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History of Barwon Rowing Club

Chapter 6 - To Triumph Untarnished 1920-1944

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Their site on Western Beach had been granted by the Harbor Trust in January. Regarded primarily as a working man's club, the committee hoped to attract a large membership from the rapidly expanding industrial suburbs. The new Barwon Bridge was completed and the river returned to the rowers when the temporary bridge was demolished in January.

With the beginnings of the new bridge came the Geelong Town Planning Association's plan for an Australian Henley on the Barwon. In mid-1927 partial control of the river passed from the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission to the Geelong Harbor Trust. The Trust was given the banks and bed of the river while the actual water supply remained with the commission. However, the trust was empowered to spend all revenue gained from the river on its improvement. The Victorian government also allocated £500 to pay the wages of unemployed men to work on the ambitious scheme. The river was widened with ploughs and scoops and a dredge straightened the rowing course. Material from the bed of the river was used to fill low lying areas and then a boulevard of trees and nature reserves was planted.

The Town Planning Association bought a strip of privately owned land on the south bank, opposite the Returned Soldiers and Sailors woollen mill and constructed a road, removing the fence. This was part of the larger scheme undertaken by the Harbor Trust to provide a straighter course and a boulevard, esplanade and 33ft plantation of trees on the south bank. Work commenced on the scheme in November 1927. Considerable numbers of large snags and trees were dredged. The biggest was estimated to be more than 10 tons and was found mid-stream, a comparatively short distance on the west side of Barwon Bridge. It took explosives before it could be lifted from the river bed. A bend opposite the mill was cut away with the material filling low lying sections of the new footpath and roadway. The old staging on the northern bank was removed and replaced with 400ft of wooden sheeting from the old Railway Pier. In July 1929 the Town Planning Association took control of 14 acres on the north bank, extending from the edge of the boatshed reserve east to Swanston Street where riverside walks and tree planting were planned.

In 1928, prompted by a disturbing public apathy and a large non-paying attendance at the Barwon Regatta, the Hon. H. F. Richardson inaugurated an annual competition between 8-oared crews representing Barwon and Corio Bay. Each club was to be represented by one crew only and it was not to include more than two senior oarsmen. At the end of ten years the Richardson Challenge Cup would become the property of the club with the most wins. The first race was held on 14 April 1928 and was won by Barwon, as were the next two. H. Richardson was one of the early members of Barwon being a member of the crew of the first eight-oared boat launched on the river.

By this time another financial depression had begun and Barwon was hit hard. The annual subscription was beyond many aspiring members and several crews were prevented from competing at regattas, other than at Barwon, due to the cost of transporting themselves and their boats. During the Great Depression, active club membership dropped to virtually just five men; Bill Grose, Archie Shannon, George List, Bill Wheatland and Harold White. However, as with the previous troubled times, both the club and the sport weathered the storms.

The 1930 Barwon Regatta featured the first women's crew seen in competition on the river. The Victorian Rowing Association had reluctantly sanctioned a women's four race and eight crews were entered from the Preston, YWCA, Warmambool, Essendon and Albert Park clubs. The interest generated in the race prompted moves to forma ladies rowing club locally. Melbourne and other provincial centres had well established clubs for women whereas in Geelong it was rumoured that a ladies four and eight had been seen occasionally rowing on the river many years earlier. Nothing came of the suggestion at this time as both the VRA and the GRA were opposed to women rowing and actively discouraged their participation. Shortly after the regatta, the river bank in front of the rowing sheds was straightened, the old staging removed and a timber wall constructed in its place. Fora few years crews dropped their boats over the wall into the river but some time later it was removed and the staging replaced.

One of the main opponents of women's rowing was H. Richardson. The following year, during his speech given at the presentation of the Richardson Cup, he strongly put his view that rowing was not for ladies: It was not a good thing to see young girls tearing their hearts out in an endeavour to win races he stated and, in response to a vocal young woman in the crowd, responded by suggesting swimming as an appropriate exercise. He continued to hold this view until his death and undoubtedly echoed the views of his male contemporaries.

Lightweight rowing was recognised in Victoria during the 1931-32 season, increasing the appeal of rowing to more men. In September 1932 the dressing room was renovated, just in time for the opening of Barwon's rowing season. It was said to be the biggest opening since the pre-war days with 200 spectators and 10 crews. A feature of the day was the appearance of a crew dressed in the old Leander style - top hats, Eton coats and semi-long white trousers, rowing in the long-swinging English style. Their appearance caused great hilarity, particularly when the top-hatted coxswain was thrown into the river. At the time Corio Bay dismantled their shed and moved back to their origins, but this time to Western Beach.

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