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australian rowers profiles and history

Stephen Fairbairn

Melbourne Rowing Club (VIC) and Barwon Rowing Club (VIC)

Stephen Fairbairn is credited by noted British rowing historian Chris Dodd as revolutionising British rowing in 1920-30s. His Fairbairn style also revolutionised rowing in Australia at the same time. He is recognised as the most influential Australians in world rowing.

Although the following descriptions will over simplify his message, he showed rowers how best to use a sliding seat as against orthodox styles which retained elements of the stroke from fixed seat rowing. His training methods were based upon many miles on the water. His coaching method was labelled a state of mind rather than a set of rules as he introduced psychology to coaching.

Michael D. de B. Collins Persse’s biography of Fairbairn notes his sayings: 'If you can't do it easy, you can't do it at all'; 'It has all got to come from inside you, laddies'; 'Enjoy your rowing, win or lose'; 'Mileage makes champions'. He described the best action for moving a boat as 'an exact imitation of the Heave Ho of eight sailors heaving at a rope, a perfect loose and easy elastic action'—elsewhere described as 'swan-like' and 'dreamy-looking'. There was something of the mystic in his search for perfection in rowing.

He learnt to row at Geelong Grammar in the late 1870s and early 1880s. There is a beautiful description of his rowing on the Barwon as a school boy in his autobiography “Fairbairn of Jesus”. The boys would set off before dawn to the boatshed carrying with them their food for the day, billy and pan on which to cook. They rowed up river for half a day and then back again stopping for swimming and food. They all took turns in every seat including coxing. “We never knew a boy who could row on only one side of the boat.” It showed his life-long support for endurance training, how he developed his natural “Fairbairn” style and his principles on oarsmanship.

Whilst Stephen Fairbairn’s rowing activities were largely conducted outside Victoria, he was the most influential Australian on world rowing.

1878 – Head of the River (GGS) three seat – First
1882 – The Boat Race (Oxford v Cambridge Universities)
1883 – The Boat Race (Oxford v Cambridge Universities) - second
1886 – The Boat Race (Oxford v Cambridge Universities) - first
1887 – The Boat Race (Oxford v Cambridge Universities) - first
1889 – Intercolonial Men’s Eight Championship five seat – First
1896 – University Championships – Adelaide University coach – First
1899 – Head of the River (Scotch College) coach – First
1899 – Intercolonial Men’s Eight Championships Queensland coach - Fourth
1901 – University Championships – Melbourne University – second
1912 – Olympic Games – Assisted with coaching of Australian crew.
1919 – Was appointed to coach the AIF crew but was too ill at the time. (There were also public disagreements with the crew so there were probably other factors.)

Andrew Guerin 2010

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