Scroll To Top

History of Leichhardt Rowing Club

On these Bright Waters - A Centennial History of Leichhardt Rowing Club 1886-1986
Reproduced with permission of the author Merle Kavanagh

2. Opening Ceremony of Club Premises

Owing to numerous engagements, the Governor had been unable to accept the club's invitation to perform the opening ceremony but when approached, Sir Henry Parkes, K.C.M.G., Premier of N.S.W., had agreed to do so and promised to ask Miss Parkes to present the flag given by the ladies of the district. The largest group of people ever assembled on Leichhardt Park attended the ceremony on Saturday, 24th September, 1887. The Daily Telegraph on the following Monday reported the event in detail over two long columns headed with a drawing of the boatshed by W.E. Johnson, the club's secretary.

Sir Henry and Miss Parkes had been cheered by the occupants of the numerous boats which stud the harbour on Saturday afternoons as they proceeded from Circular Quay to the clubhouse by the steam launch The Premier, which had been unable to pass under Iron Cove Bridge. They were met by a launch containing the committee of the Leichhardt Rowing Club and the Band of the Vernon, and transferred to this launch. Accompanied by a procession of boats from Balmain, the Glebe and other clubs, they continued on to the clubhouse to be greeted by loud cheers from the assembled crowd. The Sydney Daily Telegraph of 26th September, 1887 reported Sir Henry's response to an address of welcome-

Sir Henry Parkes said he received their address with very great gratification. They appeared to have made one great mistake in it in supposing him not to be a sporting character. (laughter) He had always had in his mind a conceit that he occupied a front place in the sporting community. (Laughter) He very much appreciated their efforts in forming themselves into a club. There could be no better exercise of the muscles in your life than the. thoroughly English employment of learning to work their own way on the bright face of the waters. Of all athletic exercises, rowing is, perhaps, the most kindred to the island home of our forefathers. It is innocent in itself, it brings out the physical strength as well as any other exercise, and it is even conducive to a thorough enjoyment of life. He had great pleasure in declaring their new boatshed open.(Applause)

A very convivial luncheon followed where Sir Henry proved himself an entertaining speaker-

I came here at the solicitation of your captain to perform a very agreeable duty - the opening of the boatshed of the Leichhardt Rowing Club. I am quite sure that few of you can appreciate the importance of the club more than I do.

Young men must have, I suppose, some outlet for their superabundant energies. They have such a stock of animal spirits, the world appears to them so big, so golden and so never-ending, that they must have some means of endeavouring to squander their surplus power. And I can conceive of nothing better for them than to learn to row.

I had occasion to remark before, it is an essentially English exercise. We are sprung from a nation than which none has ever appeared of more importance in the world, and our nation has derived certainly many of its finest characteristics from the circumstance that we were surrounded - and closely surrounded - by the sea. We are islanders in the very essence of our character - I mean we who have lived in the old country. And those who have been born here as well as those who come from the old country and adopt Australia as their home are still islanders though they inhabit, fortunately, a land so extensive and encompassing such varying conditions of life that we can hardly realise that it is girdled by the ocean. Our country - I am speaking of Australia as a whole - is diversified all along its shores by beautiful inland waters. The waters here where we assemble to-day would be a fortune to some countries as a harbour. I have heard - but I can hardly believe it possible - that occasionally they have been euphemistically designated as a mudpond. (Laughter) But the person who is responsible for that designation must himself be very muddle-headed (Laughter and applause) In reality, there are many countries which would give untold wealth for a harbour as spacious, as secure and as good as that formed by the waters here. And our spaces of water, encircling the land in different parts along the shores of this vast continent, are so countless, so innumerable, that we cannot even obtain an exact description of them. Even along the shores of this colony few persons know the extreme facilities that are afforded for recreation by the broken arms of the sea, which pierce and diversify the scenery of many parts of our coasts.

That the young men of Leichhardt should have taken it into their heads to form a rowing club is not in the least surprising. That they have done this is so commendable to them that I feel quite sure they will have the sympathy of their elders and of their fellow-citizens of every condition and class. I hardly can conceive of a finer employment to which they can devote themselves in their leisure time. It is healthy in the highest degree; calculated to give them that feeling of self-reliance which is so invaluable to men at all times. It is calculated also to foster a feeling of enterprise which, if more momentous circumstances were met with, would no doubt find its proper outlet in a higher purpose than merely rowing a boat. It is in every way a healthy, a beautiful and a manly exercise.

In the formation of this rowing club I am informed there is a principle regulating admission, which is of great interest. The club has been formed without any regard to the condition of life of those who become members of it - (applause) - and, as the address presented to me expresses it, the manual laborer and the brainworker row side by side in the same boat. (Applause) Well, that is exactly how it should be - not only on these bright waters but on shore. (Applause) Without any distinction of class, we ought to work side by side for one common object, and I am certain that this simple principle, which is recognised and carried out in your club, must have a beneficial effect in forming the character of the young citizens of this important suburb. (Applause) I do not suppose the people of Leichhardt intend to be considered second to the suburban population of Sydney. I do not suppose at all - that their young men and young women are inclined to consider themselves behind anybody.(Laughter) They know they inhabit a fine district; they know even the advantages which the experience of others has given them; and they know that whatever is possible to others they may, with proper application of their natural energies, achieve. (Applause) And there can be no doubt whatever that their rowing club will have considerable effect in bringing out many qualities which at first sight do not seem to be identified with it. I have no doubt that many a young woman will be all the prouder of the gentleman whom she selects as a singular creature from all other on account of his capabilities in rowing a boat. (Laughter) She will think that whatever comes he will, at all events, be able to 'paddle his own canoe', (Laughter)

I do not know that I can say anything about the way in which you have drunk my health. If I can be of any use at any time in promoting the social enjoyment and the many pure recreations of the people of this country, I think I have always shown that I am very ready to lend my weak assistance. (Applause)

If coming here on this bright day and seeing so many happy faces - so many fine young men who are physically formed to suitably maintain society in the future, and seeing so many beautiful young women who are suitable to become their wives - (Laughter) - if this is rendering a service it certainly entails
no sacrifice. (Applause) I am repaid by a more than counterbalancing amount of enjoyment. I hope your boat club will go on and flourish and hold its own among sister clubs, and while recognising that beautiful passage that 'Emulation hath a thousand sons', you will never forget that charity, good feeling and gentleness of conduct characterise the demeanor of gentlemen all the world over. (Applause)

Leichhardt's opening day had been a great success.

< previous Chapter 1

> next Chapter 3

top of page

Website by Hope Stewart—Website Design & Management