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australian rowers profiles and history

Anthony M Walker

Mercantile Rowing Club (VIC)

To describe others he admires, Tony uses the expression that they are 'a wonderful human being'. However, this is the expression which best suits himself. Tony is a successful rower, a very funny man, unassuming, modest and a great lover of the sport of rowing. The only stories he tells of himself are self deprecating.

He had an interesting start to his rowing. In his words, he was a fat, shy boy who in 1956, who was inspired by watching the final of the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley on Yarra where Mercantile defeated University in a tight finish. He was impressed.

He entered Mercantile and asked if he could learn to row. In an article he wrote for Melbourne Grammar School, Tony recorded: Bob [Aitken] the Club Captain welcomed me and soon myself and another beginner were paddling in a nervous manner slowly up the river. After several rows we gained confidence, were able to tell the difference between the stroke and the bow side oars, remembered that easy oar meant you stopped and feather had nothing to do with birds but turning the oars. Being entered in a beginners pair race fuelled our enthusiasm for more training but we were slightly peeved when Bob, our coach, told us he had another crew to coach and would no longer be able to guide us. I felt sorry for Bob as we were convinced we could win this important event and he could bask in some of our glory. Imagine our acute embarrassment when we discovered the other crew he had to coach was the Australian Olympic Eight preparing for the Olympic Regatta at Ballarat.

He regarded this period of his life as a 'magic time'. Here this shy young kid was rubbing shoulders with Olympians, legends in his eyes. The great Brian "JoJo" Doyle, Garth Manton and David "Crockett" Boykett to name just some. They all became life long friends. The Club buzzed with excitement.

Later on in the Melbourne Grammar article, Tony recalls: Memories of this stage of my life have become images of endeavour, challenges presented and achieved, mateship, life long friendships formed, the thrill of competing and enjoying the fruits of victory and also enduring the agony of his soulmate defeat, but all these merged into one happy memory.

Given Tony's height, he was a lightweight rower and was successful. His Interstate Championship win in the Penrith Cup is a highlight. Rowing with greats like George Xouris and Ken Hume, and being coxed by the precocious David Palfreyman, was a great experience. 

Victorious 1962 Victorian Penrith Cup crew 
David Palfreyman (cox), Ken Hume (stroke), Tony Walker (3), George Xouris (2) and Rod Smith (bow)

Tony added that when George Xouris came to Melbourne from Mildura, Keith Bilney asked him to test him out. Tony's conclusion was that George was that he "can't row, no good". After George excelled in the sport at all levels, Keith reminded Tony of his conclusion with the question: "How much do you !!??! know about rowing?" 

Another great personality of the sport who rowed with Tony was Richard "Dick" Garrard. Dick still is a strong willed person who was a renown rower and coach. This type of personality can be challenging at times, particularly in a pair. In one pair oared training session, they turned up the river and Tony asked that they go to a nearby staging. Tony then said to him: "Do it yourself if you think that you are so good" and got out of the boat. To everyone's amazement, including Tony, he did. Do not try it yourself, you will certainly fail.

Tony also recalls his 1964 Olympic crew. The Late Peter Gillon simply stated that they were going to be the Olympic four and they went about making it happen. It was a very interesting crew. The determined Peter Gillon, the enthusiastic and complex character of Simon Newcomb and the strong willed Dick Garrard, would have been an 'interesting' time. One has to hypothesise that Tony was the glue that kept them together. They won the test race against excellent crews with far greater experience from NSW. It was a race to remember at the recently filled Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. 

Through his 1964 endeavours, Tony started a small but very elite club of Penrith Cup winners who have also raced in the Olympic Games. The other two are Peter Antonie and Clyde Heffer.

1964 Olympic Coxless Four
Inset: Keith Bilney (coach), Peter Gillon (stroke), Simon Newcomb (3), Dick Garrard (2) and Tony in bow

Mercantile provided Tony with a wealth of personalities to enjoy in his youth. They helped create a lasting love of the Club and of the sport. Even today, Tony regularly enjoys the company of another giant personality of the Club, Bob Lachal. Dinner with those two is a highly entertaining event.

Given his first experience in the sport was watching the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley on Yarra in 1956, he fondly remembers his wins at that regatta and proudly retains his trophies. 

Tony continues to support rowing - he has been the Melbourne Grammar Boat Shed manager for 30 years. He takes particular interest in MGS boys who progress in the sport. He is too modest to mention his contribution to the success of Olympic Champion David Crawshay.

The details

1958 - Henley on Yarra - Maiden four - First

1960 - Henley on Yarra - Ladies Challenge Cup - First

1960 - Interstate Men’s Lightweight Four Championship three seat – Third

1961 - Henley on Yarra - Ladies Challenge Cup - First

1961 - Interstate Men’s Lightweight Four Championship three seat – Third

1962 - Interstate Men’s Lightweight Four Championship three seat – First

1964 - Henley on Yarra - Grand Challenge Cup - First

1964 - Henley on Yarra - Senior Four - First

1964 - National Men's Coxless Four Championship, bow - First

1964 – Olympic Games – Men’s Coxless Four bow – eliminated in repechage

Andrew Guerin
July 2021

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