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History of Fremantle Rowing Club 1887-1987

By Ralph Jeffreys

10. Fremantle Ladies Rowing Club

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The year 1979 being the 150th Anniversary of the Foundation of Western Australia, a traditional Rowing Club Ball was organised as part of the Fremantle Celebrations. Although the last Ball had been held 18 years previously, Mrs. A.L. Williams who had been President in the years leading up to 1961, gathered together ladies of that era and with the additions of current members formed a Committee. Bob Semple who had been Ball Secretary many times agreed to act in this position for the Historic event. The Ball was held in the tradition of 1387, long frocks were brought out from cupboards and Dinner Suits cleaned up, and the old atmosphere was set alive by the orchestra. During the evening colourful and entertaining Folk Dancing was performed by the Morriss Dancers. A night full of memories for the older ones and an experience for the younger ones.

The Fremantle Ladies Rowing Club mainly through Lu Holm and Flo Armstrong also initiated the Annual Rowing Clubs Picnic, the first of which was held on 4th November 1922 at Como. The outing consisted of a round launch trip kindly provided by Harold Tilley a programme of picnic events culminating in the first Annual Oarsman's 100 yards Handicap. Prior to the return trip an evening meal followed by a Dance were both enjoyed in "Cassey's Hall" Como.

The Ladies Rowing Club had not really reformed following World War 1 and on 13th March 1923 the men agreed to form a sub-committee with the object of assisting the reformation. This sub-committee comprised Frank Sears (Chairman), George Davidson, Jim Shaw, Dick Carter, Wally Bateman, Frank Powell, Ray Viner and Gil Whittle.

This arrangement operated successfully and following the resignation of Frank Sears as Chairman in August 1925, Mrs: Marks Miller who had been appointed president of the Ladies Club on 9th June 1925, replaced him. Mrs. Miller was followed in 1929 by Mrs. J. W. Hugall who acted until 1939 when Mrs. T.A. Williams became President, a position retained until 1963 when Mary (Mrs. E.K.) Edwards was elected President with Lila (Mrs. R.G.) Semple Secretary and Doreen (Mrs.P) Cleaver Treasurer. A Committee comprising, from earlier times Mrs. N. Cumming, Mrs. V. Gerring, Mrs. A. Walker and Mrs. T.A. Williams and from the younger members Ruth (Mrs. L) Croll, Jean (Mrs J) Jeffreys, Sheila (Mrs. R.) Jeffreys, Marjorie (Mrs. K) Lewis and Pam (Mrs. R.) Nutt.

The Committee of 1963 was comprised mainly from the ladies involved in providing afternoon tea to oarsmen and onlookers. This very welcome function had been originated in 1936 by Mrs. J. Richardson who by the use of several "thermos" type flasks dispensed hot coffee and sandwiches to all crews on completion of their respective races.

The Regattas at that time and until 1962 were along a course which skirted Mounts Bay Road and finished at the Narrows. The Fremantle contingent for convenience of unloading, launching and loading of boats congregated on the parkland area at the eastern end of the Swan Brewery building. The situation was a natural one for a hot drink, the regattas being all rowed in winter and the area was in the shadow cast by Mount Eliza.

Upon resumption of rowing after the war the hot drink was carried on in the "thermos" system by Jean and Sheila Jeffreys until in 1948 a committee under Mary Edwards was formed and this Committee expanded the system, obtaining an army type copper (soya stove) to boil water for tea, a trestle table and later a canvas shelter. In any weather Vic. Gerring, without fail, would have the copper and chopped wood transported to the Regatta and have the water boiling by the time it was required.

During 1958 an arrangement with the Swan Brewery Co. Ltd. allowed an electric urn to be used in place of the "copper". The tea and biscuits or cakes became quite an institution not only among Fremantle oarsmen and supporters but Officials and Perth supporters would walk from their position at the finishing point some two hundred yards upstream to the Fremantle Canteen.

A very convivial atmosphere developed and the canteen patrons increased as the regattas progressed. During the first year of operation the charge of sixpence (equiv. five cents) was made to all except competing oarsmen who were not charged and the profit at the end of the season was sixteen pounds (equiv. $32).

Until the racing was moved to the Empire Games Course in 1962 it retained its popularity. At the time of removal of the official course, a request was made by the ladies to continue the canteen at Canning Bridge, but in their wisdom the Rowing Association decided that the club conducting the Regatta should also conduct the canteen.

In 1963 the Ladies became involved in many fund raising projects to help finance the building of the new Preston Point Clubhouse. They accepted the challenge to raise sufficient funds to pay for a concrete floor in the building. The ladies conducted Cake Stalls, Produce Stalls and Social Evenings and achieved their target - quite a fine effort.

During all this time the ladies had enjoyed social rowing. The boats of the Fremantle Ladies Rowing Club having been declared unserviceable in 1928, the rowing was performed in boats of the Fremantle Rowing Club. A recorded event held "between the bridges" with finish in front of the Clubhouse was held on 16th October 1937. Miss Jess Brooks (Str) and Miss Connie Lewis (Bow) were successful in the final defeating Miss Gwenyth Lewis (Stroke) and Miss Margot Jeffrey (Bow) by a short length.

During the 1970's competitive interclub rowing started in earnest the move appeared to have been generated in the local Universities and in 1974 Western Australia entered into the Interstate Competition for women. In 1977 as previously mentioned, in keeping with public thinking of the time the Fremantle Rowing Club decided to rewrite its Constitution and Rules as covering both sexes, with a result that Fremantle Ladies Rowing Club which had been formed in 1887 became fused with Fremantle Rowing Club and after at times a tenuous existence finally ceased to exist in 1977.

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