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History of Mercantile Rowing Club

17. A New Challenge (1970-1973)

Chapter Seventeen page 1 2

After the thrashing the club had received in 1970-71, immediate steps were taken to prepare for a better 1971-72 season when John Burford was drafted at the 1971 annual meeting to return as captain, with David Palfreyman and Peter Watkin remaining as vice-captain and secretary respectively.

With the senior oarsmen as a nucleus, and an Olympic year in prospect, David Boykett and Phil Cayzer as joint senior coaches drew together a large winter training squad. David Boykett scored a major coup in luring Paul Guest out of retirement. Paul applied for and was granted a transfer to Mercantile - something which would have been impossible only a few years earlier.

The season saw Mercantile regain the Victorian residential eight oared title, retain the sculling title, and also win back the Junior Eight oared and Four oared titles. The club won the Senior and Junior (First Division) premierships, but was still unable to make significant headway in lightweight ranks against the strong competition of Barwon and Melbourne University. Encouragingly, a larger number of recruits led to a series of junior and maiden wins.

Mercantile won 15 races in all classes at the six early season regattas. The Senior Eight, under David Boykett and Phil Cayzer, was settled by the V.R.A. Regatta in late November and included as new members Roger Drummond from Lindisfarne Rowing Club of Tasmania and Paul Guest. Peter Philp and Les Ayres from the 1971 Eight rowed in a coxed pair and met with considerable success during the season. The eight, at its first serious outing against the much-vaunted Monash crew, and inspired to erase memories of the previous season, won by over two lengths of clear water. Roger Wilson's Maiden Eight, which had shown some early season form, won easily, as did Ken McConville's Junior Four and Ken Leach in the Senior Sculls.

During the three regattas of Christmas series, the club won 10 races in all classes.

Cock Robins

Cock Robins

Cox: James Harvey, Str: Bob Aitken, 7: Barry Gross, 6: Graham McCall, 5: Ian Wilson, 4: Phil Cayzer, 3: John Carr, 2: Jack Shears, Bow: Bill White

The State Senior Eight titles were held on January 8, to allow the State selectors sufficient time to put together a competitive State crew to compete at the Australian Eight Oared title in Franklin, Tasmania, on March 4. The Mercantile's Senior men trained with particular enthusiasm over the Christmas break. The race attracted entries from Sydney Rowing Club (in substance the New South Wales King's Cup Crew) and Lindisfarne Rowing Club (Hobart). Sydney finished first, a bare length ahead of Mercantile, in the very fast time of 5.53.8 seconds. Mercantile finished in 5.55.6, 2 1/2 lengths in front of Monash. This was the fastest time yet recorded at Ballarat by a Victorian crew in the event.

The club's day was complete when Ken Leach beat Ted Hale and Jeff Sykes well in the sculls, and Ken McConville's Junior Eight won by a length from M.U.B.C. and Barwon. Mercantile's Junior crew was stroked by Rudi Hochstrasser, a genial Swiss who had wandered into the club a few weeks earlier when on a world trip. Rudi, a master bricklayer, became a firm friend of many members during his short stay.

A number of other oarsmen from foreign parts rowed for the club during the season, including Peter Holzer and Hans Sorg, also from Switzerland, and Brian Parmenter and Peter Scanes from the United Kingdom.

At the end of the Championship regatta, it was announced that Phil Cayzer and David Boykett were coaches of the State Eight. A squad was announced immediately, and included Douglas, Harry, Palfreyman, Guest, Boykett and coxswain Adrian Maginn, and great things were predicted for the crew in the King's Cup.

1972 Victorian Crew

1972 Victorian Crew

Cox: Adrian Maginn, Str: Graham Boykett, 7: Paul Guest, 6: David Douglas, 5: Will Baillieu, 4: John Harry, 3: Kerry Jelbart, 2: David Michelmore, Bow: David Bishop, Cchs: Davis Boykett & Phil Cayzer

As always, things did not go nearly as well as predicted. The heats were rowed under atrocious wind and wave conditions. Victoria, having drawn N.S.W. and Western Australia, rowed sluggishly from the start and lost by several lengths. In the repechage against Western Australia and Tasmania conditions were worse still, and Victoria - half full of water - won by a length after having been a long way back in the early stages. The conditions in the final were marginally improved. Victoria was again slow and heavy, and lost by three lengths to N.S.W. and Western Australia. Only Kerry Jelbart of the Victorians was selected to join the Australian Eight squad for the Munich Olympic Games.

The President's Cup was again a disappointment for Ken Leach, who had been sculling superbly in training. Ken led well in the heat to the 1700 metre mark, but in extremely heavy head conditions, Islay Lee of N.S.W. was able to overhaul him just before the finish.

Meanwhile, the club had been enjoying more successes on the Yarra. The Junior Eight remained undefeated; Ken Leach put a string of wins together; the open eight and lightweight senior eight also recorded wins. Hubert Frederico coached a reconstituted senior eight and four, the four which included Stephen Gillon, taking out the Stewards Challenge Cup at Henley, and the eight the open section of the annual Head of the Yarra. Mercantile fielded a very restricted entry at the Australian National titles at Petrie, Queensland, in April.

It was during this season that the club under the guidance of Ron Griffiths, affiliated with the Squash Racquets Association of Victoria. The club entered three teams in pennant competition for a number of years and succeeded in winning two premierships. This affiliation, now defunct, proved an enjoyable and worthwhile avenue for winter activity for quite a number of active and retired oarsmen.

The annual meeting in 1972 saw the retirement of John Burford as captain and the appointment of Martin Owen in his place supported by Les Ayres as vice-captain. Martin Owen displayed great enthusiasm and organising power which marked him as a key Mercantilian for the future. Martin, as a keen lightweight, also was able to promote (always fairly) the independent interests of this category of member to give it the status and recognition in terms of equipment priority which it previously had lacked. Martin was joined on the committee by two other young and able lightweights, Ian Duthie and Rod "Banana" Stewart, from the Toowong Rowing Club in Brisbane.

The selectors recalled Hubert Frederico to act as senior coach. Paul Guest retired due to pressure of work, but Gillon, Douglas, Harry and Boykett again were available.

The warm-up regattas brought a sprinkling of success. Les Ayres and Peter Philp once again boated a coxed pair, and won open and senior pair three times. The junior four, stroked by Michael Faulkner, a lithe and well co-ordinated recruit from Melbourne Grammar, showed pace immediately, and went on to win Mercantile's only State Championship for the year. Ken Leach returned again to the senior sculls, and the club boated a Veteran Eight - including Tony Cordell, Paul Harding, Andy Evans, Ted Sorani, David Yunghanns, John Gumley, Martin Tomanovits and Geoff Taylor and Adrian Maginn (cox) - which succeeded in toppling the evergreen Banks Veterans at V.R.A. Melbourne in late November. This crew later raced in the New South Wales Championships at Penrith and also was successful at the Scotch-Mercantile Regatta.

Frederico boated a full strength eight at the Upper Yarra regatta in early December. Les Ayres replaced Roger Drummond and Mike Faulkner was introduced at bow, but otherwise the eight was unchanged from 1971-2, except that Boykett returned to stroke seat in place of Palfreyman. The eight won the open division, while the senior four of Gillon, Douglas, Harry and Boykett won the senior four and John Shanasy the senior sculls. The club also won the junior four and pair to round out a successful day. Despite boating a large number of crews, only two races were won in the three regattas comprising the Christmas series.

The eight selected for the Universities regatta in late January was changed considerably. In came Queenslander Rod Stewart from the junior four, David Booth, a young but very powerful oarsman who had rowed for Scotch the previous season, and Tasmanian Roger Drummond. Frederico and Phil Cayzer, who now had joined Freddy as co-coach, reshuffled the crew, bringing Faulkner to stroke and moving Boykett back to six.

The senior eight won well at the next four Melbourne regattas - Universities, Footscray, Albert Park and Barwon, Ken Leach being the only other successful club senior oarsman. The eight went to Penrith, N.S.W., to race in the championships in mid-February. In the final, Mercantile, on the Emu Plains bank, allowed Sydney and Monash to clear away in the early stages of the race, but overhauled Monash to finish a close second to Sydney. Although narrowly beaten by Sydney in the New South Wales Championships the crew won again at Henley, taking out the Grand Challenge Cup, but, was again the only winning Mercantile crew. Unfortunately, the run of wins came to an end when the crew was beaten by one foot by Monash in the State title.

After the championship event, Frederico was appointed coach of the King's Cup Eight which included Mike Faulkner, John Harry, John Shanasy and Adrian Maginn from the club eight, and Bruno Romanin, from a Mercantile junior crew, who was a talented and extremely strong young oarsmen with much promise for the future.

The club won very little in lightweight ranks during the season. However Peter Philp of Mercantile had now given up trying to persuade the club selectors of his merit, and agreed to take charge of lightweight rowing at M.U.B.C.

The King's Cup crew seating presented exactly the same puzzle as the previous year, the need to blend oarsmen of two markedly conflicting styles.

Frederico was called on to perform a miracle, and he did. When the crew rowed from Mannum, where it had been training to the course at Murray Bridge for the last few days of preparation, it was a definite contender. This was to be the last Interstate regatta to be held on the Murray Bridge course which was again criticised as being unfair. The final seating of the crew was Bishop, Liley, Stokes, Harry, Magennis, Jelbart and Shanasy with the young and relatively inexperienced Faulkner at stroke. Victoria was beaten in its heat by New South Wales and Tasmania, although only 3/4 length separated the field. Western Australia won the second heat by almost 20 seconds from South Australia and Queensland. The Western Australian crew was a beautifully neat and efficient combination entirely drawn from the Joondalup Rowing Club.

In the final, Western Australia leapt off the mark to lead by a clear length after 500 metres, followed by Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. Faulkner settled the crew down well in the middle stages of the race, and Victoria gradually overhauled the Western Australian combination to draw level with 250 metres to go. Victoria was a canvas in front with 100 metres left, but was just overtaken in a desperate battle to the line.

Jeff Sykes of Victoria won the President's Cup by two lengths from Ted Hale of Tasmania in a re-row after the two had dead-heated in the final. Jeff showed great competitive spirit in his approach to the re-row, and thoroughly deserved his solid win. Peter Philp's M.U.B.C. lightweight four, after miscalculating the pace of its competitors, won narrowly, retaining the Penrith Cup for the State for the third consecutive time.

Two highly important initiatives were taken by the A.A.R.C. in 1973. First, it was decided to institute and interstate youth eight oared championship. Secondly, it was decided to combine the King's Cup and other interstate events with the National Championships in a four-day regatta at Ballarat in 1974. This proved to be an essential step in the development of a co-ordinated system of national rowing selection and promotion.

The records of this period of the club's history would not be complete without some acknowledgement of the untiring efforts of the Ladies Auxiliary in support of the club. This Auxiliary was formed in the late 1960's, the first office bearers being Mrs. Shirley Douglas, Mrs. Carol Boykett, Mrs. Peg Philp, Mrs. Jay Loveless, Mrs. Jean Bradshaw and Mrs. Eila McKeown. It had, by this stage, been able to contribute to the club a racing four "The First Lady", a boat trailer and various other items of equipment and furnishings. The Auxiliary has also rendered great assistance in catering for oarsmen and spectators at the annual Scotch Mercantile regatta and other functions. The invaluable worth of these dedicated supporters of the club continues at the close of the century.

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