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australian rowers profiles and history

John O'Hara

Hawthorn Rowing Club, then Mercantile Rowing Club and finally Barwon Rowing Club (VIC)

Quite often we come across people who have rowed in their youth and regard themselves as rowers throughout their lives. The rowing experience has been so powerful that they maintain that interest and often give back to the sport handsomely as a result. John O'Hara is one of these people.

John commenced his rowing at Camberwell High School under the tutorage of Olympian Michael Aikman. The school rowing program was sponsored by Hawthorn Rowing Club and so this was his first rowing club. He finished school in 1959 as stroke of the Camberwell High School first crew along with good friend John Corrie as his seven man. 

[As an aside, Camberwell High School produced several other noted rowers. For example, David Deeble, highly regarded president of both Hawthorn Rowing Club and Rowing Victoria, and scheduled to be President as Rowing Australia before a terminal illness intervened. It is credit to those behind this program and specifically Michael Aikman.]

In 1960 Michael Aikman had left Camberwell High School for Scotch College, where he coached the third eight. Early in the year Michael was asked by Hawthorn RC if he could put the Camberwell first right back together to row in the Mildura/Wentworth Easter Double to try and win the two novice races, if they did, Hawthorn would win the Junior Premiership for that year. Somehow, Michael managed to organise the crew with one seat change, and they won both races, and Hawthorn won the Junior Premiership.

1960 was also John's first year of tertiary education. John was at Pharmacy up the road from Melbourne University in the then brand-new Pharmacy College and his mate John Corrie was at Melbourne Uni doing Mechanical Engineering.

John O'Hara describes his move to Mercantile as follows. At one of the local hotels Hawthorn RC had a dinner celebrating the win, when Bill Wallace introduced himself to John & I and asked why not transfer to Mercantile, and as they say the rest is history, though we had to get past Norm Cairns, who gave us a grilling at VRA Headquarters. The move made sense to us because for we two students getting down from Royal Pde to Mercantile was a lot easier than hiking out to Hawthorn. It wasn’t long before we wondered if we had made a big mistake, because our coach John Foley refused to coach us from a bike, and as Bob Lachal notes coached us from the cox’s seat! John Foley must have weighed 13-14 stone in those days, and John Corrie & I could not get our oars off the water. It was a real shame, the crew had terrific potential, but went nowhere. Anyway John Corrie and I rowed in the Mercantile Lightweight Eight at the Easter Double Mildura/Wentworth 1961, once again winning both races. In the end Pharmacy got in the way of rowing and I had to give it away. Jim Blake “Mentor” in the Herald wrote an article mentioning me in January 1960, which I am sure precipitated Bill Wallace approaching John & I.

These details remain fresh in his mind after all these years along with memories of the characters Mercantile Rowing Club. I had a lot of fun with Bob & Dick Lachal, John Bostock, and others. Andy Evans used to call me “Ace” O’Hara, a character in the Biggles Books. John Corrie now lives in Seattle USA, where he still rows. He worked mainly with Boeing before retiring.

Eventually pharmacy took John to Geelong and The Geelong College (Mike Aikman’s old Alma Mater), where his three children went to school. The youngest girl rowing four seat in the Girl’s First Eight and stroke of the Second Four. This child was best friends with Andrea Darker, youngest daughter of Alan Darker, also an old Mercantilian, who has coached both Geelong Grammar and The Geelong College Girls 1st Crews. Alan got me back into rowing, coaching and masters rowing.

Barwon members showing off their coaching successes after a Head of the Schoolgirls Regatta - Lex Quinn on the left, Lyall McCarthy centre, John O'Hara on the right
Lex and John were coaching winning Matthew Flinders Girls School crews and Lyall the Geelong Grammar first eight. John was also coaching at Geelong College that year

1999 Barwon Masters crew with John fourth from the right

This renewed interest culminated in John serving as President of Barwon Rowing Club 1993-6.

From humble rowing beginnings to a full life of contribution to the sport.


Andrew Guerin
May 2023

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