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History of Rowing Victory Inc

History of Rowing Victoria Inc

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10. Expansion years 1950-1959

Chapter 10 page 1 2 3 4

By 1950, rowing was again in full swing after WWII with clubs again having developed new rowers and the rowers from schools now entering into the Clubs after a normal school education.

Focus was now on both the Helsinki and Melbourne Olympic Games, and the Empire Games of 1950, 1954 and 1958. Plenty of opportunities arose for aspiring rowers. Further, the home Olympic Games in 1956 focused the community on Olympic sports with positive publicity. 

The interest in rowing grew and so also the prestige of it. Whilst numbers grew, the relative strength of the sport continued to decline with the growth of the media coverage devoted to the big sports of football and cricket. The introduction of television for the 1956 Games did nothing to abate this relative decline.

The decline of the importance of the Australian Henley regatta was also noticeable. Some of the wise old heads at that time blamed the extremely long construction period of the Swan Street Bridge as part of the cause. They apparently added that the bridge itself blocked the once superb view up the course and so much of the vista and grandeur of the regatta was lost.1


The 1955 Senior Premiership battle proved to be one of the most tightly contested and exciting campaigns in recent years, resulting in a tie between Albert Park Rowing Club and Mercantile Rowing Club. Mercantile was once again successful in winning the Junior and Lightweight Premierships for the third successive year, and the first ever Country Premiership was claimed by Ballarat City Rowing Club.

The competition for Senior Eights this year unfortunately attracted entries from only one club and as a result no points were awarded at the Melbourne and Henley Regattas.

Victoria was represented by a supremely talented eight-oared crew at the King’s Cup Regatta this year on the Port River in Adelaide over the three mile race. The men would lead throughout the entire race before the crew from Western Australia launched a herculean sprint to overtake Victoria with only 300 yards to go and win by two and a half lengths. Supporters from various clubs throughout the state were nonetheless proud of their brave performance. In the Australian Pair-Oared Championship, the Victorian Pair of Robert B Duncan and Bruce D. Dickson, coxed by R. Trezise gave a perfect exhibition of pair-oared rowing to win the event.

A highlight of the season was the record number of school crews which competed in regattas and the triumph of Wesley College in winning a Maiden Eight Treble. A series of Maiden-Pair Oared Events were conducted throughout the Winter months, taking place on the Yarra River and at Yea. These events saw nineteen crews competing in Metropolitan events and three at Yea, the races proved to be a resounding success. Melbourne University won for the sixth successive year in the Oxford Cambridge Cup, and Geelong College saw off strong competition to win the APS Head of the River Regatta.

Mr. Frank Dennis, the president of Hawthorn Rowing Club, notably secured a radio session dedicated entirely to rowing news each Saturday morning over 3XY during the coming season.

On a more sombre note, this year the Victorian Rowing Association witnessed the loss of their President, the Late Mr. Arch L. Dobbie. During his long association with the sport he competed with Mercantile Rowing Club and also served as their president, on top of acting in numerous roles for the Victorian Rowing Association.


Olympic Year meant the King’s Cup Regatta conducted at Ballarat was one of the most important races in the history of Victorian Rowing. The King’s Cup Race served as a Test Race over 2000 metres for the selection of the Eight-Oared Crew to compete for Australia at the 1956 Olympic Games also to be held on Lake Wendouree. 

Some 10,000 fans of Australian rowing gathered to witness a spectacular final. Western Australia blasted away from the blocks to grasp an early lead but it wasn’t long before the Victorian crew moved out in front, and cruised smoothly down the course before executing a clinical sprint finish to quench the challenges of the chasing crews. Victorian rowing enthusiast were thrilled to see the King’s Cup retained for Victoria and the selection of the crew to row at the Olympic Games.

This season, the decision was made at the domestic level to replace all Senior Rowing with open events and the Senior Premiership was to be abandoned. This was done in order to provide young oarsmen with the opportunity to compete in the highest class of rowing during the Olympic Year without loss of status.

Albert Park Rowing Club, winners of the Senior Premiership in the previous two seasons, built upon their meteoric rise in rowing prowess by winning the tightly contested Junior Premiership. The Lightweight Premiership was claimed by South Melbourne and Wentworth District Rowing Club would be victorious in the Country Premiership. In a record field of seven crews, Melbourne University won for the seventh successive year the Oxford Cambridge Cup on the Lower Yarra over a course of 2 miles. Geelong College were victorious in the APS Head of the River Regatta over Scotch College.

The loss of Edward Kenny, who devoted his life to Australian rowing, was a blow to the morale of the Victorian Rowing Association. The Australian Amateur Rowing Council made the grand gesture of opening a memorial fund which was to be used to provide “Kenny Memorial Medallions” for presentation to the winning crews of the King’s Cup Regatta in the coming season.


Perhaps one of the most important years for Australian, and particular Victorian rowing was had in the year previous. The extended and vast Victorian Rowing community combined together to fulfil the responsibility of hosting the Olympic Games Rowing Regatta at Lake Wendouree, Ballarat. Australia duly proved they belong with the best athletes in the world, with five crews contesting finals resulting in a Silver Medal and two Bronze Medals. 30,000 people were present and thrilled by the dramatic nature of the racing. The Australian Eight Oared Crew which claimed a Bronze Medal was comprised largely of athletes from Mercantile, Melbourne University and Banks such as A. Michael H. Aikman, David H. Boykett, James G. Howden, Garth O. V. Manton, W. Neville Howell, Adrian C. Monger, Brian J. Doyle, and H. Neil Hewitt.

The King’s Cup Regatta provided an equally dazzling spectacle on the Hamilton Reach of the Brisbane River in May. Victoria produced a masterclass in eight-oared rowing, calmy contesting a frantic start by all crews before establishing a dominating rhythm to move out from the field at the half-mile mark. They continued to build on their lead to win by a convincing four lengths from New South Wales.

Not to be overshadowed by the spectacle of Olympic and Interstate racing, the regatta racing season did not lack for enthusiasm and saw a number of closely contested races and rivalries. Albert Park won its fourth successive Senior Premiership. A dramatic finish to the Junior Premiership saw Banks Rowing Club tied for points with Corio Bay, and Yarra Yarra Rowing Club had a well-deserved win in the Lightweight Premiership.

The University Boat Race for the Oxford-Cambridge Cup was rowed over three miles on the Derwent River, Hobart in June, and was dominated for the eighth successive year by Melbourne University, with Queensland University second. Geelong College would enjoy their third consecutive victory at the Head of the River Regatta, a testament to the eye of their coach, Mr. Albert B. Bell.

This year unfortunately saw the passing of LT COL Henry (Harry) E. Butler, secretary to the Victorian Rowing Association for twenty years until 1953.


Whilst the Victorian Rowing community was disappointed by the lack of international representation in the Australian team for the British Empire Games, the domestic and national season proved exciting and delightful in many aspects.

As is tradition, the attention of all Victorian rowing enthusiasts was centred upon the King’s Cup Regatta, held this season on the Nepean River in Penrith. All states were represented over the three mile course. Queensland blasted away to take an early lead, but were unable to hold off the Victorian crew, who as soon as they settled upon their textbook rhythm, moved through Queensland and held their lead until the finish line.

This year saw the introduction of the Australian Lightweight Four-Oared Championship at the King’s Cup Regatta, and proved to be a great success. Victoria won the race on the line after a blistering sprint to overtake the crew from New South Wales.

The battle for Premiership competitions proved to be just as exciting throughout the season. Mercantile Rowing Club claimed the Senior Premiership, Yarra Yarra Rowing Club won the Lightweight Premiership, and the Country Premiership was tied between Barwon and Dimboola. The greatest drama was seen in the quest for the Junior Premiership, which was won by Essendon with six points more than Banks at the last regatta of the season. Adding to the spectacle was the fact that this was Essendon’s first Premiership for 25 years.

Heartbreak however, occurred for Melbourne University Boat Club, who for the first time in eight years, lost the Oxford and Cambridge Cup to Queensland University by four lengths in the Annual Universities’ Boat Race. The Head of the River race was again rowed on the Barwon River in Geelong, and was won convincingly by Melbourne Grammar, whose coxswain would go on to steer the Victorian Eight to victory in the King’s Cup.


Whilst the 1959 season saw plentiful competition between clubs and schools at various regattas in Victoria, the state was challenged at Interstate level.

The King’s Cup Regatta was held on the Swan River, Perth over a three mile course. With the intention of settling in and becoming familiar with the course, the eight-oared crew arrived at Swan River 12 days prior to the regatta, only for many of its crew members to become struck down with a viral infection and as a result unable to train for the better part of a week. Dr. Hunt, father of five man John Hunt, was fortunately on hand to administer care and treatment to the afflicted crew members. 

On race day, the calibre of the Victorian crew was evident from their blistering start and smooth racing rhythm, but so too was the deep fatigue inflicted in their legs by illness, as their energy began to waver at the halfway mark, allowing New South Wales to draw them in and ultimately pull away to win by four lengths.

The Victorian Sculler and members of the Lightweight four faced a similar fate, struggling with illness in the build-up to the regatta and never troubling the race leaders in their respective events. Onlookers nonetheless described each performance as inspiring.

For the second successive year, the Senior Premiership was won by Mercantile. Notably, Richmond Rowing Club won its first Premiership for 20 years in a closely contested season long battle with Mercantile for the Junior Premiership. Essendon, who won the Junior Premiership last season, instead were able to win the Lightweight Premiership. Dimboola were successful in winning the Country Rowing Premiership.

The successful Scotch-Mercantile Regatta proved a resounding success, attracting a record entry of 694 competitors in 137 crews, representing 29 clubs and schools.

Melbourne University Boat Club this season celebrated its centenary, but were unfortunately unable to celebrate victory in the 65th Annual Universities’ Boat Race for the Oxford-Cambridge Cup, which was instead dominated by an incredibly talented crew from Queensland.

At the culmination of the schoolboy season, Mr. Albert B. Bell coached a splendid crew from Geelong College to victory in the APS Head of the River on the Geelong.

Footnotes and sources

  1. Reported by Robert Aitken to Andrew Guerin in 1980.
  2. Primary source has been the Victorian Rowing Association annual reports - refer appendix 16

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