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History of Essendon Ladies' Rowing Club

6. Potential Folding Precedes Amalgamation

The 1970s and 80s were two tough decades for the ELRC.

1978 Interstate Lightweight Coxed Four Australian Champions

1978 Interstate Lightweight Coxed Four Champions of Australia

Left to right: Ruth Sweetman (MULRC), Debbie Biggs (Essendon), Kath Bennett (coach), Bernadette Higgins (MULRC), Christine Betremieux (YWCA) and Micelle Wright (YWCA)

There was only a small number of members at the club, and eventually the lack of internal support led to its potential folding. Forsyth explained,

They folded because there was no one coaching them. No girls put anything back into the club in the way of management. No one wanted to take on the job as a captain after Judy Duggan, she got left with the whole lot ... Right through the seventies and eighties, they had committee meetings where you were lucky to sometimes have only one person turn up, sometimes two, sometimes three. Those people ... sometimes used to take on three or four positions – secretary, coach president, for one person. (Bothell & Forsyth 2000, p. 4)

Bottrell believed the hard times for the ELRC were during the five years before the amalgamation,

The last time that it was of any strength was probably about 1981/82, and from there until '87 was roughly when it folded. Those five years ... it just went down-hill very quickly ... mainly because they lost some of the rowers and then there were no coaches. People weren't volunteering to do the administration side. (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p. 4)

It seems that the ELRC may have folded, if it wasn't for the support of the ERC. However, there still remained one particular leader who contributed an enormous amount of time and energy to the club for its survival. She was Judy Duggan, the last captain. Forsyth explained,

... we were towing their boats to regattas ... lending them boats, doing everything we could, just to basically help prop up their club ... I have to mention a lot about Judy Duggan, she was a tireless woman for the ELRC in its last few years. (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p. 4)

This neighbourly support existed from the first days of the ELRC. "The (ERC) donated an old practise four to the ELRC. It had been club policy in the past to lend these boats to the ladies." (Jemison 1980, p. 15).

Before the official amalgamation, some of the women had already started rowing out of the men's club and they even started wearing the men's uniform. Coaches were also easier to find. Bottrell stated, "... the ERC voted to allow women (to be) members ... around 83/84." (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p. 4). Forsyth continued, "... we then started ... coaching them from our club ... with the black with the red sash, and yet the ELRC was still coaching girls as well, and they had their uniform." (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, pp. 4-5). This of course made matters worse for the ELRC. Bottrell added, “... they were ... Iosing some potential members, even though we weren't doing a recruiting drive.,, (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p. 5)

The ELRC began to fold, and the ERC started taking control. However, as Forsyth explained,
... it wasn't a deliberate take-over by the ERC, it just sort of happened ... They dissolved, and we took everything, their boats and everything ... we then put boats in their shed for coaching novices, mainly the tub boats ... but Lowther Hall also had a couple of boats in there ... we had the racing boats in our shed. (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p. 5)

The anticipation of amalgamation did not help the cause of fighting for the survival of the ELRC. Most people had begun to expect the amalgamation would take place at some time or another. Bottrell linked its decline with the anticipated amalgamation with the ERC,
I think … part of the reason ... was because at that stage the theory of having separate men's and women's clubs was falling apart all around, all over the country ... in the early 80s. The idea that ...they shouldn't be separate sexes ... was starting to take hold ...Because they were not as strong ... the thought started to take hold that they should join with us, and be just one club. (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p. 4)

The internal difficulties being experienced by the ELRC was a strong factor that led to the amalgamation. However, an important external factor also pushed for amalgamation. This factor arose from a decision made in parliament by the Victorian Premier, John Cain. Forsyth recognised this,

... (Cain) decided that you shouldn't have separate clubs ... there shouldn’t be separate associations, so his law actually finished the Victorian Ladies Rowing Association (VLRA). They then became just one association the Victorian Rowing Association (VRA). The VLRA was finished. (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p 4)

The Annual Report provides further evidence of the joint of associations, "This season has been a rather difficult one, in which a lot of pressure has been put on the Clubs with amalgamation of the VLRA and the VRA." (ERC, Annual Report 1981/82, p.4).

It was the season of 1986/87 when the ERC and ELRC officially amalgamated. The Annual Report of that year referred to the amalgamation as a celebratory point in the club's history,

This year the Club has passed a number of milestones in its history. The Club was incorporated on 31-7-86 under the provisions of the Associations Incorporation Act 1981, and on 25-1l-86 the Essendon Men's and Essendon Ladies Rowing Club Inc. amalgamated under the provisions of the same Act to become the Essendon Rowing Club Inc, This amalgamation was consummated in many ways, but most successfully on the water with girls winning several races. (ERC, Annual Report 1986/87, p 6)

Forsyth believed the amalgamation probably came 'Just at the right time for the ELRC. They were dying in finances, and numbers, but they had been a successful club up until then." (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p. 13)

Although most reports generally give the glossy picture of an amalgamation that was consented to by all parties, there were certainly some disgruntled, and not so optimistic members. When the author asked if there was any objection to the amalgamation, Forsyth replied without hesitation, ..Oh yes. Lots of objection from the older men (of ERC) and who were social members. (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p. 14). However; this sentiment was not only one way. According to Bottrell, the remaining members of the ELRC were not completely happy either, "I think ... (the matter facing the ELRC) ... wasn't a clean sweep either. I’m pretty certain they had ... a fair bit of debate about it before they decided ... I think it was less controversial with the men." (Bottrell & Forsyth 2000, p. 14)

These fears and uncertainties were soon overcome and the ERC began a new era as a successful club, providing for both the men and women rowers. The Annual Report stated that the amalgamation resulted in the growth of the club making it, 'the largest club in the VRA", and it contributed to the very successful season, "concluding with a national title and oarsmen being selected to represent Australia." (ERC, Annual Report 1985/87, p. 19)

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