Scroll To Top
australian rowers profiles and history

Norman W Cairnes

Mercantile Rowing Club (VIC)

1935-37 - Vice-Captain Mercantile Rowing Club
1937 - Captain Mercantile Rowing Club
1940-45 - War service in 2/12 Field Regiment in Asia finishing with the rank of Sergeant
1946 - Secretary Mercantile Rowing Club
1946-61 - Coach Mercantile Rowing Club and Victorian Rowing Association
1947-53 - Assistant Secretary Victorian Rowing Association
1951 - Interstate Men's Eight Championship coach - Second
1952 - Interstate Men's Eight Championship coach - First
1953 - Life member Mercantile Rowing Club.
1953-62 - Hon Secretary Victorian Rowing Association
1954 - Interstate Men's Eight Championship coach - First
1955 - Interstate Men's Eight Championship coach - Second
1956 - Interstate Men's Eight Championship selector
1956 - Olympic Games - Course Manager
1956-60 - Honorary Secretary of AARC
1961 - Interstate Men's Eight Championship coach - First
1962 - Chairman of the organising committee for the first national championships
1962-72 - Executive Committee member of the Victorian Rowing Association
1964 -Interstate Men's Lightweight Four Championship co-coach - First
1964-70 - Councillor for Victoria on AARC
1965 -Interstate Men's Lightweight Four Championship selector
1968 - President Australian Amateur Rowing Council
1974-76 - Hon. Secretary Mercantile Rowing Club
1976 - Treasurer Mercantile Rowing Club
Life member of the Victorian Rowing Association

1954 winning coach Norm with with his stroke Brian Doyle

Norm was an active and successful rower, coach and administrator.  Norm joined Mercantile in 1927 and became the longest serving member of that Club. He had his first win at a novice regatta in the lightweight novice eights in June 1929. Although never quite reaching the top as a competitive oarsman, he had considerable success in the maiden and junior ranks with an occasional row in senior crews. Norm joined the Committee in 1934, became Vice-Captain in 1936 and Captain in the 1937-38 season. Norm served throughout WWII and had a most commendable war service record. 

However it was after WWII that he made a great contribution to club, state and national rowing. He was one of Australia's great coaches coaching winning King's Cup crews on three occasions and numerous club crews. He was a club administrator. He was Secretary of both the Victorian Rowing Association and Australian Amateur Rowing Council. He was largely responsible for the organization of the rowing at Ballarat for the 1956 Olympic Games. He was life member of his club and state association and Vice-President for many years at Mercantile.

Norm later in life presenting a trophy that he donated

The following tribute to Norm was published in the Club’s magazine in 1997 and by the style of the writing, is thought to have been written by Bob Aitken.

The President and Committee of the Club are delighted to record the significant achievement of Norman Cairnes in reaching the milestone of 70 continuous years of membership of the Mercantile Rowing Club.

Norm Cairnes joined Mercantile in 1927, and while he is neither the oldest member nor the earliest member to join the Club (that honour goes to 96 year old Henry Guinn), Norm Cairnes has recorded the longest continues period of membership, that now being 70 years of membership. This period exceeds any previously achieved by members since the inception of the Club in 1880.

Notwithstanding Norms long period of membership, few members have given so much dedicated service to the Club. While a brief summary of Norm’s achievements does not do justice to Norm’s 70 years of service, we would like to record particularly for the benefit of our younger and newer members some of the more important aspects of Norm’s service to the Club over these 70 years.

Norm had his first win for the Club at a Novice Regatta in the Lightweight Novice Eights in June 1929. Although never quite reaching the top as a competitive oarsman, Norm had considerable success in Maiden and Junior Ranks, with an occasional row in Senior crews. He spent most of his active career in the Lightweight ranks in the days when the weight limit was 10 stone.

He was appointed to the club committee in 1934, became vice-captain in ·1936 and captain in Season 1937-38, but it was in the years following World War II that Norm Cairnes made such a great contribution to Mercantile, Victorian and Australian Rowing.

Norm enjoyed a period of great success as a coach of Club and Victorian Kings Cup Crews. He was coach of the Victorian Kings Cup Crew in 1951, 1952, 1954, 1955 and 1961, three of which were winning crews. A Coach of many crews from Novice through to Senior, few Mercantile oarsman of the post war period through to the early 1970’s would not have been coached by him at some stage of their rowing careers.

Norm also served several periods as Secretary and Treasurer of the Club, and was for many years secretary of both the Victorian Rowing Association and the Australian Amateur Rowing Council (the predecessor of today’s Rowing Australia Inc.} He was also largely responsible for the organisation of rowing at Ballarat for the 1956 Olympic Games.

Norm was a member of the ambitious rebuilding projects sub-committee in 1969 and again chaired the building committee responsible for rebuilding after the disastrous fire of 1973. Norman was finally able to officially “retire” from the executive of the Club in 1976 after guiding the club through an extremely difficult period, but spent many years thereafter assisting members and the committee with matters of every kind relevant to the club.

Norm Cairnes was appointed a life member of the Club in 1953 and a Vice President of the Club in 1955. He is also a life member of the Victorian Rowing Association.

Norman’s wife Betty has also been a great supporter of the Club and Norms participation in rowing generally. Betty amongst other things undertook the calligraphy of many of the Clubs photographs and compiled the Book of Remembrance recording the names of all Mercantilians who served in the forces of the three wars.

Norm was a keen participant in Sunday morning rowing until the mid eighties when creaking bones finally caught up with him but rarely missed partaking in the refreshments offered in the South West corner instead until a minor fall in 1993 restricted his sojourns to the Club. His love of the Club and the sport of rowing have never diminished.

We congratulate Norm on this achievement and thank him and his wife Betty for their support of Mercantile over those 70 years. Norm you are a truly great Mercantilian.


Andrew Guerin Oct 2011

Website by Hope Stewart—Website Design & Management