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History of Barwon Rowing Club

Chapter 4 - The True Heart of Oak 1880-1900

Chapter 4 page 1 2 3 4 5

Throughout the next few months club members and their families worked tirelessly in collecting donations and raising funds. Over £80 was raised at a concert held at the Mechanic's Institute in October and a three day bazaar in December realised £450. After paying for the new shed, new boats and repairs to the two eights, the club had a deficit of £137/19/5. The shed was finished in early December and opened officially on 22 January 1881, with a procession of the fleet. By this time Blunt had finished two new cedar clinker fours, each 40ft long and fitted with sliding seats, one with thwarts and the other with bars. The woodwork was French polished and the fittings were of polished brass and copper. At the time a "modern" eight was 56ft long with a 2ft beam and 9in deep berth and incorporated sliding seats with long life bearings that ran on steel bars 20in long. Blunt built also a large 18ft pleasure boat with a kauri pine stern and blackwood timbers for the club, designed to carry the lady friends of the rowers. It could accommodate nine such young ladies and was fitted with an overhead awning to protect its occupants. The boat was fittingly named Our Girls.

The Barwon Regatta of 1881 attracted 8000 spectators who crowded together on the new south bank which had been levelled in time for the regatta. Later a further attraction was added to the reserve when Barwon installed a diving platform in front of their shed. This was used not only by the rowers after training but also by local youths. Subsequently complaints were made to the press of men bathing in unsuitable attire, much to the consternation of passing females. The bathers were urged to adopt a costume similar to that worn by the rowers, who apparently caused no offence. In March two clinker sculls were received from Blunt, both fitted with sliding seats and built of red cedar and ash. Later that year, in May, Blunt's boatbuilding yard on the river closed. His shed was dismantled and re-erected close to his Corio Bay premises. By the end of October the Geelong Grammar School's new shed was completed, this one situated further back from the bank. It was 60ft by 35ft and fitted with large doors at either end so that the boats could be more easily removed in the event of another flood.

By March of 1882 the club was back on its feet with a credit balance of more than £200 and a number of wins, including the Maiden Eight at both Ballarat and Barwon Regattas. Meanwhile their sister club, Corio Bay, had been in debt for the last eighteen months. The president, J R Hopkins, announced that once the debt had been cleared he would advise that the club consider amalgamation with Barwon in order "to obtain a strong club which would place Geelong in a better position at future regattas". In 1883 Barwon was represented in the Intercolonial Eight by J. D. Webster. That year the club lost the services of Edward Nicholls, an original member and captain for nine years. On his move to Melbourne he was presented with a purse of 150 sovereigns and an illuminated address which stated that he had 'fulfilled the arduous position of Captain in a most pleasing and energetic manner, besides taking an active part in coaching and training junior members, and it is pleasing to record that he was not allowed to leave us without a substantial token of the esteem in which he was held by the Club and by his fellow oarsmen". Nicholls had been town clerk of the Borough of Newtown and Chilwell for 13 years. The following year an additional wing, or third bay, was added to the boatshed, thus providing storage for all boats.

There were significant changes in rowing over the next five years. New equipment and facilities, changes to the conduct of regattas and a vibrant social life all added to the popularity of the sport. In 1884 there was talk of war in Prussia and 14 Barwon members enlisted in the Geelong Artillery, ready to fight if required. In 1885 a horse-drawn truck was purchased for transporting boats to the railway station for the Ballarat, Colac and Warrnambool regattas and to the wharves when the boats went by steamer to Melbourne. It carried the new racing eight and racing four, both clinkers and the new single streak racing four ordered over the next two years. The rowing reserve was repaired and planted with trees and garden beds which were tended by the club's gardener. It was also in 1885, at the Barwon Regatta, that for the first time racing craft were held in position by stationary boats prior to the start. Early in 1887 the Corio Bay, Barwon, Williamstown, Colac, Ballarat , Ballarat City and Wendouree rowing clubs joined together to form the Provincial Rowing Association.The country clubs were upset by moves by the Victorian Rowing Association to increase entrance fees and cut the value of prizes at association regattas and complained of country clubs and their problems being treated with indifference.

The training of athletes also became more scientific. Presumably the Barwon rowers followed the Oxford crews regime which was as follows:
Rise about 7 am
Exercise - A short walk or run - not compulsory
Breakfast at 8.30; if tea, as little as possible. Meat, beef or mutton, underdone. Bread or dry toast; crust only recommended
Exercise in Forenoon - None
Dinner, 3 pm - Meat, much the same as for breakfast. Bread, crust only recommended. Vegetables, none; not always adhered to. Beer, one pint
Exercise - About 5 o'clock start for the river, and row twice over the course, the speed increasing with the strength of the crew
Supper, 8.30 or 9 - Bread, and perhaps a little jelly or water cresses. Beer, one pint
Bed, about 10

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