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australian rowers profiles and history

Will J Baillieu OAM

Yarra Yarra Rowing Club (VIC) then Monash University Rowing Club (VIC)

It is often said that people who row at some stage during their lives, identify as rowers thereafter before many other personal experience or attribute. Then there is the next level of rowers whose love for the sport is evident and continuing, well past their years of competition. Will is one of these rowers.

So what has driven this love of the sport of rowing and what gives him these fond memories? Will just loves everything about it, the boats and boat sheds, but most importantly, "the thrill and beauty of making a boat move fast". He adds that: "But really, it’s the people. The rowing community is unique. Trust, reliability, humour and pain, all shared intimately. There are lifetime friendships and bonds. You can go anywhere in the world and turn up at a boat shed and be made welcome. It’s really a wonderful community. And more so now because of the great number of women who row."

"I am still in love with the sport, and follow it now at a distance."

But Will has done much more than love the sport, he has reached the pinnacle of the sport by competing at the Olympic Games and at the World Championships. 

He is also one of the very few rowers to have won the men's domestic traditional triple crown. He has won his school pinnacle race, in his case the APS Head of the River, the pinnacle Australian Universities Men's Eight Championship for the Oxford and Cambridge Cup, and finally, the pinnacle open race, the Interstate Men's Eight Oared Championship for the King's Cup. It takes being an excellent rower and being around other quality rowers at school, university and in club rowing to achieve this traditional triple.

How did this love for the sport start? He was originally a swimmer, but was desperate to start rowing. At his school, rowing was commenced from the age of 14 years old. His older brothers had rowed. His brother David had won the Head of the River as a 15 year old and rowed in two more First Eights, and was Captain of Boats. There was to be no holding back of Will. Will was to emulate his brother David with a Head of the River victory and being Captain of Boats at his school, Melbourne Grammar.

His senior rowing started at Yarra Yarra Rowing Club in late 1969. By 1971, he then had won a King's Cup and Oxford and Cambridge Cup. He was now a recognised senior oarsman.

At the end of 1971, he joined the then powerful Monash University Rowing Club who had dominated the men's domestic Victorian season in 1971. They had an excellent, but small men's senior program which assisted him to be selected into the 1972 Olympic team.

1972 Olympic Four with Will in the three seat

After 1973 season, Will took a break, moving to Sydney for work.

In 1978 he returned to Melbourne and was selected to represent Australia in the Coxed Four at the Lake Karapiro World Championships which finished fifth. 

1978 Australian Rowing Team with Will i the back row on the right hand side

Injuries started to take their toll on his rowing career. Firstly he was forced to take off the 1979 season to recover from knee surgery. And then his attempt to make the 1980 Olympic team was thwarted with a second knee injury which also resulted in surgery. It was a sad end to an excellent rowing career. Will then commenced building and sailing Couta boats which "led to some very interesting sailing experiences".

When reflecting back on his rowing, Will noted that: "Winning a Head of the River was such a thrill. But the come from behind win in the 1971 King's Cup was even bigger. I think the winning 1972 Monash Intervarsity Eight was the most satisfying race. I stroked it, and I don’t think I ever felt a better response from the boys behind me. That crew was a rocket ship."

1972 Monash Intervarsity crew stroked by Will

But there is more, he also reached the pinnacle of sailing being a member of the Australia II squad which won the America's Cup in 1983.

Will was an outstanding sportsman who has achieved so much in his sporting life.

Well done Will.

The details:

1967 - APS Head of the River, Third Eight, six seat - First

1968 - APS Head of the River, First Crew, four seat - First

1969 - APS Head of the River, First Crew, five seat - Second (Captain of Boats)

1971 - Interstate Men's Eight Oared Championship, six seat - First

1971 - Australian Universities Men's Eight Championship, stroke - First

1972 - Victorian Men's Coxed Four Championship, stroke - First

1972 - National Men's Coxed Four Championship, three seat- Fourth

1972 - Australian Universities Men's Eight Championship, stroke - First

1972 - Interstate Men's Eight Oared Championship, four seat - Third

1972 - Olympic Games, Men's Coxed Four, three seat - Thirteenth

1973 - Victorian Men's Eight Championships, six seat - First

1973 - Interstate Men's Eight Oared Championship, emergency

1973 - Australian Universities Men's Eight Championships, six seat - First

1974 - National Men's Coxed Four Championship, three seat - Sixth

1978 - World Men's Four Championships, three seat - Fifth

1983 - America's Cup - squad member of the Australia II team - First

1984 - Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of service to yachting, particularly as a crew member of Australia 11 in the America's Cup challenge 1983.

2017 - Inductee to the Australian Sailing Hall of Fame - The Australian Sailing Hall of Fame Assessment Panel concluded that the achievement of the Australia II team in winning the America’s Cup in 1983 was one of the most remarkable feats in Australian sporting history.

Andrew Guerin
August 2021


  1. Interview with Will Baillieu - August 2021
  2. Regatta programs and results
  3. extracted 3rd August 2021
  4. extracted 3rd August 2021

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