river, dredging through Connewarre Lakes, the removal of stones at Jimmy's Reef at Barwon Heads, and generally from time to time to improve the river from Queen's Bridge to Barwon Heads, and to make it navigable for motor, sailing and rowing boats, and to improve its insanitary condition, and with the removal of the breakwater and the widening of the river to make it less liable to flooding.

To enable the Trust to carry out the work the League asks that the old Belmont Common lands and some of the other Crown Land now vested in the Geelong Harbor Trust be handed over to the proposed River Trust, as an endowment, or alternatively that the sum of £5000 be voted to the Trust.

Public meetings were to be arranged and the Premier of Victoria was to be taken by boat down to the trouble spots to see and smell for himself. However, strong winter rains flooded and flushed out the breakwater and the smells disappeared, giving credence to those who considered the problem to be caused by surface chemicals. The premier's visit was cancelled and plans were made to revive the league the following year. In effect, it took 16 years before a problem that was as old as the city itself was attended to by the Victorian government.

In the middle of 1924 a special general meeting was called to discuss Barwon's poor financial position and various fund-raising activities, including a grand ball, were held. By 1925 membership had fallen away considerably and the football team could only continue if its profits were put towards reducing the club's debt. In 1927 the club had only 66 members and yet was still incurring heavy expenses in equipment and the purchase of a new motor truck. The boxing ring and wrestling mats were sold, the telephone removed and insurance cut. A series of six fund-raising dances to be held in the clubhouse over the winter months were cancelled after the first two due to lack of patronage. The Ladies Committee donated £10, but the building overdraft still stood at more than £460. Corio Bay moved back to the bay, operating a practice shed to attract youths from North Geelong and Geelong West.

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