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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

12. The Struggles of the Sixties and Seventies

The club continued winning races but the peak had been passed. Leichhardt won the State Premiership in 1960/61, the J.B. Sharp Cup in 1960, 1961 and 1962. In 1961/62 it was the tenth successive year of winning the Championship Lightweight Fours and the ninth successive year of winning the Championship Lightweight Eights. In 1962 they won 6 of 14 State Championships and had five members representing N.S.W. in Australian Championships at Lake Wendouree. The previous year they had won four State Championships and had four members representing Australia at the Olympic Games in Rome.

1961 NSW Lightweight Four in training

1961 Australian Champion NSW Lightweight Four

Bow: D Willmott, 2: John Henderson, 3: Ray Bushell, Str: Steve Roll, Cox: B Thomas, Emerg: Ron Bath, Cch: Bert Harding

Vandals caused malicious damage to the fleet and twelve boats were badly damaged in June 1962 so efforts were made to make the clubhouse more secure. The club appreciated the help of Ald. J. Deehan, Ald. W. & Mrs. Anderson, the Leichhardt Olympic Bowling Centre and Sydney Rowing Club for their magnificent efforts in raising funds for the club. The public responded generously and the club kept going, but although that year they won 4 of 14 State Championships and three members represented N.S.W. in the Australian Championships Brisbane, their efforts after this setback were disappointing.

In 1963/64 they had five State Representatives but in the following years, results were few and far between. As at June 1966 the club had fourteen active oarsmen.

1964 NSW crew

1964 NSW crew in training

The club realised for some time that it needed to be on a firmer financial footing, as the clubhouse and fleet were getting older and needed attention more often. Several alternatives were considered and a committee formed to investigate the acquisition of a Liquor Licence. On 27th September 1964 the Foundation Meeting of the Leichhardt Rowing Club was held reconstituting the old club with the object of operating eventually as a licenced social club as well as an active rowing club. Leases were pursued, debentures issued, but progress was so slow it was thought best to return the debenture money to the members concerned. In 1966 negotiations took place between the Leichhardt Rowing Club and the A.P.I.A. Club with the object of merging, and securing the support of a licenced social club. However, nothing seemed to be able to change the fact that in order to gain financial support, the identity of the club would have to be surrendered and this would not be entertained. The granting of a licence was still pursued, but was held in abeyance in 1968 pending establishment of a committee that could devote time to the quest for licenced premises.

Despite further protracted efforts over the year, the establishment of a licenced club was no nearer though the club turned its attention in 1973 to the feasibility of promoting a restaurant, reception rooms or marina, and efforts were made to investigate the marina issue, but no results were achieved as the dredging costs were prohibitive. The prospect of having a regular income without the involvement of active oarsmen in management was still as far away as ever.

A Ladies Auxiliary was formed in 1961 and held wine tastings, balls, barbecues, dances, games nights, most of which were successful socially and financially. The Old Boys, too, were a wonderful support. In 1961 they had the clubhouse electrically re-wired and Stan Jones, as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Old Boys, very capably organised the 75th Anniversary Re-union Dinner, held at Balmain Town Hall on 15th September 1961 at a cost of 35/-d. per head. Five years later Stan was again responsible for another successful Anniversary Re-union Dinner - the 80th - at the A.P.I.A. Club at a cost of $4. Many old friendships were renewed at these dinners and at other functions organised regularly by the Old Boys, including an occasion in 1966 when they boated an "Olympic" crew, all ex-members of Leichhardt who had represented Australia in at least one Olympiad in some particular sphere of rowing, either as oarsman, cosxwain or coach. They were:

  • Geoff Wiliamson
  • John Harrison
  • Max Annett
  • Peter Evatt
  • John Hudson
  • Nim Greenwood
  • Merv Finlay
  • Ted Curtain
  • Peter Waddington
  • Lionel Robberds

As the club entered the seventies, active membership was still low, but those who were members were enthusiastic. A marathon row on 26th May 1969 from the clubhouse to Manly Wharf and return covered 26 miles. The winning four covered the total distance in 3 hours 39 minutes, whilst the Tub Pair comprising Steve Roll and Barry Moynahan took a total time of 3 hours 42 minutes. This got good coverage on T.V. and theatre newsreels, the shots past Sydney Heads being very spectacular.

The clubhouse was beginning to show its age, the balcony and roof over it were in need of repair and the kitchen was in a bad state in 1974, so a building fund was set up, together with a finance committee. Trouble with the water pipe continually bursting involved the club in a $600 excess water bill in 1975, so the water service was renewed and a new copper service laid, thanks to Neil McCallum and John Palasty.

At last, after many difficulties with the pontoon (during the year 1968/69 it was only afloat for 12 hours) a new all steel one was installed on 6th June 1970, due to the efforts of Ted Curtain and John Harrison.

A regular news bulletin, "Bellnote", began about this time. A club T-shirt was introduced to replace the old idea of the blazer the previous year and this was followed by a casual shirt and a canvas bag with the club crest, which proved very popular.

However, early in the seventies women began to play a more active part at the shed. The Y.W.C.A. Rowing Club operated out of the clubhouse and a Women's Section of Leichhardt Rowing Club was investigated. This resulted in amendments to the Constitution to allow women to join the club and a resurgence of rowing activity around the mid seventies.

The premises were let for practice sessions of music groups in 1975 but the participation of members, old boys and friends in the delivery of telephone books was responsible for a boost in funds on a fairly regular basis after 1976.

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