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History of Barwon Rowing Club

Chapter 3 - The Love of the River 1870-1979

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Following the euphoria of the opening day races, club members were keen to compete at an official level. There had been short-lived plans to attend the Ballarat Regatta in late November 1870 which were put aside when a suitable racing boat could not be found. Despite the lack of racing boats there were enough gigs to foster the keen interest being shown by the students at the Geelong Grammar School, high up on the hill in Moorabool Street. In recognition of the school's potential for membership, the boys were admitted as club members free of all charges during the club's early years. Eight more young students joined in the ensuing 12 months from the school, laying the foundations of a special relationship that would endure well into the next century. Then just two months later in January 1871 the committee decided that the club would compete officially for the first time at the Melbourne Regatta to be held in April. An order for a new racing string-test gig placed with W. Greenland, the Melbourne boat builder, solved the boat problem. A new club member, James Ford Strachan, the crack oar of the Cambridge eight of 1870, had arrived and so training went ahead in earnest, supervised by those who had perfected the craft in England. Joining Strachan in the club's first crew were Shannon, Cullin and Arthur. The removal of snags from the river began following the negotiation of a satisfactory agreement with the Geelong, South Barwon and Newtown and Chilwell councils, with the rowing club contributing to the costs.

Rowing practice was from 4 pm on weekdays and-2 pm on Saturdays until dusk and so Strachan, Shannon, Cullin and Arthur were seen in the new racing boat on the river almost every night. The prospect of their first race in open competition aroused great interest. Cullin had a reputation as one of the best stroke oars that had ever led a Melbourne crew to victory and Shannon, the captain, was an oarsman of great repute both in England and Victoria. Everyone who knew anything about rowing watched keenly from the banks and were moved to advise the coaches, Strachan and Shannon. A letter to the Geelong Advertiser, signed "old oarsman", made the following comments:

I notice with pleasure that a four-oared gig leaves the Barwon Rowing Club shed every afternoon. The boat is a perfect beauty in every respect, and trims well with the men in her, who appear to be made of the right stuff. In their rowing, however, there is great room for improvement. The stroke is a pretty long one, but the catch at the beginning of it is sometimes hardly sharp or firm enough. The finish is occasionally too abrupt and the oars scrape along half covered or else come home in the air. More opening out of the knees and leg work, with less stiffness, would be desirable, especially as regards Nos. I and 2. 'Bow' rows in good form, but is apt to be short and a little out of time; he does not always make the most of his stroke. No. 2 works too much with his hand, and is too deep, consequently his stroke looks somewhat labored; he should hold himself more together and put his body and arms forward simultaneously, and bring them back again in one motion evenly, without twist or jerk.

No. 3 rows well, but seems to take it rather easy, now and then spurting; he betrays a tendency to wriggle and hurry throughout his stroke without getting enough out of it. He should avoid flinging his head about. All these defects may be overcome by a little perseverance. With a good long row every night this crew in a month's time should be a pretty "hot" one. The coxswain should insist on every man keeping his eyes more on the movements of the stroke oar. Perfect time and swing will cover a multitude of faults; at present they keep anything but good time, and seldom get hold of the water together.

As the time of the regatta drew nearer this pressure intensified. The Geelong Advertiser commented sourly that the Melbourne papers were not mentioning the local crew at all in their coverage of training, and predicted a surprise for the metropolis as Geelong obviously had the best crew in the colony! In the meantime, perhaps the "old oarsman's" comments had forced crew changes, for it was Dickenson, Lascelles and Nicholls who accompanied Arthur and Hugo the coxswain on the train to Melbourne the night before the regatta. With the exception of Nicholls, the crew had never pulled a stroke on the Yarra River. On Saturday April 15 Barwon Rowing Club lined up against the Albert Rowing Club in the fourth heat of the Maiden Fours. The crew was E. H. Lascelles [ I Ost.], S. Dickenson [10st 51b], E. Nicholls [11 st 81b] and J. Arthur [stroke, 11 st 41b]. It was a splendid race with victory going to the Albert Club by only a foot or two in the time of 8min 44sec.

In November 1871 the club competed at the Geelong Regatta held on Corio Bay, coming second to Ballarat Rowing Club in the Maiden Four-oared race with the crew of J. Arthur [stroke], E. Nicholls, R. Barker, H. M. Strachan and J. Ogilvie, coxswain. However, Barwon's most experienced crew of J. Cullin [stroke], J. F. Strachan, C. Shannon and J. Arthur defeated Ballarat in the Senior Four-oared gig race.

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