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A Centenary of Rowing Regattas— Murray Rowing Association

2. Early Years on the Lake (continued)

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Following the destruction of the locally built boats, the great speculation about whether the local boat builders could compete with the best builders in the metropolis, was gradually forgotten. Local boat builders of that day were - Robert Blair, of Rutherglen, builder of the "White Squall" and the "Black Squall", these boats winning the Grand Challenge Cup in the years 1860 and 1861 respectively; Robert Holman of Rutherglen, builder of the "Nardoo" and "Bunyip" which won the Gran Challenge in 1862 and 1863 respectively and Hudson (Huddy) Wilkinson, builder of the "Lady of the Lake" and the "Rutherglen", the former boat winning the Grand Challenge in 1868 and 1874. Melbourne built boats won the Challenge Race in the other years of the first two decades of the Regatta. From this it is evident that local boat-builders were quite capable of building racing boats which could outclass the best in Melbourne.

The popularity of the Regatta in these early years can be gauged firstly from an extract of the report on the 1866 Regatta by a local correspondent of the "Ovens and Murray Advertiser", who claimed, "People from Chiltern, Cornish Town, Beechworth and Yackandandah made their way to the Regatta which had fair to become as a notable an event in the Ovens and Murray districts as the Intercolonial Champion Race to the districts nearer the coast.

The second evidence of its popularity is shown by the fact that in early years the Regatta was held over two days. For example the 1864 Regatta, which had to be postponed, was then re-advertised for 1st and 2nd February of that year.

A big ball organised to coincide with the Regatta also helped make the event a gala occasion. In 1864, the Regatta Grand Ball was planned for the evening of January the 1st and was organised by Mr. Elliott, at the Exchange Hotel, Rutherglen. Not only were the hotels with their associated recreation rooms (including theatres or ballrooms) useful for civic balls before a town hall was built, but also as general meeting places they were suitable for the business of settling bets. Coopers Commercial Hotel was advertised as the place where the settling would take place, in 1864.

Thus did the Regatta continue to firmly establish itself as the social and sporting event of this district.

Some prominent rowers of these early years were G. E. Cooper and J. Wilson ("Lady of the Lake"), Joseph Deans and Robert B. Briggs ("Moodemere"), Thos. Douglas and Robert Holman ("Bunyip"), J. Smith, H. Cooper, E. Clayton and Jenkins.

To illustrate the enthusiasm and seriousness with which the early rowers participated in their sport, the following Challenge, printed in the "Corowa Free Press", January 12th, 1877, following a misunderstanding between crews during the previous Regatta is helpful.

"I am open to challenge a crew chosen from the Wahgunyah Rowing Club who competed at the last Regatta against a crew picked from Rutherglen Rowing Club for £50 a side. Distance 2, 3 or 4 miles as agreed on, the match to be rowed at Easter on Lake Moodamere, or will back the crew of the "Dutchess" (Wahgunyah) against the crew of the "Lady of the Lake" (Lake Moodemere) for like amount and distance to meet on same terms of New Year's Day.

Signed: JOHN HISKINS, Jnr.
Wahgunyah, January, 11th, 1877."

At that 1877 Regatta from which the misunderstanding arose, a race for aboriginals in bark canoes was included in the programme. Three canoes took part.

Differences of the previous year were still felt at the 1878 Regatta. "It is to be regretted that circumstances occurred last year which caused the Wahgunyah people to withdraw their support from this Regatta, but it is hoped that next year, Corowa, Rutherglen and Wahgunyah will unite and hold meetings alternately on the Lake or Murray River. It is also suggested that the handicap system be done away with. The absence of a boat from Corowa was remarked on" (Corowa Free Press, January, 1878). However, Carlyle and Norong had crews competing that year.

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