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History of Power House Rowing Club

The Power House Rowing Club

Chapter 2. The post-war years – Rejuvenation.

The Power House Rowing Club was completely inactive until in Easter of 1948 the Executive of Power House approached Dave Macglashan, with the idea of re-forming the Rowing Club. A General Meeting was held in June of that year with an attendance of approximately 12 members. A Committee of four was elected. The Fleet at this time consisted of two Racing Eights, a Tub Four and two Tub Pairs. There was also an unused set of racing oars and about 20 oars in various stages of repair.

At the Barwon Regatta during the rowing season 1948/49, the Club boated a Maiden Eight which won their heat but lost their semi-final by half a length. The Club that season rowed in six events.

Activity continued during 1949, and the Annual Meeting was held at the Club on the 4th July. The elected Office-Bearers were Bill Philip (Captain), Dave McGlashan (Secretary) and Graeme Stanton (Treasurer). It is apparent that the Club was in a stage of semi-revival and that morale for the future of the Club was high. The Rowing Club was helping with the running of the Saturday Night Dances in order to raise funds for the Club. It is interesting to note that the Rowing Club was evidently the first to improve the Saturday Night Dances by serving supper at them. This was later followed by the other Clubs.

Although the Club was still in its embryo stage of revival, it did put on order three new Eights, one each from Towns, Green and Botterill; together with a set of oars for an Eight, a set for a Four, and a tender for the VRA Kings Cup set of oars. This information was contained in the Captain's Report, which also included a somewhat naive statement that attendances must improve at the Power House Dances if the Club was to finance the boats on order.

At the 1950 Annual Meeting, Frank Osborne was elected captain, Graeme Heath became Secretary, and Bill Philip was elected Treasurer. The first significant wins were recorded by a Maiden Four at the VRA and Henley Regattas.

During the following season, 1951/52, the Club did boat a Junior Eight and several Novice crews, but with less success than in the previous year. Fortunately the Dances and the Suppers were still very successful and highly financial.

The Club was more successful in the season 1952/53, when a Junior Eight, coached by Martyn Keeley and stroked by Joe Mulcahy, competed at the Ballarat and Barwon Regattas and at the State Championships, coming 2nd, 1st, and 2nd respectively. This was a season of high hopes and the crew was unfortunate that they were just beaten in the Championships by a margin of 2 feet.

In 1953/54, Martin Keeley again was coach of an Eight at Barwon and Ballarat, the Crew coming third and fourth respectively. Unfortunately, Martyn left for Sydney and the active rowing reached a low level, apparently for the lack of a coach with any driving force.

During the ensuing years from 1954 to August 1957, the Club languished in the wilderness. Apparently no active competitive rowing took place, and the name of the Club was held together by only two or three members. Mention must be made of Ian Munro who was virtually the Rowing Club during these lean years.

However, things were to change; in 1957 Senator Kennelly, Chairman of the Albert Park Lake Trust, approached Phil Rhoden (Camp Chief of Lord Somers Camp), and told him that Power House, if it were to remain as a club at the Lake, would eventually have to be converted to a brick structure; but, and a big but, the club could only exist there so long as there was a Rowing Club.

As a result of this conversation, the Executive once again endeavored to reform the Rowing Club. With this idea in mind, the Executive approached Ian Munro who in turn approached Martyn Keeley who had returned to Melbourne, and others including Joe Mulcahy, Geoff Hardy, Rod Sarah and Bruce Mitchell.

They organised an Extraordinary General Meeting which was held in August, 1957 with a particularly gratifying attendance of 34 persons. A. Committee of nine was elected and the apparent enthusiasm and keenness of those present augured well for the future.

The Camp Chief, Phil Rhoden stressed the importance that the Rowing Club exist so that LSC&PH met the terms of the lease of the site from the Albert Park Lake Trust. Ian Munro reported that the fleet, such as it was, was being repaired so that beginner training could take place. The fleet consisted of one modern racing 8 “Lord Somers”, 1 clinker 8 “Elizabeth”, 1 clinker practice 4 “Marcus Burke”, 1 Tub 4 and 2 Tub pairs.

There was about £28 ($56) in the bank. Subscriptions for the coming year were set at 2 guineas ($4.20) for active members. Later, LSC&PH loaned the Club £30, which the Club used, along with a Tub pair, to buy a second-hand racing 4 from Banks Rowing Club. Martyn was appointed as Vice-President and Phil Rhoden thanked him for his efforts, and also thanked Ian Munro who had carried the burden of the Club for more than three years virtually by himself.

Following this meeting, a few crews were boated and the Club registered its first success under its new structure at the Upper Yarra regatta in November with a win in the Novice 4 event. A Junior 8 was formed to compete in the Christmas regattas.

However there were some administrative problems and Roger Day, who was coaching the Junior 8, called another Extraordinary General Meeting on 22 December 1957. This was attended by 11 members and a guest, Bill Bradshaw of Mercantile Rowing Club, who described how that club gave full responsibility to the Captain and Secretary to manage the day-to-day activities.

The appointed Committee resigned and a new Captain, Jim Petty, and Secretary, Bill Raper, were appointed. Ian Munro continued in the position of Treasurer.

Just a few days after this meeting, on Boxing Day, six members of the Junior 8 returning from the Nagambie regatta were involved in a car accident. Unfortunately, Roger suffered serious injuries which required him to spend months in hospital.

The Club lost his drive and profound knowledge of rowing, and struggled to boat crews, with some members drifting away. However the season finished with a win in the Novice 4 event at Yarrawonga, and a Maiden Pair won during the 1958 winter regatta series.

Meanwhile, the Public Schools Association was expanding its membership to include five more schools. The Club formed an association with Brighton Grammar under which they used our shed and some equipment, and also were able to row in VRA events representing our Club.

Financially, the Club was struggling to fund its operation, and had little money to buy new boats. Some fund-raisers were conducted, and there was a welcome addition to the coffers when Jim Petty’s father, who was MLA for Toorak, arranged for the members to be paid to letter-box his electorate in the State election.

At season’s end, the Club was building its membership and morale was high, and one member, Bill Flintoft, summed up the Club’s situation with this poem in the June 1958 LSC&PH Journal:

We all are delighted at having invited
Brighton Grammar to use our Club's gear.
So take heed, all-comers, you may yet see the Somers
As Head-of-the-River next year!
In common with many, we're short of a penny
Our small nexus perplexes, we fear.
But the Vic. State election has eased our dejection.
And with more funds our new pair may appear.
To increase the votes, all those in our boats
Canvassed Toorak — 'twas really a dash.
A fifty pound cheque, the reward for our trek,
Is now named in our books "Petty Cash."
At Vienna's Olde Inn, the Annual Club Din.
On May two was a splendid assembly.
Such fine fare and good fellows, their voices like bellows,
You'd have thought it a final at Wembley.

The Club lacked a formal Constitution of its own, and Bill Raper and Jim Petty prepared a draft based on that of Mercantile Rowing Club, which was adopted at the 1958 Annual Meeting.

To sum up the year, the work done by Martyn Keeley and Roger Day in the rejuvenation had produced a Club which was functioning and which had survived a major setback. Mercantile had assisted with advice and by encouraging some of their senior oarsmen to help with coaching. New members were starting to increase and this helped to offset the loss of the original participants. But, the Club still was a long way from being a competitive force in Victorian Rowing.

The Club had severe financial worries, and the most immediate necessity was the maintenance of an already dilapidated fleet. The Club also lacked a Racing Pair.

But this problem, at least, was about to be solved. Through the efforts of Max O'Brien and Ken Dowdney, a Sunday Night Dance at the Clubhouse was started in June, 1958. The first night, a free night, proved an outstanding success with 400 people attending, and for the next two and a half months the average number of people was 250. But from then on its popularity grew in leaps and bounds, and the racing pair was soon purchased. The story of the dance is covered in a separate chapter. The revenue raised over the next 14 years by the Club ensured that it was able to grow to an extent that was not even dreamed of by the members in 1958.

The 1958/1959 rowing season started well in November when a Maiden 8 won the V.R.A. and Upper Yarra Double. This was the first outing for a new racing singlet, the design of which was based on that of the St Kilda football club jumper, but with the green, black and white colours of Power House.

This crew included a number of people who were very active in reviving the fortunes of the Club. A measure of their involvement is that, during the period 1957 to 1970, members of this Eight were elected or appointed 50 times to positions in the Club.

Recruiting through the Dance was proving to be a fertile ground for new oarsmen, and a novice training scheme was introduced. On the water, the number of crews boated in regattas increased and there were entries in Novice, Maiden and Junior events. Twelve wins were recorded and the club finished fifth in the Junior Premiership.

In order to transport boats more efficiently, the club purchased a car top rack which could be fitted to a Holden sedan and which could carry fours and pairs.

1958 Power House maiden eight

1958 Maiden Eight

(Left to right): M Pointer (5), I McColl (3), J Petty (str), A Mollard (6), W Edwards (7), M O’Brien (4), K Dowdney (2), W Raper (bow), L Stone (cox), M Keeley (coach)

In the 1959/60 season, the Club continued to build on this success and achieved a total of 16 wins, which were rewarded with equal second place in the Junior Premiership. Membership had grown to 80, and the ratio of experienced oarsmen to novices was improving.

The most notable equipment purchase during this year was a trailer which could carry eights. As far as is known, this was the first of its type in Australia, and it greatly facilitated transport of boats both to the Yarra and to country regattas.

Brighton Grammar School moved on to other accommodation, and in its place the Club welcomed the Royal Melbourne Technical College to use their facilities. These older students rowed under PHRC colours in a number of events.

In the following season, 1960/61, the Club started to participate in lightweight rowing. The lightweight oarsmen finished the season in 5th place, but results in other events did not match the previous year, and the Club fell back to equal eighth in the Junior Premiership.

Results recovered somewhat during the 1961/62 season when 12 wins were recorded. However this was the season during which the conditions for rowing on Albert Park Lake started to worsen because of reed growth, and crews were forced to move to the Yarra for training. In addition to the inconvenience, there was an adverse effect on morale.

The Lake was unfit for rowing for the 1962/63 season, and all crews trained on the Yarra. With only 6 wins, the Club finished in 6th place in the Junior Premiership.

During the 1963/64 season, the Lake was drained so that the reeds could be poisoned and LSC&PH announced that the Club’s boat storage area would be demolished in preparation for building the new McAdam House. In the face of these difficulties, the Club recorded 17 wins, and once again were placed 6th in the Junior Premiership.

For most of the season 1964/65, the Club was without a home of its own, at least for rowing, while the new McAdam House was being built. The Lake was still largely unrowable, with crews restricted from using many areas. The new building was opened, but the boat accommodation was not finished until later. The Club recorded 6 wins for the year.

rowing conditions on the lake

Rowing conditions on the Lake

K Anderson (cox), R Zalewski (str), D Payne (3), J Corcoran (2), P Hodgson (bow)

1965/66 saw the completion of the rebuilding at Albert Lark Lake, with much improved accommodation for boats and equipment. The Dance Committee were successfully adapting to the new larger venue. Conditions for rowing on the Lake were still marginal, and only 4 wins were scored.

Having worked through all the problems associated with the rebuilding, the members now had to face the inevitable in that the Lake would never be as good for training as the Yarra. The Dance was operating at a consistently profitable level, and so during 1966/67 the first steps were taken to secure a site on the river. At first, there was hope to find space at Princes Bridge, but as related in Max O’Brien’s separate story about the building, this was eventually denied.

On the water, the 1966/67 season saw a welcome improvement in results, with the Club registering 14 wins for the year. There was an influx of dedicated members who were keen to improve the Club’s standing.

The season of 1967/68 saw the Club reap the benefit of the previous year’s recruiting. Crews scored 28 wins and gained 2nd place in the Junior Premiership, despite still having to row from temporary accommodation, the Lake being once again unfit for use. Boats were being stored in a wire enclosure between the Melbourne and Richmond Boat sheds, and this was having a detrimental effect on their condition.

At last, during 1968/69, the Club received permission to build the Boat Shed in Como Park. Crews continued to use the temporary enclosure, and posted 12 wins and a 6th place in the Junior Premiership. There was great activity behind the scenes in preparation for the new building.

The season of 1969/70 saw the most significant achievement in the Club’s history since it was founded in 1932, when the Opening Ceremony of the Boat Shed was held on Saturday 14th February, 1970. There was a large crowd in attendance, with representatives from Prahran Council, Lord Somers Camp and Power House, the Victorian Rowing Association and the other Rowing Clubs. The members continued the celebration late into the night.

The cost of the building, and that of the adjacent Rowing Tank the following year, was wholly met from the funds raised by members through the Sunday Night Dance, which was still continuing successfully after 12 years.

The members also responded to calls for assistance at a number of working bees during the construction. Perhaps these distractions were responsible for a slide in results in competition, with only 7 wins being recorded for the season. The Club had to wait for the following season before gaining its long-sought-after win in the Junior Premiership.

This new Boat Shed marked the end of the Albert Park Lake Era for the Club, but it also provided the foundation for all the successes that the later generations of members have won.


Unpublished paper by Tony Mollard, 1959

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