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australian rowers profiles and history

Alan Skinner

Sydney Rowing Club then Leichhardt Rowing Club, then Mosman 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.

After leaving SHS Alan enrolled in Mechanical Engineering at Sydney University. He and Sue Robinson, his love of 1959, were married while he was doing 2nd year. “And after that I had no option but to graduate!” which he did along with thirteen other ’59ers from Sydney High. He was a Cadet with Email Ltd and, after graduation, stayed with this firm until early 1970 when he joined Rheem and got his first management job. This position was in Townsville where he and Sue, with their increasing numbers of children, stayed until mid ’74. During his time in Townsville Alan became involved with the local rugby competition. To quote the Brothers Rugby Townsville website, “In 1970 the club came of age on the field with Wallaby Alan Skinner as Captain/Coach.” Alan toured South Africa in 1968—69 before coming to Townsville and in 1970 led Brothers First XV to the club’s first A Grade Premiership.” 

 Alan and Sue’s fifth child was born while they were in Townsville. They came back to Sydney to live at Lindfield for several years before getting a six bedroom terrace house in Randwick to accommodate their brood, many of whom went on to attend Sydney Boys and Sydney Girls High. Alan and Sue parted in 1979. Sue then completed her studies and graduated in Linguistics from Sydney University.

Over the ‘80s Alan did various management jobs. He set up a tourist business, which was called ‘Al’s Folly’, and ended with his assets wiped out. Stung by this debacle he was determined to make a business work and so started ‘Almec’ a precision engineering business which makes small sheet metal components including parts for poker machines, mobile phone antennas, biomedical gear etc. Alan’s son, James, who rowed in the 1987 Scots Eight and is a Commerce graduate, came back from England after the Sydney Olympics and started work with Alan in the business. He looked after the show for twelve months while Alan recovered from being kicked by a horse, an event which shattered his right leg . “Thanks to some wonderful medicos I still have the leg and can row !” he says. On Alan’s full return to work, James left and started an antique shop in Waverley. “After several years of this, he was glad to sell it and come back to take over the business and let his silly old man do the things he wants to do!” Alan confided.

Alan married for a second time in 1990 and has a daughter by that marriage. Unfortunately this union didn’t last long. Sue also had another son by a second marriage which also didn’t last. When her second marriage was finished Alan and Sue bravely tried to live together again. However, it didn’t work out. “I’m pleased to say”, he remarks, “we are now the best of mates and have a very special relationship with our children and grandchildren and each other.”

Alan regards himself as having been very lucky to have had two trips overseas with the Wallabies— to UK in 1968 (a short tour of three weeks to Ireland and Scotland ) and a twelvetour to South Africa in 1969 during an incredible period in South Africa’s history. 

When commenting on rowing, Alan has this to say: “Rowing was always my first love. You might recall that after school I went to Sydney Rowing Club and started sculling and rowed in the Test Race for the 1960 Rome Olympics in a Double Scull with the then NSW Champion, Bill Mison – the race was won by Tutty and Webb. I started rowing again in my last year at Sydney University (1963) and won the Intervarsity Single Sculls and was training at Mosman with Bob Shirlaw in a boat that Dr. Longley organized for me from Arnotts Biscuits. The test races for the ’64 Tokyo Olympics were held in November 1963 when my exams were on so I couldn’t compete. I also had a crack then at the boxing because I had also won the Intervarsity Heavyweight in 1963. I was beaten by Athol McQueen met Joe Frazier in the first fight at the Olympics – and knocked him down in the second round and got stopped himself in the third round. Anyhow, back to rowing! I think I got involved again with rowing in the early ‘90s when a Sydney High reunion was organized and I linked up again with Tolly who was rowing with Leichhardt. I found it difficult to train with crews but got back into sculling and won the Nationals in my age group in 1997. I now row with Mosman and am pleased to make the finals of my age group in the Nationals,  which I did this year in both single and double sculls. The competition has gotten stiffer season by season which is wonderful for a Master’s sport . One of the things that stands out for me is how well I row as a result of the great coaching we had at SHS. I’ve drawn comment many times from the coaching boat when I am rowing in an eight as to how well I am rowing – and that makes me very proud of the old SHS.”

Ian Stewart
April 2009

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