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History of Barwon Rowing Club

Chapter 3 - The Love of the River 1870-1979

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The regatta promised to be the best yet seen in the colony. Fifteen boats were coming from Melbourne and three from Ballarat, let alone the four from Moama on the Murray River. The value of prizes exceeded that of the Melbourne Regatta. Five thousand spectators witnessed the racing in lovely weather. The course had been cleared of reeds and marked off with buoys. The Prince of Wales Hotel provided a huge marquee and Mr. Walker's band entertained the crowd. In the excitement of several close finishes numerous people fell into the river. There was also the spectacular innovation of a telegraph board at the boatsheds which advised the public of the next race. To everyone's delight the Murray River Rowing Club won the Maiden Four. Barwon won the Junior Eight in 7min 50sec, pulling 37 to the minute. The Senior Eight was won by Melbourne when the No. 7 of the Civil Service crew fell into No.6's arms, exhausted, when only 200 yards from the winning post.

Another eight for Barwon arrived from the boat-builder Edwards of Melbourne in July and then, eight months later, another boat from the Oxford boat-builder, Clasper. It was a single streak outrigger, costing the enormous sum of £115, roomy and well adapted fora heavy crew and fitted with "a neat little contrivance" for fixing the stretchers, instead of the old method of outside screws. It was used at the Barwon Regatta of 1878 and was seriously considered as Victoria's boat for the 1879 second Intercolonial Eights race. On 6 March 1878, after much discussion, the first eight-oared Intercolonial race in Australia had taken place on the Lower Yarra course. Victoria won easily despite their cox, J. Edwards, losing his head and running them into the bank. J. M. Simson of Barwon was amongst the winning crew.

By this time the club's fleet had grown to encompass one racing eight, one clinker eight, one racing outrigger four, one clinker outrigger four, one practice outrigger four, three string-test gigs, one clinker gig, one pair-oar, four sculling boats and two pleasure boats, valued at £300. Previously boats had been carried to and from the South Geelong railway station and the river, but at great expense Barwon had a frame on wheels built for the 1879 Ballarat Regatta. However, due to the extra freight charges and it not being exactly adapted for rail travel, it did not accompany the boats to Ballarat. The rowers, however, did push it, laden with the boats, back from the station to the sheds. Rail charges at the time were 6d per truck, or carriage, per mile, but boats were returned free of charge providing the regatta committee issued a certificate confirming that they had started in at least one race.

Meanwhile, the north bank of the river was becoming crowded. In May 1877 the Geelong Grammar School built their own boatshed to the east of Barwon and two years later the boatbuilder Blunt opened up next to the two sheds. His main business was the hire of pleasure boats to tourists and holiday crowds, but he was close by for repair and maintenance work on the rowing fleets. Meanwhile there were complaints from the general public that the fences surrounding the clubs' boatsheds and landing stages had cut access to the river banks. In the summer of 1879 the river was also patronised by tourists and day trippers eager to travel to Queen's Park and back by steamer. The Lusitania could carry 30 passengers and was built in Melbourne. Its engine and owner, Mr. Peacock, both hailed from Colac. She was 34ft long with a 5ft beam and managed a respectable 8 miles per hour. This screw steamer was leased for three months to the Barwon Steam Navigation Company, a group of eight gentlemen connected with the woollen mills. It was their intention to use the vessel for river picnics for their employees and friends as well as making it available to various groups for charter.

By the end of the year the river was also home to two new clubs, serving the growing population along both sides of the river. On 25 September 1879 the Victoria Rowing Club was formed at the Bridge Hotel in Belmont, with Mr Hobday as chairman, but within a month the name was changed to the Albion. On 18 November the South Barwon Rowing Club was formed at the Belmont Hotel, with Colonel Conran as president, W. Higgins and H. Brearley as vice-presidents, J. C. Abrahams as secretary/treasurer and a committee of Messrs. Wild, McCauley, Tasker, Newell, McMarus, Collins and Smyth. Their shed on the northern bank was expected to be finished within a few days of the meeting and to house five boats. The Albion club competed at the Colac Regatta in December in the Maiden Four with a crew of T. Norwood (stroke), B. Powell, W. Ashmore, C. Gray and C. Blunt as cox. Their colours were a white guernsey, maroon sash and maroon cap with white stripes.

The establishment of these clubs did not cause a decrease in Barwon's membership, which by the close of the year was numbering more than 70. The expenditure on new boats saw the club with a deficit of £115 at the end of the year. This was partly reduced when the secretary of the Geelong Football Club promised that the gate receipts of the next two matches would be donated to the club. However, the sport was continuing to grow in popularity and the future looked promising. With the Geelong College's boatshed further upstream at Marnockvale the north bank of the Barwon was now firmly established as Geelong's rowing centre. The clubs looked enthusiastically towards the next decade when they hoped to establish Geelong as a force in Victorian rowing.

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