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australian rowers profiles and history

Garth Manton

Mercantile Rowing Club (VIC)

Garth commenced his rowing at Geelong Grammar School rowing in their second crew in 1947 and their first crew in 1948. His 1948 crew contained fellow Mercantile members John Rowe and Brian Dawe.

Garth came from a retailing family and after school, he was sent to Sydney for two years to be apprenticed to Sydney retailer Sydney Snows. He returned to his father's business in Melbourne in 1951 and remained in retailing all his life despite his father's business being sold to G J Coles in 1953. 

The return to Melbourne enabled Garth to recommence his rowing and joined Mercantile in late 1951.

1948 Geelong Grammar Crew
Back row: D A Morwood, J S Jose, G R Reeve, John S Rowe, D S Thewlis
Front row: C Brian Dawes, G E Carroll, Garth O V Manton

In front: P B Wright
Photo from the GGS boatshed

He is recorded as racing in late 1952 in a successful maiden eight at the Melbourne Regatta and again at Henley. This led to being in a successful junior eight which raced at various times throughout the rest of the season. The blemish on this otherwise exemplary season was a lack of success at the Easter regattas. One can assume that he and his crew focused on activities other than rowing as often occurs at such regattas.

Garth was both a proud five man and eight oared rower. He was rarely seen in any other boat class or seat. When introduced to a group of school rowers in later life, his first bold and humorous comment was that he wanted to speak with the five men. Curiously, the records of his early rowing show him as rowing of stroke side in the four and six seats.

His next season was in the senior ranks and again successfully. He was a member of the Club's senior eight which won at the Melbourne Regatta, Henley, State Championships, Upper Yarra and Albert Park. In a rare departure from his conviction to race only in eights, he won the senior four at the Christmas regattas.

1953-54 season brought similar success and this time, membership of the Victorian eight which won in boisterous condition in Hobart. The Victorians handled the conditions well and won in a record time of 14 mins 14 secs, some 16 seconds faster than the previous best time. The Mercantile eight had an undefeated season.

The victorious 1954 Victorian crew
Back row: Adrian Monger, Neville Howell, Warwick Granowski
Front row: Don Christie, Lloyd Williams, Brian Doyle, Garth Manton, John Rowe

The 1954-55 season again brought great success with the Mercantile senior eight completing 26 consecutive wins. This superb record was again brought to an end at the Easter regattas! The Renmark Rowing Club crew from South Australia brought the Mercs crew back to earth with a thud showing that you can't drop your guard at these regattas. Garth was again in the five seat of the 1955 Victorian crew which finished second to Western Australia in Brisbane.

The Olympic year brought much excitement and preparation. The Mercantile senior eight continued their successful ways taking out the State Championship and many other races. Their success was however ended in March 1956 at Henley by a University crew. Garth was selected not only into the State crew which won, but also the Olympic crew. The State and Interstate Championships were conducted over 2000m for the first time and on the Olympic course at Ballarat.

The Olympics were good for the Australian eight with a strong win in the heat. With hindsight, this probably poked the US bear a little too much as the final produced a very different result. The Official Report stated as follows:

The eight-oared event provided the most thrilling race of the regatta. In a perfect start the Australian crew took a slight lead in the early stages, hard pressed by Canada, with USA close up. At 400 metres, the Canadians led the Australians by about a metre, closely followed by the Americans, with Sweden holding on in fourth position. At the half-way mark, USA held the lead by a narrow margin from Australia and Canada, level, and Sweden falling back. Australia and Canada were making desperate efforts to overtake USA and Australia sprinted to take the lead momentarily, but as the sprint died away, America again went to the front, to win its eighth successive Olympic eights victory by a short canvas from Canada, with Australia close up in third and Sweden fourth.

Australia and Garth came home with a bronze medal and to much acclaim for their race.

On the way to the start

After the race

Medal presentation

Retirement from rowing beckoned with work and family commitments taking over. However, Garth maintained a strong interest in the sport and Mercantile at many levels and remained a great supporter of rowing at Geelong Grammar. He was one of the greatest supporters of the Old Geelong Football Club and in their tribute to him, they noted:

Garth was a larger than life figure of the OGFC and whilst he only played 12 games for the Club it was his service and support of the Ogs that places him as one of our three official legends (acknowledged in 2012 alongside fellow legends Peter Lemon and Michael Gretton-Watson).  Garth served as President from 1962-66 and again in 1969/70, seven years in total making him the longest serving President of the OGFC.  His support of the Club never wavered with Garth (& Sue) being annual pivot members since its inception and his support from the sidelines unparallelled.  

As great raconteur he was a keenly sought speaker at rowing functions. As a man with a big personality and great wit, his company was always welcomed.

As his spent his holidays at Anglesea, he maintained a strong connection to the Mercantile 'mafia' in that district with the likes of the Doyle and Humes families, the Shears brothers, Spiv White, just to name a few. He raced at the regatta first in 1957 and then eleven more time until 1982. He served on the Committee for over 40 years. He was of great assistance to the Anglesea Recreation and Sports Club as President and most memorably as commentator at their annual regatta. This regatta is raced in fixed seat gigs built at the turn of the twentieth century and beautifully maintained by the Club.

His Anglesea commentary was highly entertaining with Garth readily admitting the truth was casually treated and embellishments the norm. Pru and Graeme Weber in their history the regatta recounted some examples of Garth's commentary. "Rating 43 on stroke side 39 bow side." "Mind the water hen in the middle of the river - no decapitations allowed." " Flying up the course like a Siberian trotting duck." "I am very fond of things I like." 

When he suffered a stroke later in life, Garth satisfied himself with still being capable of commanding a dinner party, if not a hall or room anymore.

Garth died in Melbourne on 1st February 2024 after a long illness. His friendship, good humour and wit, and support of rowing will all be sadly missed.

Rowing record

1953 - Victorian Championships, senior eight, five seat - First

1954 - Victorian Championships, senior eight, five seat - First

1954 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship five seat – First

1955 - Victorian Championships, senior eight, five seat - First

1955 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship five seat – Second

1956 - Victorian Championships, senior eight, five seat - First

1956 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship five seat – First

1956 – Olympic Games – Men’s Eight five seat – Bronze

2010 – Inducted into the Victorian Rowing Hall of Fame

1991-2010 – President and commentator of the Anglesea Recreation and Sports Club

Above – 1956 Olympic Eight – Garth seated on right

Andrew Guerin Sept 2010 (updated Feb 24)


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