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australian rowers profiles and history

John Werthheimer AM RFD

Mercantile Rowing Club (VIC)

John has been a member of Mercantile continuously since 1959. He completed secondary school at Melbourne High School in 1954 and then joined the Defence Forces graduating from the Royal Military College Duntroon to the Royal Australian Engineers in 1958.

He then moved to Melbourne to complete the Fellowship Diploma (Civil Engineering) at RMIT. It was during this time that he was encouraged to come down to the Club. His father had rowed at Sale and recalls how his father attended regattas. They got on the steam train together with their boats on Saturday lunchtime after work to the regatta town and then carried their boats to the regatta site. If in Melbourne, they would walk their boats from Spencer Street station to the Yarra then return the same way.

John was successful in his first season at the Club winning a maiden eight at the VRA (Melbourne) regatta on 14th November 1959 in a boat coached by Bill Wallace, coxed by Neil Hewitt and containing such other Mercantile greats such as Ron Negri.

His recollections of those days were of the great personalities of the Club such Jeff Wylie, Parker Menzies, Graeme McCall, Simon Newcomb, Bill Wallace, Noel Searle, Geoff Richardson, Craig Mccaulay , Tony Cordell , David Yunghanns and Bob Lee to name just a few and of course the antics that they got up to. He also recall the Christmas regattas, the “huge” Sunday morning barrel (sans 0.05 laws), the Engineers’ Oval behind the sheds and the challenges brought by Boathouse Drive then being a through road going along the river under Princes Bridge and behind the boatshed.

Above: John at the Shrine of Remembrance in June 2016

However his military life did allow him to stay at the Club for long. His work as an engineer took him initially to Wewak, New Guinea where John had the good fortune to meet his wife Marcia. In 1964, he was 2IC of 7 Field Squadron at Enoggera Queensland. During the Indonesian conflict, he served in Sabah Malaysia. He also served in Vietnam as Officer Commanding 17 Construction Squadron Group with a total strength of 430 sappers. In these and other appointments, his engineering work with the Royal Australian Engineers included road design and construction, particularly in tropical areas, water supply, army and civilian bridge construction, hospital construction, airfield design and construction, mine warfare and land clearing, and often in remote and difficult terrain and in war zones.

John transferred to the Army Reserve where he also served with distinction. In civilian life, he has worked on many major projects throughout Australia including the Sydney Opera House, Reserve Bank Note Printing Works,  Collins Place, RACV Club in Bourke Street, Melbourne Central, numerous major shopping centres and in more recent years specialising in major rail projects, particularly in Victoria. He is a distinguished and sought after engineer who is still working at the gentlemanly age of 78 years.

He also has made a considerable contribution to society in other ways. As well as supporting military organisations and military history including being a trustee of the Shrine of Remembrance, and to name just a few, he is or was was a foundation member of the Committee for Melbourne, Chairman of the Melbourne High School Foundation, Chairman of the Order of Australia Association, Victoria and member of the Advisory Committee of the RMIT Civil Engineering Faculty.

He is a great Australian and proud Mercantile member.


Andrew Guerin
June 2016

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