Women at Richmond
2013 Women's Eight
1928 RRC Annual Ball at Prahran Town Hall
In 1927-1928 season 'A very efficient Ladies Committee was formed, and is functioning in a manner that is calculated to be of very material assistance
to the club." The role of women was formalised. Mrs Geo. M. Hutton [wife of the Club Captain] was Chairwoman of the committee.
At its height in 1931 the Ladies Committee presented Richmond with a "best and best eight oared racing boat". Throughout the 1930s the committee
raised significant funds to support Richmond. The committee ceased to function during the war years but reformed post war.
By 1949 the Ladies and Social Committees were amalgamated and women continued to contribute to the social and fundraising aspects of Richmond.
Women become members
The decision as to whether to accept women members was a divisive issue in the 1970s. Richmond had its new boathouse and was starting to recover
from the three years without a home. But it was still not doing well.
The committee membership was now a mix of long-standing, older members [the Old Guard] and younger members [the Young Turks]. keen to do whatever
it might take to revitalise Richmond.
It appears that a woman changing upstairs at the boathouse was the start of committee discussions on whether women should be allowed to become
members. It was a discussion that would take two years and a change of leadership to resolve.
By February 1976, division in committee views was starting to appear. John Sawyer stated his disillusionment with how Richmond was being run and
its future prospects if the committee continued as it was. A subcommittee was formed to evaluate whether to have women members in April 1976.
But at a General Meeting in August 1976, the members accepted a change to the constitution to define members as men only.
This move to specifically exclude women was to become the downfall of the Old Guard's strategy. Richmond received correspondence from the Anti-Discrimination
Bureau with a request that Richmond advise of its attitude to Womens Rowing.
In May 1977, a report was submitted to the committee by Don Dudgeon as chair of a subcommittee investigating why Richmond could not hold on to
younger members. This report would change the future of Richmond. Specifically the report recommended that women be allowed as members.
By the committee meeting in June 1977, the skittles had fallen and the "Young Turks" had won. The committee agreed to a notice-Of motion for the
AGM to delete the clause that had been added to the constitution so controversially a year ago. Mr Ron March, the President, announced that
he would not be standing for election the following year. It was now up to the younger members to build up the club.
Richmond affiliated with the Victorian Ladies Rowing Association and hoped to enter ladies crews in regattas the following season. In fact, Richmond
had to wait until season 1981-1982 to boat a competing womens crew. That was also the first season that a woman won a club award: Sue Lee was
awarded the Don Edwards trophy for coxing.
The next season, Richmond commenced an internal club competition for women. The John Sawyer trophy was established to be the women's equivalent
of the men's Mal Scott Memorial. Women's competition for the range of club races was also created in season 1982-1983 with a requirement
for crew membership to be at least 50% women to qualify as a women's crew. These might not have been what we would class women's races
today, but it was a way to open the competition to women when the number of active women rowers was still small. This arrangement continued
Since the decision to include women members, the Richmond Committee had continued to include only men. That was to change in season 1983- 1984
when Sue Lee joined the Committee as a Vice Captain and Caroline Burge joined as an Elected Committee member.
It was not until the 1990s that women's rowing and committee representation at Richmond equalled, and occasionally surpassed, the men's. In July
1994, Richmond elected its first woman President, Jennifer Campbell. Jennifer had held various roles over the last few years, Vice Captain,
Selection Committee member and Victorian Amateur Sculling Association office holder. She was an active rower, being part of the first women's
There have been four women Presidents since Jennifer: Helen Hovenga (1996-1999!, Julia Avis [2006-2007), Emma Catford [2008-2013] and Karen
Doggett, the current President.
Winning Women's eight, Edward Trickett Regatta, Penrith Lakes, NSW 2012
Success on the water
It took a while for Richmond women to make any impact in racing. Sue Lee and Caroline Burge were both significant individual successes. Sue Lee
was selected to represent Australia as coxswain of the Ladies Lightweight Four at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in August 1984. Sue's crew
were successful in winning a bronze medal at the Olympics, a high achievement indeed. In 1985 Caroline Burge won the women's Senior B [Under
23] lightweight championship of Australia.
In 1990, Richmond boated its first women's eight, competing at regattas and in particular the prestigious Head of the Yarra.
In season 1991-1992, the women's crews dominated the regatta wins for the year with 16 out of 27 winning crews. The women's crews have continued
to perform well. In 2003, the Richmond women's Novice Eight won the clubs' first State Championship title in about 20 years [the Men's Novice
eight also took out the State Championship title that season, but raced after the women's crew!].
Women's rowing at Richmond has continued to go from strength to strength. Crews have won State Championship titles. State and National Masters
titles and numerous regattas over the seasons. It is now difficult to tell that women as rowers have only been part of Richmond for a fraction
of its history.
The Magical Eight
By Karen Azinger
When I joined Richmond Rowing Club in 1989 there weren't very many women rowers in the club. We struggled to crew a pair. Lucky for me, the number
of women rowers steadily grew. Richmond entered a four in the local regattas, then two fours, and then someone had the brilliant idea that
Richmond should enter a women's eight in the Head of the Yarra! This was my rowing dream come true!
Excited and enthusiastic, we started training. But conflicting schedules kept us from putting more than a four in the water and we never, not once,
rowed the marathon distance required for the Head of the Yarra. But why let details ruin the beauty of the thing. We signed up to enter
Richmond's first ever women's eight in the Head of the Yarra, Australia's rowing classic, and we were determined to row the distance.
Race Day dawned bright and sunny and beautiful, a perfect day for the regatta. More than seventy eights were on the river, everyone bedecked in
their club colours. Spectators lined the river banks and the atmosphere was heady. We were so excited to be rowing ... but only seven women
showed up at the club. Frantic phone calls were made as our start time approached and still we only had seven women in the black and gold.
We thought we would have to scratch when Don Dudgeon came to save the day. Don drafted one of the men to sit in the eighth seat (I wish I remembered
his name] and Don himself took
the coxswain's seat. Technically we weren't legal but we were on the river and we were going to row. With Don as our cox something magical
happened. This mismatched crew who had never rowed together in an eight rose to the occasion.
Our oars struck the water in unison. We made the eight run! We made the eight fly! And it felt good! We rowed the distance and as we neared the
last bridge before the finish, Don's knowledge of the river and his faith in us let him steer to the inside lane. We overtook and passed another
We passed them!
Richmond's first women's' eight finished the Head of the Yarra in style. And lest you think this was just my imagination, the club has photographic
evidence. My husband rode his bike along the river taking photos from the bridges. When we developed the film, the proof was there. We looked
good! Eight oars striking the water in perfect unison! Everyone at the club got copies of those photos ... the day Richmond rowed a womens
eight at the Head of the Yarra ... that magical eight...the best row of my life!
First Women's Eight YWCA Regatta 1990