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australian rowers profiles and history

Peter Shenstone

Colleagues Rowing Club (NSW)

The following is an extract from an April 2009 publication written by crew member Ian Stewart on the 50th anniversary of their Head of the River win in 1959.

Following five happy and successful years  rowing at SHS Peter left at the end of 1959 and went to work at Dick Crebbin’s Marrickville Holdings in the advertising section alongside former SHS oarsmen Jim Woodcock (1953 VIII) and Kerry Rubie (1957 VIII).  Peter rowed a season in the UNSW  VIII with Wayne Young (coach Alan Callaway) and then with the newly formed Colleagues RC of which he was a founding member. The highlights of this period were competing in the King’s Cup in 1961 &’63. Sadly rowing came to an abrupt end shortly after when glandular fever made its impact.

Peter married in 1965 and travelled extensively through North America. Settling in Canada, he began working in advertising and communications research. He returned to Australia in 1968 at a time of family issues. After a divorce, in 1970 Peter linked with his long-time partner Jan Thornley. During the sixties Peter began to study and practise yoga and meditation. In the spirit of this philosophy he and Jan, defying mainstream medical dictum, delivered their four daughters, safely, at home. 

1963 NSW King's Cup crew with Peter in bow

In 1969 Peter and Wayne Young joined forces and formed Spectrum Research, a psychological research and advertising company, introducing ’focus group’ research to the region. Offices were opened in Sydney and Melbourne and in a number of South-east Asian countries. Through Tony Whitlam, on the Spectrum board, the company persuaded Tony’s father, Gough, to introduce a research-based approach to political campaigning. Thus was born the “It’s Time” campaign which, arguably, tipped the balance in favour of the Labor Party at the 1972 Federal election.

By the mid-1970s, disillusioned by politics and observing, in Peter’s own words, “that the corporate world was breaking free of ethical underpinning, and sensing that society is trapped in a particular way of thinking that is inimical to the well-being of the planet and ourselves, I concluded that we were headed for environmental and societal crises. So…”

In 1976 Peter and Jan moved to their home in the Blue Mountains to have their children and to pursue his interests in the workings of the mind and the brain with a particular emphasis on comparative studies involving cetaceans. To diffuse this way of thinking into the community Peter developed a program and story-telling process called “Legend of the Golden Dolphin”. The rest of the seventies and the eighties were spent as a ‘travelling story-teller’ spreading the ideas of higher cetacean-like brain function to a wide spread of audiences.

The variety of approaches that Peter has used to extend his ideas is huge, clearly leaning on his experience in advertising. Musical versions of ‘The Legend’ have emerged, a musical ‘road movie’ was produced, centres for cetacean observation and interaction have been set up at Port Stephens and at Hervey Bay and Monkey Mia, at opposite sides of the country, and a collaboration with Richard Neville called ‘Extra Dimensions’ has entered the television milieu as a 16-part series.

Peter: “Alarmed by the speed and enormity of onrushing environmental crises, exasperated at failure to act of governments held hostage to the electoral cycle and by special-interest groups; dismayed by deliberate, unscrupulous corporate obfuscation and manipulation of the issue in service to profit ahead of the good of society I felt practical action was needed, including work with business, to urge change from within.”

Thus was born the concept of Planet Ark which was realised in the early 1990s. The organisation operates out of a cluster of self-sufficient mud-brick buildings at Planet Ark Park at Wentworth Falls adjoining the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Its many environmentally focussed activities are well known. They include the National Tree Day on which over fourteen years people around Australia have planted twenty-one million trees! Recycling and re-use are two of Planet Ark’s major platforms. There is a web-based ‘World Environment News’ and a licensing program for environmentally preferred products, services and technologies. Peter remains full-time executive director of the Foundation.

Ian Stewart
April 2009

Website by Hope Stewart—Website Design & Management