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australian rowers profiles and history

Francis E Findlay

Ballarat City Rowing Club (VIC)

Francis E. Findlay has the distinction of being the longest serving president of the Ballarat City Rowing Club. He was at the helm for 22 years from 1949-1970 and led the club through some of the toughest and most interesting times until the Centenary of the club. During his presidency he held the club together and was instrumental in rebuilding after the devastating fire of 1950. He was president of the Ballarat Rowing Association for the 1956 Olympic Games when rowing was held on Lake Wendouree. He again oversaw the hiring of the hall, which raised valuable funds for the club and kept the club on an even keel throughout the turbulent social change of the 1960’s. Frank (or Cobber as he was affectionately known) was of the ‘old school’ and had an autocratic style of leadership. His longevity as president was no doubt due in part to the enormous amount of time and effort he gave freely to the club. In hindsight he was what the club needed at the time. And while not all club members might have liked his authoritarian style it is probably what kept the club going.

Frank’s father went away in 1914 to fight for Australia as so many men did. Young Frank was just seven. His father fought at Gallipoli, in Egypt and in France. Sadly he never returned. He was killed one or two days before the Armistice. No one was sure when or where he fell so the army kept paying his wages to his young wife in Ballarat. When he was eventually confirmed dead, the army wrote to Mrs. Findlay demanding the return of the money. As she did not have a job and was already bankrupt, she and her brothers started a business from the family home. They baked pies and opened up the windows of 908 Doveton Street, and sold their pies to the mill workers from the Morley’s Mill across the road. Throughout Frank’s childhood this is how they managed to survive.

Frank was educated at McArthur Street school and went on to do an apprenticeship at the Railway Workshops. In 1919 after World War 1, Ballarat City Rowing Club signed up many young men from the Railway Workshops which reinvigorated the club. It was here that the young Frank met City members like Otto Hauser and Stan Wilton who also worked there. Frank probably started rowing about 1920-21. In 1924 Frank won his first lightweight four at Ballarat Regatta and went on to race with success through to Junior level for the next four or five years.

Frank married in 1954 and in 1955 his only son Philip was born. Philip remembers as a child, up to about the age of 10, accompanying his father to the rowing shed. 

Frank and Phillip at the Lake circa 1962.

Often there would be a meeting in the office upstairs at the shed where Frank used his many connections to obtain things for the rowing club. Frank Findlay invented networking before it was even thought of! He was instrumental in obtaining a government loan to replace the boatshed as the club could not raise all the money to pay for it. Frank and Philip were inseparable. Frank used to go up to the boathouse on Saturday afternoons as the hall was usually hired for a dance or a wedding nearly every weekend. He would often not return home until 2 am staying to supervise and then lock up after the last guest had departed. Then Frank, accompanied by Phil, would go up again on Sunday morning about 9.30 to sweep out the upstairs hall and tidy up.

Frank was also president of the Ballarat Rowing Association during this period for years and also president of the Sportsman’s Association for years. In 1962 Frank was liaison officer for the Western Australia King’s Cup crew. He worked tirelessly for the King’s Cup, which was held that year for the first time on Lake Wendouree.

Winning Maiden eight Colac 1926.
A. Browne (bow), Frank Findlay (2), A. Quayle (3), R. Budge (4), R. Blakely(5), J. Blakely (6), Alf Dixon (7), A. Chibnall (str), Teddy Jones (cox).

Kate Elliott
September 2021

Sources include an interview with Phillip Findlay in 2003 where information and some of the images obtained.

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