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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

By contrast the American crews commenced their day with 4 or 5 mile walks and a row in the evening. Their diet consisted of:

Breakfast: Oatmeal, tea, beef or mutton with prunes, and some baked potatoes, stale bread Dinner: Roast beef or mutton, few potatoes, rice, cold tea, stale bread and prunes Supper: Cold meats, tea, stale bread and prunes
No rich desserts or milk allowed, and restriction is placed on quantity of water.

On the social scene, winter smoke nights were extremely popular and as well patronised as the club's annual ball. At one smoke social, held at the Masonic Hall in Yarra Street in July 1889, the Barwon Boat Song, written by J. L. Cuthbertson to the tune of Bonnie Dundee, made its debut. James Lister Cuthbertson had joined the teaching staff of Geelong Grammar School in 1875 and was a vice-president of the Barwon club from 1892 until 1902. In 1897 it was announced at the club's annual general meeting that the services of Cuthbertson, the renowned "varsity oar and coach" had been granted to the members. It was said that his unique talents and wide experience had already helped many rowers to victory, including the already revered Stephen Fairbairn. Cuthbertson died in 1910 and shortly after his death the school published his collected poems in "Barwon Ballads". Cuthbertson was mourned not only by the boys from his old school and by Barwon members, but all those who had shared his love of the Barwon river and the racing craft that plied upon it.

From time to time, readers of the Geelong Advertiser were treated to "River Notes" by Cuthbertson, covering the training and prospects of Barwon and Grammar crews, the state of the river and snippets on old oarsmen. Cuthbertson wrote also the following wonderful description of a popular rowing trip, from the Barwon bridge to Barwon Heads, one that remained a tradition for the river clubs for many years.

Our start is made from the Barwon bridge between six and seven in the morning, the water being perfectly smooth, and very favorable for rowing. At the Breakwater we found the flood had covered both the stagings, and so crossing in the deep and rapid stream on slippery planks is no easy matter. We paddle quietly down past the fellmongeries, exchanging a good morning with the hardy workmen, and soon running beyond Goat Island and the bend, which leads to the Long Reach. At this point the river is wide enough to row six eights abreast and for a mile and a quarter runs quite straight. The view from off the Australian tannery is very fine, right ahead lies the long stretch of bright blue water, terminating in picturesque clumps of withered yellow reeds, crowned with the pale green lines of the willows, which are now in the glory of their spring foliage. Coming down to the end of the reach, the boat travels opposite the side of Mr Crozier's splendidly grassed paddocks, which are here bordered for half a mile by willows. We run our boat up the cutting, at the end of the paddock, and get out for breakfast at the spot which is so well known and liked by Grammar School boys. We collect large bundles of dried lignum branches, boil our billy, cook our chops, and make coffee of a most satisfactory description. Could anyone wish for a better camp?

Away to the west we see, through the waving willow tresses, the green and fertile Barrabools, trending off to the blue and distant Otway; to the south we see beyond the meadows the yellow sand dunes, on the other side of which lies the southern seas; to the north, across the rich meadow land we can see Station Peak, while beside us floats quietly the river on whose breast we have spent so many pleasant hours. Breakfast over we re-embark, and with the help of a north-westerly breeze follow the river down the Horse Shoe Bend, down Dead Ahead and round the Coxswain's Corner, so called because it is a very ugly turning for the steersmen to negotiate. It takes a first-rate cox to bring an eight round this sharp bend without easing and without touching anything. The river here becomes exceedingly narrow, and serpentine, and nearing the passage to the lakes known as The Gut, the rudder has to be more used than the crew quite like.Through the narrow bulrush hemmed channel the water is running like a mill stream and our four-oar has no difficulty in drifting through on to the calm waters of Reedy Lake.

Throughout the lakes the water is very shallow and at low tide, except at the upper end, and in the channels, there is not sufficient water to float a boat of very light draught. We push on to Cormorant Point and leave our things in the rocky camp by the lake side, and then march off to the sea. On reaching the Sheoak wood my companions at once set to work hunting for possums and birds' eggs. In the former task they are very successful, as a little ring-tail and bushy-tail soon reward their efforts, and the bushy mother is also pulled out, and after a short chase quickly despatched for the sake of its skin, which is an exceptionally good one. The symmetrically shaped sheoaks interspersed with occasional gums have a very pleasing effect, and their somewhat sombre and melancholy foliage looks bright in the warm sunlight. Very lovely, too, is the verdant carpet unrolled beneath these ever sighing trees, and thickly sprinkled with the pretty flowers known as lords and ladies, and the pink capped plant which is so injurious to sheep.

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