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australian rowers profiles and history

William O'Brien

Essendon Rowing Club (VIC) and ACT Rowing (ACT)

The following interesting article on Bill was extracted from the Rowing ACT website, Life Members page on 30th December 2022.

Bill O’Brien was elected as the ACT Rowing Association’s first Life Member at the 8th Annual General Meeting on 9 August 1972. This honour recognised his leadership in establishing rowing in the ACT and subsequent service to the Association and his club, the Canberra Rowing Club. He was elected as Honorary Secretary in 1964 and remained in this role until 1972. Bill was a founding member of the Union of Boat Race Officials.

Bill arrived in Canberra in 1944 after a long association with Essendon Rowing Club as an oarsman and administrator (Secretary for 15 years) and the Victorian Rowing Association. For many years he was the Secretary of the annual Henley on Maribyrnong Regatta. He was a Life Member of Essendon RC, the Maribyrnong League and the Essendon Seconds Australian Rules Football Club.

Once the Commonwealth Government committed to building Lake Burley Griffin, Bill and fellow rowing enthusiast Richard (Dick) Luker liaised closely with the National Capital Development Commission to ensure lake plans provided for rowing. They then met with the NSW Rowing Association and interested members of the Canberra community to identify potential rowers and supporters. These meetings led to establishment of the ACT Rowing Association on 16 November 1963.

Through his strong community networks, Bill was able to secure the Nissen Hut (Igloo) at the Kingston Boat Harbor to serve as a communal rowing boatshed. The Igloo housed the boats of seven clubs and schools at a nominal rental. Although intended as a temporary measure, the Igloo remained a rowing facility for nearly forty years, serving as an incubator for new clubs.

Bill O’Brien’s service to rowing is commemorated through the Bill O’Brien Trophy for the Club with the highest aggregate (Men’s and Women’s) point score in the club premiership competition. The Canberra Rowing Club boatshed at Yarralumla Bay – the first boatshed built by a community rowing club on the Lake – is dedicated to his memory.

Extracted by Andrew Guerin from 
30th December 2022

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