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History of Newcastle Rowing Club

Part 4 -The Modern Era, 1992 -

Part 4 pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


Newcastle Rowing Club (NRC) was re-activated again in 1992. 

Apart from a short revival in 1940, it had been almost a hundred years since the the club had flourished during the last few decades of the 19th century. Whilst the fundamentals of rowing remained largely unchanged, the structure of the sport itself has changed enormously. Most notably: 

  • Modern rowers enter the sport via a club or school. Their antecedents in the days of sail acquired rowing skills through the use of boats for everyday transport tasks.
  • Competition now is based on clubs functioning within a network of regional, state, national and international associations that apply what are, in general, standard rules and conditions. Previously, racing was predominantly organised in one of two ways; either by professionals who negotiated with their opponent as to how their race would be conducted or by ad-hoc committees of local citizens who organised what was usually an annual regatta.
  • Women/girls make up a significant proportion of competitors. During the 19th century, women's involvement was rare.
  • Gone unlamented are the distinctions that once existed between rowers based on whether they were professional, manual labourer amateur or bona fide amateur.
  • The widespread public interest in rowing that drew thousands of spectators to local regattas in the latter half of the nineteenth century has dissipated due to competition from a multitude of other sports and activities. Consequently, rowing no longer has the status as one of the nation's top sports nor does it enjoy the extensive press coverage that had been the case in colonial times.
  • On the other hand, rowing has expanded beyond a small number of Anglo-Saxon countries to become a truly international sport.
  • Apart from a few exceptions, courses nowadays are straight, so the skills, tactics and, dare we say it, aggression, necessary to win the contest at turning marks (and perhaps even benefit from them) are redundant.
  • Rowing and sailing events are no longer held at the same regatta although on some waterways it is not uncommon for yachts or other stray vessels to meander through a rowing course during racing. 
  • Heavy wooden watermens boats of the 19th century that doubled as racing boats have disappeared. One can imagine the disdain of old-time rowers for their modern counterparts who race in much lighter boats over shorter distances. Then, courses were about 3 -3 1/2 miles with championship times usually in the order of 20-25 minutes. Now, championship races are held over a standard 2000 metres with times, depending on the boats involved, varying between 5 and 7 1/2 minutes. 
  • Paradoxically, a rower from the late colonial era would readily recognise a modern racing scull. The characteristic long, narrow, smooth-skinned shell with outriggers, swivel rowlocks, sliding seat and fin that were in use in the late 1800s have changed little since. Modern developments have been the change from timber construction to new composite materials such as fibre glass, carbon fibre and kevlar fibre. 

The 20th Century Club Scene 

This time around, NRC found itself among a number of rowing clubs already active in the region. These competed locally under the umbrella of the Central Districts Rowing Association10. Clubs that either existed when NRC returned in 1992 or would soon emerge were: 

  • Manning River RC (1957) at Taree.
  • Newcastle University Boat Club (1961). Originally on the Hunter River at Raymond Terrace. Relocated to Berry Park near Morpeth in 1998.
  • Port Macquarie RC (1987). Previously Hastings River RC (1974-1983) then Port Macquarie RSL Club RC (1984 -87).
  • Hunter RC (1987). On Lake Macquarie. Originally shared a boat shed with Speers Point Sailing Club before moving into its own shed at Booragul in 1998.
  • Armidale RC (1988). Located at Lake Malpas.
  • Upper Hunter RC (1992). Located at Glenbawn Dam near Scone. This was an unusual arrangement in which the rowing club was organised by a sub-committee of Scone Rugby Club. The two clubs disassociated in 2004.
  • Endeavour RC (1998). Established on the Hunter River near Morpeth in 1998 by parents of rowers from Hunter Valley Grammer School.
  • City Rowers (1996). Established at Raymond Terrace by Jim Bardakos (former President of NRC and NUBC).
  • Brisbane Water RC (2002) at Gosford.
  • Morpeth RC (c1991- c1995).
  • Hunter River RC centered at Singleton (1978- c1986).
  • Grahamstown Rowing and Aquatic Club (c1989).
  • Central Coast RC (2008). Central Coast RC was active in the region previously (c1982 - c1989).

A number of high schools have rowed within the CDRA from time to time for varying durations. Some functioned as a separate identity, others in association with one of the established clubs. They include: 

In Newcastle and environs: 

  • Hunter Valley Grammar (1991). Located initially at the Walka Water Works at Maitland before relocating to its own shed at Berry Park in 1996.
  • Newcastle Grammar (c1993). Rows out of the Hunter RC shed.
  • Others are Irrawang, Merewether, Lambton, St Francis Xavier, Newcastle, Belmont, Warners Bay, Whitebridge, Lake Macquarie and St Philips Christian College Waratah.

In Northern NSW:

  • New England Girls School (c1993 - 1996).
  • The Armidale School (TAS) (c1991 - 2000).

On the Mid-North Coast:

  • Wauchope, St Josephs, Port Macquarie, Chatham, St Josephs, St Clares and Taree.

On the Central Coast:

  • Mater Dei College.

The First Year (1992 - 93) - The launch 

Officially, NRC reformed on 9 September 1992 although preliminary work had commenced some time before then. 

The club's revival was due to much hard work by a small group of enthusiasts led by Jim Bardakos. Other foundation members were Val Kost, Leane Burns and Wendy Bardakos. 

At a meeting held on 16 September 1992, Jim was elected inaugural President, Val as Secretary and Leanne as Treasurer. The new committee decided on a joining fee of $2 plus membership fees of $80 for seniors; $50 for juniors; $3 for associates (school sport rowers eligible to row for the club but without voting rights); and $10 for social members (non-rowing supporters). By November, an application had been made to NSWRA for affiliation that included registration of the club's current colours - red,white, blue and black. 

Jim Bardakos. Founder and inaugural President with Ian Kerr (first competitor, Boat Captain (1993-95),  Vice President (2000- 03; 2004-06) 

Jim made available a four, two doubles and one single scull plus a trailer that he had obtained previously for $3,700 from a defunct club on the Central Coast. This was to be repaid when the club had sufficient funds. The boats were stored on the trailer at Jim's home as a temporary measure until a boat shed was found. As boats had to be taken by trailer to Throsby Creek for training, rowing was limited to Saturday mornings and Monday afternoons. This onerous and limiting arrangement lasted from September 1992 until August 1993. Ironically, as will be discussed later, circumstances dictated a return to the same occasional, trailer-based rowing for over a year between June 2007 and June 2009. 

Within the first year, current members Ian Kerr (#5), Robert Gee (#8), Peter Boyce (#9), Dick Sanders (#11) and Paul O'Callaghan (#20) had joined. 

By the first annual general meeting on 15 July 1993, the club had obtained several additional boats from St Joseph's College in Sydney. The fleet had grown to 2 timber eights with oars ($1,500), 3 tub fours with oars ($550), 1 tub pair with oars ($200), one timber coxed pair/double with sweep oars ($500), 2 wooden singles ($1300), 1 fibreglass single with oars ($1,500) and a boat trailer. Within the year a timber eight and a number of single sculls were added. Assets then were valued at $14,000. Liabilities were $3,800 almost all of which was money owed to Jim Bardakos for boat purchase. Jim was repaid $2700 in 1994, the remainder the following year. Income from membership fees amounted to $1924. 

Of all the essential tasks facing the new club such as the recruitment and training of new members, the overriding priority from the very first was location of a suitable site for a permanent boat shed/club house. The story of this prolonged struggle will be told later. 

A strong core of juniors was regarded as imperative for the club's future. To that end the club quickly formed associations with local schools to introduce 14 and 15 year old students to the sport. Any who enjoy the experience or exhibit an aptitude for rowing are encouraged to join the club. Many have done so, going on to represent their school at relevant Combined High Schools or Independent School regattas as well as competing with the club at normal CORA regattas. A high proportion have rowed at state and national level. 

Discussions in late 1992 led to Newcastle Grammar School (1992 -96)becoming the first of several local schools to link with the club over the following years. St Francis Xavier followed in May 1994, rowing on Wednesday afternoons. A boy's eight from Merewether High also became involved during that period. In 1995, several students from Newcastle High School rowed with NRC during out-of­school hours. St Philips Christian College Waratah joined in 1996 for several seasons. Broadmeadow High School had a crew rowing for a time in 1997. Newcastle High School re-commenced rowing as a school sport in 2001 with twelve or more students rowing on Wednesday afternoons. St Phillips re-joined in 2001, rowing on Tuesdays whilst Calleghan College Campus (Waratah) joined in 2004 rowing on Thursdays.

An interesting if unusual proposition was explored in mid 1994 when a resident of Brightwaters offered use of a property on Sugar Bay in the SW corner of Lake Macquarie for a sort of club sub-branch. The principal aim was to make rowing available to students of a high school at Avondale. Attractions for the club were the opportunity to store and utilise surplus boats and the potential to attract additional members from residents on the western side of Lake Macquarie. Despite the success of several trial days the idea did not proceed as the school decided against adding rowing to its sports curriculum. 


10. The CDRA was formed by active clubs in 1981 to promote and control boat racing within an area between Nambucca river in the north and Hawkesbury River in the south. A proposal in 1973 to establish a Hunter River Rowing Association did not eventuate.

Part 4 pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Previous < Twentieth Century Rowing in Newcastle

Next > Appendix A - Boats

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