The History of the Murray Cods of the Murray Bridge Rowing Club
Speech given by Ted Thomas Jnr on 27 July 2000 upon the opening of Murray Cod Drive in Murray Bridge SA and the naming of the boat the "Murray Cods"
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It gives me great pleasure to be able to speak on the Olympic crew from Murray Bridge who were nicknamed the "Murray Cods". Whenever they rowed they had a small little stuffed murray cod tied to the bow of the boat.
Murray Bridge Rowing Club was founded in 1909 and the first interstate Eight rowing championship they won was in 1913, which was rowed at Port Adelaide in what were very boisterous conditions and the race was postponed until late in the day. Whilst they were waiting the interstate crews wondered at Ted Higgs, the coach, raising the rigger heights and fitting splash boards to the boats and when the boat entered the water, the coxswain, took a billy can to bail and it was interesting to note that South Australia won that first interstate race by a quarter of a mile.
"One of the crew earlier in the training complained that after 10 miles he was tired. That was the end of him in the crew."
During the training before the 1913 Interstate Eight Oared Championship, one of the crew earlier in the training complained that after 10 miles he was tired. That was the end of him in the crew. On week-ends they rowed 60 mile each Saturday and Sunday in training and as Ted Higgs, the coach, said, "Mileage makes champions," which it did.
The Club went into recess during World War I and in 1919 there was a Peace Regatta, rowed at Henley on the Thames. Arthur Scott was a member of the AIF winning Eight. King George V presented a cup, later to become the "Kings Cup" awarded to the champion Australian Eight, each year, to this date.
The first Kings Cup in 1920 was won by Murray Bridge or South Australia. They won the Kings Cup in Brisbane. The first start was a false start, because of another crew breaking. The second start another crew broke and South Australia stopped rowing, however the umpire did not stop the race and called to South Australia, "Come on South Australia!" They won the race after being left two lengths behind. They were so cross at the finish they rowed a further two miles back to the shed without stopping. In 1921 Kings Cup was held in Launceston; they were beaten by Western Australia. They won the 1922 Kings Cup in Sydney and the 1923 Kings Cup in Perth.
In 1924 they represented Australia in Paris. Although South Australia was selected to represent Australia in Paris, other states considered the long stroking style of the Cods did not suit the Olympic course of 2000 metres and in their Ianguage it was 1 mile and 420 yards. Normally the Kings Cup was over 3 miles.
The test race was rowed at Port Adelaide between West Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. There was no lack of spectators. All of the launches, being crowded to their fullest capacity with scores of private yachts and motor launches, wended their way down stream to the scene of the activity at the Osborne course.
Murray Bridge created surprise at the start by jumpinq off the mark at 44 strokes to the minute, Western Australia began at a similar rating, Victoria at 42, Tasmania at 40. Western Australia took the lead at the quarter mile, by the half way mark they were leading the Cods by half a boat length, Victoria were third and Tasmania fourth. The Western Australia stroke rate was 37 and the Cods were 35. Western Australia increased their rating to 42 at this point, the Cods increased their rating and the Cox called for a dozen. In twelve strokes they leveled with Western Australia. The Cox called for another dozen, and the stroke yelled, "Come on!" They drove ahead despite the wonderful efforts by the Western Australia, and they won by a canvas.
Pandemonium broke loose, sirens shrieking and hooting, roar after roar of cheers from the craft dotted on the river with a crescendo of cheers from the watching crowds. The Murray Bridge crew was opposed by the tried and trusted oarsmen of three states, and the race would go down in history as one of the hardest and most stubbornly fought battles that was ever waged in rowing.
When the crew returned to their training quarters, his Excellency the Governor of South Australia, Sir Tom Bridges, who had been a keen spectator from the official launch, was presented to the members of the winning crew. They called for three cheers for his Excellency.
"Thank you very much," said Sir Tom, removing his hat, and said, "Good luck to you boys."
Rogers, the stroke of the Western Australian crew, said, "It was a fine clean race and we are satisfied with the result. We made an effort at the end of the race but we could not shake the Murray Bridge crew who rowed stubbornly."
Before the Paris Games, there was the Henley on Thames in London. It sounded like the perfect opportunity to take part, so the Murray Bridge Rowing Club wrote requesting to be included. A return letter politely informed the crew they were not welcome to participate, because with the exception of Sladden, all were working class and only gentlemen rowed in Henley on Thames.
Five thousand pounds was needed to finance the crew to go to Paris. The Australian Rowing Association could not supply aII the money and the rest was raised by the ladies' committee of the Murray Bridge Rowing Club and townspeople.
The fund was over supplied. Not only did the people of Murray Bridge and the Murray Bridge Rowing Club donate towards this finance, but the South Australia Rowing Association and all people interested in rowing in South Australia.
After a roaring farewell at the Murray Bridge Railway Station, the "Cods" crew joined the Australian Olympic team on the train as it passed through the town to Adelaide and the athletes were treated to the Lord Mayor's reception. Before joining the SS Oronde they were treated to a civic reception and a farewell luncheon in the South Australian Hotel. A large crowd farewelled the Olympic contingent as the ship sailed from Port Adelaide.
While the ship was going through the Red Sea, Boy Charlton's trainer jumped over the side into shark infested waters. Charlton was going to dive over and rescue him, but the Cod's crew restrained him, the ship turned, a boat was lowered and he was rescued and was not touched by sharks which was incredible. He was suffering from neurosis from the First World War. Charlton then trained with the Australian crew for his attempt on the gold medal in Paris in swimming. He swam against Johnny Weismuller.
"On their arrival in France, the crew had to row their boat 60 kms to their training camp, carrying the boat around four locks."
On their arrival in France, the crew had to row their boat 60 kms to their training camp, carrying the boat around 4 locks. Australia could not afford to have a boat transported. Other countries had villages. Australia had to fend for themselves. They were allowed a shilling a day spending money. So they formed a dance band with Ted Thomas, Bill Sladden, Frank Cummings and Bob Cummings and played for dances distributing money amongst the whole of the Olympic contingent.
Also at the hotel they were living, Ted Thomas could speak French, learnt during the war, spread the word that he was going to dive into a rain barrel from the first floor at day break the next day. A crowd gathered, a collection was taken by the crew, Ted appeared on the first story window removed his dressing gown, then announced it was too cold and would try when the weather got warmer. The crew moved quickly down to their boat and had a long training session, the crowd was not pleased.
Another interesting thing, the band got a job playing for a dance where the ladies and the gentlemen only wore dancing shoes. They had trouble concentrating on their music.
The final crew to go to Paris was as follows:
E. Graetz, bow, who was a fireman on the South Australian Railways of 35 years of age;
E. Thomas, 2, storekeeper 40 years of age;
W. Jarvis, 3, foreman at 30 years of age;
A. Scott, 4, fireman on the South Australian Railways at 37 years of age;
A. Tauber, 5, fireman on the South Australian Railways age of 35;
W. Pfeiffer, 6, carpenter, aged 30;
F. Cummings, 7, fireman with the South Australian Railways, 32;
W. Sladden, stroke, Master Mariner, 41;
R. Cummings, cox, Postal Assistant, 24;
E. Higgs, coach, fitters Mate;
G. Tucker, emergency, fireman South Australian Railways, 25 years of age;
S. Wendt, emergency, fireman South Australian Railways aged 28.
Now for the Olympics. They were defeated by Italy in the heat, and in the repechage, third to Canada first, Argentina second, but finishing in front of Belgium. Canada went on to win the silver medal from the Yale crew USA, which a member of that crew was the famous Dr. Spock.
However when the Australians met the USA in the Irish National Games after the Olympics, the Australians won. Tucker replacing Jarvis. Wally Pfeiffer won the 1924 sculling championship of Ireland. Naturally the crew were very disappointed with their efforts in Paris, but because of problems with food, they had dysentery quite often and this interfered with their training.
"On the day of their heat where they were beaten by Italy, they rowed their boat from their boat house 26 miles to the course on the river Seine."
Despite the disappointment, SIadden offered no excuses claiming the Australian standards were considerably below the rest of the world. The coach of the Yale crew of the United States that won the gold medal said "I do not attack the rowing of the Murray Bridge crew who did splendidly for old men. Old in rowing sense. Handicapped by lack of first class competition, poorly boated and badly rigged, where they were using poppets on their riggers instead of swivels. On the day of their heat where they were beaten by Italy, they rowed their boat from their boat house 26 miles to the course on the river Seine."
And they traveled home on the P & O Liner Mooltana and their arrival home was very Iow key because of their poor showing in the Olympic Games. However, on their return some of the crew retired and became coaches, others rowed on.
It is rather significant that last Saturday the official naming of the Murray Cod Drive by the Mayor of the Rural City of Murray Bridge, Mr Alan Arbon. where he unveiled the plaque in Sturt Reserve. Also, a boat was named the "Murray Cod", in memory of the Murray Bridge Crew and was named by Ron Graetz (who was the son of the bow man Harry E. Graetz in the Cod's Eight) and myself, gave a talk on the history of the Cods, my father was 2 in the Cod's Eight.
For more information, photos, memorabilia and newspaper articles about the Murray Cods, see
the State Library of South Australia's webpage:
'The Cods' at the 1924 Paris Olympics