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history of the city of warrnambool rowing club

City of Warrnambool Rowing Club – 140 years on the Hopkins River

By Susan Finnigan

Chapter Eight: Rowing on.

A few new members arrived late in 2008 and there was a little more on water activity. Off the water the Club was less organised, with not much happening and no indication that they could improve the Club facilities, there was no real need for meetings. In June 2009 Marine Safety Victoria (MSV) now called Transport Safety Victoria (TSV) issued a waterway audit of the Hopkins River.291 This highlighted predictable deficits in signage, inconsistent rules and safety issues.

The Warrnambool Water-ski Club applied for an extension to the Unrestricted Speed Zone (USZ) – ‘100 metres to the south of Bostock Street to the Deakin University Eastern Boundary/ Rowans Lane’. Allansford and District Angling Club and Koroit and District Angling Club put in submissions opposing this, citing a safety issues including the loss of the transit lane and the northern extension.292 The Rowing Club missed their opportunity to comment, as they did not collect the mail regularly.

By 2009 the Club had regrouped. There was a Safety Management Plan drafted which allowed for the Club’s re-registration with its peak body Rowing Victoria. Brendan Finnigan, a farmer from Winslow and former rower at Nagambie Rowing Club was elected Club President. The committee considered what was needed to revitalise the Club and endorsed a strategic plan. Although the boats were ageing it was apparent that wading through water to access them was unappealing for new rowers and the moisture would be causing rust and issues with the timber boats. It was agreed safe access to the boatshed was the priority. With funds provided by a Council community grant the Club had Council approved plans drafted.293 Regular fundraising commenced including catering for whale boat races and the more lucrative Warrnambool Motorcycle Club Pony Express events at Winslow.294

Christmas Dinner 2010: held at Proudfoots the Club was welcoming back longstanding Club members and a few new faces.

Top Row L-R: June and Bob Stephenson Max Baudinette, Carla Sudholz and Jasmine Sloane. 2. Millie and Peter O’Grady 3.David Church (missing some buttons), Row 2: Debbie Fitzgibbon and Gillian Norris. 2. Jim Carter, Lee Carter and Beth Shaw. 3. Brendan Finnigan and Susan Finnigan, Bottom: 1. David McDougall and Annie Church 2. Aoife Dalton and Neville McNeil. 3. Peter Kelson and Angela Karlinski.

In January 2010 the membership fees were increased: Family $100, individual $80 and Social membership: family $50, individual $30. An additional rack fee for members’ boats was set at $70. The Club was now in a strong financial position and had signed a new occupancy licence with Warrnambool Council for the gym and boatshed.

It was fortuitous that the Club was active as the members had to contest issues that had the potential to make it difficult to row safely on the river. In June 2010 it was reported in the local paper that the ‘rules and signs on the Hopkins River estuary are so out of date the legal liability facing Warrnambool City Council (WCC) for an accident would be huge’. At the Club’s request former State National Party leader and Rowing Australia President The Hon Pat McNamara wrote to the Council in July, supporting the Rowing Club, calling on it to ensure amateur athletes were given enough space when they were on the Hopkins, to ‘train safely’.295

The Club was once again successful on the water and was updating its fleet of boats. By September 2010 the Club had purchased a second-hand Kevlar racing quad ‘Jack Leahy’, for the new ladies crew, from Caulfield Old Grammarians and a carbon fibre pair for the men’s crew from Banks Rowing Club. The Club had also spent over $2,000 on boat maintenance. 296 David Church was awarded Clubperson of the year. 297

In November the Club entered a Female D Grade Scull in the South West Games and Barwon Regattas. Brendan Finnigan and John Nichols (Dimboola) won the Male Masters Double Scull, at Lake Hamilton.298

In January 2011 the Hopkins River flooded, it was a 1:100 year flood, with 75cm of water in the gymnasium and over a metre of water in the boatshed.299 The Club was hosting a school rowing camp at the time. Equipment had been raised however there was damage and the Club successfully applied for replacement equipment. The new equipment further buoyed the positive vibe around the Club.

More race wins were imminent. The Club attended an unofficial Horsham Regatta to support the Wimmera Club. Warrnambool enjoyed wins in the Female Masters Eight, Novice Quad, a Pair and Mixed Double.300 They were shocked to receive Easter Eggs instead of medals. In May they attended the Albert Park South Melbourne Regatta with the Female Masters Novice Quad winning by a boat length. The crew was Sarah McGrath, Jasmine Sloane, Carla Sudholz, Susan Finnigan and Debbie Fitzgibbon, cox. The ladies still maintain that was the hardest row and win they have ever had.301 Brendan and Susan Finnigan won silver at the Victorian Masters Championships in Nagambie and gold at the Wentworth Regatta, in the Mixed Double Scull. They competed in the Australian Masters Rowing Championships, at Lake Barrington, Tasmania, placing second in the A-D Mixed Double Scull and Susan third in the Female Masters B Quad, in a composite crew with Wentworth Rowing Club.302

Warrnambool Female Masters Quad, Winners at APSM: 2011

Susan Finnigan, Debbie Fitzgibbon, Sarah McGrath, Carla Sudholz and Jasmine Sloane.

Warrnambool/Wentworth, 3rd Masters B Quad. Australian Masters Rowing Championships: 2010.

Bow Susan Finnigan, Kate Stockman, Helen Healy, Stephanie Schneider. Uniform rules were relaxed due to the extreme cold at Lake Barrington, Tasmania.

At the AGM in August the Club reported a net profit, despite purchasing sweep oars from MUBC, a new ergo, safety boat (motor), first aid kits and was gifted a fibreglass tub scull by Julie Ryan. A ‘garage sale’ held during the whale boat races had helped clean out the shed, selling old timber oars for $1,465. The committee was motivated on and off the water. 303 Brendan Finnigan was awarded Clubperson of the year.

In August 2011 Transport Safety Victoria (TSV formally called MSV) notified Warrnambool Council (WCC) that it supported their proposed river rule changes, with some slight variations. WCC adopted this recommendation and added that ‘Council make immediate application’ to TSV to ‘amend the unrestricted speed zone time to 8am instead of 9.30am’.304 A delegation of angling clubs (3) and the Rowing Club met with the local MP, Dennis Napthine, regarding their concerns for passive river users’ safety and equity. He advised they write to Councillors to ask their rationale in changing the times.305 After consultation with TSV the Council advised it would not be altering the USZ start time to 8am.306 In December 2011 WCC drafted the Terms of Reference for a ‘Hopkins River Waterway Reference Group’ (HRWRG) to liaise about river issues.

Nine clubs were included, all with one representative and the Water-ski Club with three representatives.307 Susan Finnigan was elected the Rowing Club’s representative. The river rule negotiations were to continue until 2014. Implausible alliances, lobbying and some people playing the ‘man not the ball’ were a feature of the next three years consultation about river rules.

In June 2013, at the final Hopkins River Waterway Reference Group meeting, the Water-ski Club successfully motioned to change the river rules to: ‘start time for the Unrestricted Speed Zone be 8am, extend the zone south to the curb and channel at the ski Club, north to Mahoneys Road and the width of the transit lane be measured from a marker 5m from water’s edge’- carried 6-5. Nestles Rowing Club, Warrnambool Kayak Club, Warrnambool Water-ski Club (3) and the Ferry Operator voted for with Allansford, Warrnambool, Koroit and S.W. Angling Clubs together with the Warrnambool Rowing Club voting for no rule changes, staying with a 9.30am start time. The Community Representative was an apology for the meeting.308 At the July Council meeting a motion ‘that Council formally request TSV to ratify the Hopkins River rules start time of 8am and no later than 8.30am’, was passed unanimously309 310 Finally, after three years of protracted negotiation, submissions, meetings and consultation, in October 2014, no changes to the 2011 Hopkins river rules were endorsed by Transport Safety Victoria. The 9.30am start time until sunset for the Unrestricted Speed Zone, with a 50 metre transit lane was to remain.311 Rowers and passive river users were now assured of unfettered river access for morning training and coaching programs.

On the water the Club was very active entering a total of twelve regattas in 2011. Brendan Finnigan and John Nichols (Dimboola) won the Male Masters Double Scull at the Wentworth Regatta, this time beating John Cleary (Mildura) and renowned rower George Xouris (Swan River). At the starting line Finnigan asked George his age, unfortunately as he went to answer the race was started with Finnigan and Nichols away first and they kept the lead. Five crews competed at Dimboola and the Club won the Female Masters Four with Jasmine Sloan, Carla Sudholz, Aoife Dalton, Susan Finnigan and Wentworth cox Stephanie Schneider. Sloan and Sudholz also won the Female D Pair, with Mario Cresso from Wentworth as cox.312 The members met the Club’s previous RV delegate, Robin Murphy, at the Dimboola Regatta dinner, he was subsequently reinstated.

City of Warrnambool winning crews at Dimboola

Susan Finnigan, Aoife Dalton, Stephanie Schneider, Carla Sudholz and Jasmine Sloane.

City of Warrnambool winning crews at Dimboola

Carla, Mario Cresso and Jasmine.

City of Warrnambool crews at the Dimboola Regatta: 2011

Top: Brendan Finnigan. Middle: Maryanne Purcell, Angela Griffin, Debbie Fitzgibbon, Jasmine Sloane, Susan Finnigan, Carla Sudholz, Clive Wooster, Aoife Dalton, Gillian Norris. Front: Kate Jolley, Jo Bone, Joanna Welsh.

The Club attended eight regattas in 2012, with 12 members competing at the Dimboola Regatta.313 Whilst catering at the whale boat races, the Club entered a female crew in the event, who won their heats decisively however not the final.314 Six crews attended the Wentworth and Mildura Regattas hiring a houseboat for accommodation. Membership numbers were increasing and with very little coaching available the crews mostly managed themselves. Rowers were returning to the sport after rowing as teenagers in Australia and their home country, including Tony McAuliffe from New Zealand and Giorgio Palmeri from Italy.315

The Club’s uniform was slightly altered in 2012. Most ladies crews refused to wear the traditional zooties and the official uniform was changed to black knicks, keeping the royal blue and gold top.

The Club continued to upgrade equipment having bought six second hand boats in the last four years and was taking delivery of a new quad/four in December.316 A cox box, tent sides, lockers, heater for the gym and other sundry items were also purchased. ‘Maintenance days’ to refurbish boats had been held and a Learn to Row Program commenced, now held annually in August. Members had attended coxswain and coaching courses and were doing the Boat Race Official course. Members watched the Olympic Rowing events at the Whalers Hotel.317 Angela Griffin was awarded Clubperson of the year.318

The boatshed was broken into in October 2012. The safety boat was removed however left on the landing, as they could not start the boat. Nothing else was taken.

Australian Whaleboat Championships; 3rd in the Female Division: 2012

Steering: Debbie Fitzgibbon, Angela Griffin, Maryanne Purcell, Jasmine Sloane, Carla Sudholz, and Aoife Dalton.

Long standing pair partners:2011

David Church and Clive Wooster rowing the ‘new’ pair purchased from Banks Rowing Club.

In 2013 the Club attended nine regattas.319 A ladies crew won its first gold medals at MRA and Rutherglen Regattas in the Female Masters Coxless Quad. Gillian Norris was unable to attend so her crew of Debbie Fitzgibbon, Maryanne Purcell and Ange Griffin combined with Susan Finnigan to have two very close wins.320 Not only was the finish close, they rowed very close to another crew and had to steer with the oars. The crew used the brand new carbon Kevlar four/quad christened by Dennis Napthine MP however had not had the opportunity to install or practice with a steering foot.321 The Club resolved that new boats should be used in training for regattas only so ‘less damage occurs’ and they ‘are in great condition for regattas’.

The Mildura and Wentworth Regatta was particularly successful with five crews competing in various events. New recruit and former World Cup rower Aroon Tremul, who had arrived from Trieste, Italy four months earlier, competed at his first Australian Regatta. He teamed with Matt Webster, formerly from New Zealand, and won the B grade Men’s Pair, convincingly. The Club finished with three gold, three silver and four bronze across the two regattas.322 Aroon obtained his Level 2 Australian Rowing Coach certificate and is currently (2015) rowing coach of the First Eight at Geelong Grammar.323

Warrnambool B Grade Men’s Pair, Winners, Mildura: 2013.

Aroon Tremul and Mathew Webster.

‘Sunday Eight’ social row heading out in the ‘Bob Stephenson’: 2013

Carla Sudholz, Joanne Bone, Jasmine Sloane, Maryanne Purcell, Clive Wooster, Patricia Lee and Di Zanker.

In February 2013 the Club’s long standing, and recently reinstated RV delegate, Robin Murphy, represented the Club at a wreath laying ceremony. The World War One Oarsmen Cenotaph, on the Yarra River, Melbourne had been renovated and was rededicated. As noted previously, 15 Warrnambool rowers are listed on this memorial.324

The Club continued to be active on and off the water attending a total of five regattas in the 2013-14 season. A composite Male Masters Four won at the Footscray Regatta Clive Wooster, David Church, Brendan Finnigan and Dimboola rower John Nichols.325 They rowed the racing four ‘Jim Peoples’ previously donated to the Club by Bendigo, on the provision that the name never changes.326 In May the SW C Dragons (Dragon Boat Club) were keen to store their boat in the rowing shed however it was measured and proved to be too large. The Club resolved to support the Dragon Boat ladies in their discussions with Council. Due to space issues it was suggested they would need to propose our boatshed be extended and the floor raised to prevent the annual inundation. Two Councillors visited the flooded shed and took photos. Emmanuel College had also complained about the flooding.327

In 2014 David Church was unanimously endorsed as a Life Member and Susan Finnigan was awarded Clubperson of the year.328

Warrnambool Male Masters Four, Winners at the Footscray Regatta: 2014

C. Wooster, D. Church, B. Finnigan and Dimboola rower John Nichols, rowing in the ‘Jim Peoples’.

Warrnambool Mixed Masters Double, Susan and Brendan Finnigan

Winners at Wentworth, Silver at the Victorian and Australian Masters Rowing Championships: 2010

Di Zanker, Clive Wooster, Graeme Hays floating the coach boat out of the boatshed

The boatshed

Natalia Martin, Pat Lee, Kathy McMeel and Brian Rafferty splashing into the shed for a row

Warrnambool / Wentworth Head of the Head of the Yarra: 2013

Crew Helen Healy, Marg Curran, Susan Finnigan, Maryanne Purcell, Debbie Fitzgibbon (cox), Fiona Howard, Beverly Hutchison, front Joanne Bone, Carla Sudholz.

Head of the Yarra (taken from a bridge on the Yarra River): 2014

Cox Debbie Fitzgibbon, stroke Carla Sudholz, Jasmine Sloane, Joanne Bone, Maryanne Purcell, Di Zanker, Kath McMeel, Louise Richardson and bow Pat Lee.

A ‘Christmas Row’ was held in December with Santa, Ben O’Sullivan, being rowed by two support crews, giving lollies to children along the river. This is now an annual event. 329

To ensure sustainability in 2015 membership was set at $180 for all members with supporters free. The Club had four crews attend three regattas, winning silver at the Dimboola and Head of the Wimmera Regattas. In August the Club ran its annual Learn to Row Program, attracting more women rowers.330 A Female Quad won a ‘Stand Up’ paddle board, in a photo competition, posting a ladies quad crewed by Di Zanker, Kath McMeel, Pat Lee, Susan Finnigan and a visiting student rowing at Kings Head. The Club decided to keep it as a ‘rescue’ craft and it has also worked well for balance training.

Learn to row participants: 2015

Lynda Kenneally, Candice Hampstead, Lisa Halliwell, Annie Blanch, Ebony Cooper, Anna Sanderson background men’s crew obscured.

Boats on route to APSM Regatta: 2014

Pat Lee, Di Zanker and Kathy McMeel (obscured).

Head of the Wimmera, Dimboola: 2015

Joanne Bone, Susan Finnigan, Di Zanker, Kathy McMeel and Pat Lee cox, with 1,000 metres to go.

In 2015 Brendan Finnigan declined renomination as Club President. The Club elected its first female president, Joanne Bone, a former rower from Horsham. Di Zanker won Clubperson of the year. The shed had been revamped to be ‘wash-in-wash-out’ by raising all benches and shelving and not using the lower racks. Now boats don’t have to be moved every time the shed floods, which is usually five months of the year. A social area was set up in the gym with couches, a coffee table and is used regularly after rowing. The Rowing Club joined the Australian Red Cross Blood Service Group ‘Red 25’ with rowers registering and donating blood.

The History group was formed and a display cabinet purchased with former rowers donating items to display, including a suitcase of scrap books and regatta programs from Bob Stephenson’s family. The Club uploaded items onto ‘Victorian Collections’ so they are available for everyone on the web. 331 In June the Club received a grant from the public records office to publish the Club’s history.332

Clive Wooster and Ludger Tenhave collating items stored in the Clubrooms: 2015

New members: Chris Lynch, Alyce Goode and Luke Young, giving ‘Jack Leahy’ a wash

Warrnambool has had a rowing club on the Hopkins for over 140 years and the Club continues to provide a wonderful opportunity for the public to enjoy an iconic sport. New and returning rowers are always welcome as the Club prepares to thrive for another 140 years.


Funding to prevent flooding of the boat house was gained in September 2016 from the Gwen and Edna Jones Foundation and Ray and Joyce Uebergang Foundation. The City of Warrnambool Rowing Club also committed funds and engaged a contractor to infill the boatshed, pour a new slab and cut a doorway from the clubrooms / gymnasium into the boat house. On 16 July 2017 former Club member and Foundations director James Tait opened the redeveloped boat house.


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291 ‘Waterway Audit Report Schedule 22- Waters Hopkins River between the seaward outlet and Tooram Stones’; June 2009.

292 Warrnambool City Council, Ordinary Meeting minutes, 16th November, 2009. pp 319-331.

293 Minutes of CoWRC Ordinary meeting, 20th January, 2010 & 17th February 2010.

294 Minutes of CoWRC Ordinary meeting, 17th March, 2010 & 14th April, 2010.

295 ‘Rowers push for more power-free time on the Hopkins’, Sinnott, A. The Standard, 30th October, 2010. Page 6.

296 Minutes of CoWRC Annual meeting, 10th September, 2010.

297 Minutes of CoWRC Ordinary meeting, 30September, 2010.

298 Rowing Online Management System (ROMS), regatta search printout 2015. Copy in Club’s 2001-50 scrap book.

299 ‘Rowing club left with cleanup’, Thomson. A. The Standard. 18th January, 2011. No page.

300 ‘Warrnambool crew enjoys first win’, no author, The Standard, 20th April, 2011. No page.

301 ‘City rowers deliver a regatta master stroke’, Rooth. M. The Standard, 11th May, 2011. No page.

302 ‘Eager rowers ready to rise to new challenges’, Himmelreich E., The Standard, 29th June 2011. No page.

303 Profit and Loss Account Report, tabled at CoWRC Annual meeting, 19th August, 2011.

304 Warrnambool City Council, Ordinary Meeting minutes, 22nd August, 2011. pp 71-88.

305 CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 15h September, 2011.

306 Warrnambool City Council Letter, Robinson P., to Warrnambool Rowing Club: Ref: OUT11/29214CB6, dated 20th October, 2011.

307 Warrnambool City Council, Ordinary Meeting minutes, 19th December, 2011. pp 194-197, 287.

308 Hopkins River waterway Reference Group Meeting minutes, 6th June, 2013 and email: 8th July 2013 copy in HRWRG Minute folder, club archives.

309 Warrnambool City Council, Ordinary Meeting minutes, 8th July, 2013. Page 185.

310 ‘Skiers truce plea River fight’, Collins P., The Standard. 13th July 2013 Page 2.

311 ‘Muddy Waters- Council rebuke’ Collins P., The Standard. 25th October, 2014. pp 1-2. & ‘Decision relating to a request for making of a waterway rule’, Transport Safety Victoria. Number: 114-2013-WR, 23rd October 2014 and ‘State safety body critical of Council over Hopkins River use issue’, Collins P., The Standard. 25th October, 2014. No page.

312 ‘Impressive regatta kick starts summer season’, Rooth M., The Standard. 17th November, 2011. No page.

313 Rowing Online Management System (ROMS), regatta search printout 2015. Copy in Club’s 2001-50 scrap book.

314  CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 19th January, 2012.

315 ‘Regattas steer rowers towards Italy’, no author. The Standard, 14th April, 2012. Page 51.

316 ‘Members, equipment boost rowing club’, Fawkes A., The Standard. 16th November, 2012. Page 44.

317 CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 28th June & 16th August, 2012.

318 CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 18th October & 22nd November, 2012.

319 Rowing Online Management System (ROMS), regatta search printout 2015. Copy in clubs 2001-50 scrap book.

320 ‘Striking gold at regatta’, McCullagh-Beasy J., The Standard. 15th January 2013. Page 21.

321 ‘Rowing club launches new boat’, Woolley J., The Standard. 9th February 2013. Page 50.

322 ‘Recruit makes golden debut in rowing club’s medal haul’, McCullagh-Beasy J., The Standard. 3rd April, 2013. No Page. Minutes of CoWRC Ordinary meeting, 27th March, 2013. CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 18th April, 2013.

323 ‘Rowers successful at Dimboola’ no author, 19th November, 2013 and ‘Rowers in Yarra trail run’, McCullagh-Beasy J., 3rd December. The Standard. No page.

324 ‘The Oarsmen’s cenotaph’, Monuments & Memorials, Warnimble, April 2013, vol.47, No1. Page 16.

325 CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 27th March, 2014.

326 CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 18th September, 2014.

327 CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 15th May, 2014.

328 CoWRC, Annual meeting minutes, 25th July, 2014.

329 CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 20th November, 2014.

330 Community Noticeboard. The Standard. 28th July, 2015. Page 6.

331 CoWRC, Ordinary meeting minutes, 10th September, 2015.

332 ‘Rowing history research hits modern snag’, Houlihan R., The Standard. 17th June 2015. Page 4.

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