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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

19. Some Accidents and Incidents

The first recorded accident in the Minutes of the Leichhardt Rowing Club dated 4th October 1887 reads "The Captain reported having been informed by Mr. Stickler that a clinker had sustained damage through collision with a stake whilst it was in his occupation, also that Mr. H. Wilcox had reported that a roller in one of the clinkers had become damaged by accident whilst in his possession and use." The committee agreed that Mr. Stickler should bear the cost of repairs because the accident had been due to gross negligence of reasonable precaution, whereas in Mr. Wilcox's case the damage was through wear and tear, and the club would bear the costs.

This was to be the first of many accidents to boats, some much worse than these two examples. However, the worst disaster was the complete loss of the shed and fleet on lst June 1897 due to a severe storm, and this is reported in detail in another section of the book.

In the early part of this century a newspaper report on the Leichhardt Regatta recorded an exciting incident-
"The steamer was following the single sculls race for members of the Leichhardt Rowing Club, when a child named Laura Tinsley, 3 1/2 years old, fell overboard. The shrieks of the mother raised the alarm and the steamer was stopped and the engines ceased as quickly as possible, but not before the child had been left about 200 yards astern. A gentleman from the vessel sprang overboard and struck out vigorously for the drowning infant, but a young man named W. Barclay, who was in a light skiff nearer at hand, jumped into the water, and swimming to the child held her up till assistance arrived. W. Anderson, one of the competitors in the race then going on, sacrificed third place and rowing across took Mr.Barclay and the child into his boat and then rowed alongside the steamer. When taken on board the little girl was in a serious state and was taken off at once to a doctor."

A race was re-rowed following; a motion at the meeting of 7th December 1908 "That in view of the best practice eight being used without carrying the usual penalty of a heavy coxswain, and also an oar being broken within the first minutes rowing, thus throwing one crew out of the race, which was held at the Regatta on 21st November, that such race be re-rowed."

The Minutes of 5th February 1913 record the payment of 7/6d. for medical expenses for C. Symons in connection with his accident at the clubhouse caused by defective staging

The Sun of 7th December 1913 reported the involvement of Leichhardt in a race accident, in the Champion Eights at the N.S.W. Rowing Assn, regatta the day before -
"Leichhardt secured the best position, along the northern bank of the river. ... The Leichhardt crew, however, were holding their own but owing to the erratic course steered by the coxswain, the boat collided with the one-mile beacon at Kissing Point. The three boats, however were in very close order, and it is doubtful if Leichhardt could have kept a course outside the beacon. The accident threw Leichhardt out of the race, and the stroke mail tossed up his hat in disgust, leaving the contest entirely between Sydney and Enterprise."

The same newspaper, The Sun, also reported on an incident at Leichhardt's regatta held on 6th February 1914 thus-
"In the first race, the Junior-Senior Eights, R. Benns, of Leichhardt No. 1 crew, fell out of his boat soon after the start. He was picked up by other members of the eight, and again took his seat. This accident cost the crew the race."

In 1914 an account for 19/-d. covered repairs to the gas meter damaged by Mr. Hoskins' horse and was paid by the club, as the :natter was "purely an accident".

The Four Oar Boat, "Tom McGill" was sent for repairs to Mr. George Towns in January 1926, as it had been "recently smashed".

At the Balmain, Drummoyne and Glebe Regatta in 1931 the "F.G. Baker", a racing eight belonging to Leichhardt was broken in halves due to the very boisterous weather conditions. A letter was sent to the Drummoyne Navy League for their assistance to the eight.

A budding poet wrote verse regarding the Leichhardt Regatta of 1932 when
"Twas a Saturday clear, the regatta drew near
And arrangements were all well in hand,
He ordered the guns, the sawn off short ones,
For the Starter and Judge Understand?

On reaching the shed, the secretary said,
Did you pick up those guns O.K.?
Young Jack said STRUTH, and near hit the roof
Clean forgot them, and started to sway."

A later verse explains
"The Judge waved a flag made from red rag,
A symbol now used by the Russian,
It was better than guns, so the tale runs
Cause the boys didn't feel the concussion."

The Daily Telegraph of 13th February 1934 noted several unusual accidents at rowing events, including the following -
"One of the most amusing incidents on record occurred when R.S. Jones racing in a Leichhardt eight on the Lane Cove, "crabbed", and was lifted clean out of the boat into the water. The crew got a great shock, and so did Jones."

During the thirties a movie was made called "Gone to the Dogs", and starred George Wallace An old boat belonging to Leichhardt was used in one scene where a speed boat sliced it in half, the fictitious name of the rowing club for the film's purposes being "Shark. Cove Aquatic Club".

Club Notes for the period 1935-1939 are a source of many personal incidents. Those of 31st July 1939 include a report on a football match between Balmain and Leichhardt -

"The match however was a very humorous affair as it always is and we just managed to uphold our honour 12 - II. The game was 'reffed' by 0 ne of the lads and as somebody said 'The best arguers won'. ... Much fun came from Neil McCallum and Bill Stevenson (Balmain) who every so often would stage a mock stand-up fight in the middle of the field."

Other matches were played against Haberfield, Mosman and drummoyne often refereed by Bill Chapman, the international rugby referee, who always entered into the spirit of the games. Although objecting strongly, he was often dumped in the muddiest portion of the ground at the conclusion of the games at St. Ignatius. The showers there were undoubtedly the coldest in Sydney.

In a practise row on 10th December 1939 off Cockatoo Island, the club's racing eight "Bert Westlake" was totally destroyed.

The post war years ushered in the era of vandalism, the worst incidence of this being in June 1962 when 12 boats were badly damaged.

In 1956/57 the racing pair "Jim Henderson" was lost owing to a collision with a speedboat.

Two major accidents were experienced by the club in 1971/72 when the "P.M. Evatt" fell off a boat trailer and was damaged beyond repair, and the "Mayor of Leichhardt" drifted over the weir at the Nepean and was unable to be repaired, salvaged parts being used to repair other boats.

Also discouraging was the involvement of a newly purchased pair oar shell in a serious accident on a trip to Brisbane in 1974/75. Even the replacement boat loaned by Sydney University Boat Club suffered some slight damage in similar circumstances.

A further two boats were damaged accidentally in 1983/84 and this resulted in expensive repairs.

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