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History of Rowing Victory Inc

History of Rowing Victoria Inc

2. Formation of the Association

Chapter 2 page 1 2 3 4

The following essay provides an excellent insight into the Yarra River and rowing generally in Melbourne at that time. It was first published the Victorian Rowing Register 1878 by M S Glynn.

The River Yarra

A few words on the subject of regatta courses will not be out of place in this work, for though well known to the oarsmen of two generations, the Upper, and more especially the Lower Yarra, with its tributary, the Saltwater River, are not so familiar to the general public as the dusty roadways of their widespread city.

The Upper Yarra claims our first attention, as being the earliest home of aquatic sports, and a place, with all its faults, which late and early manhood can look to with fond remembrances of a holiday spent on its placid bosom, or of many a hard and well contested race.


Prince's Bridge

Commencing at Prince’s Bridge, we see the boat sheds, presided over by men who came from the Thames to acquire greater independence of mind and pocket in a new country, and which are the quarters of the Amateur Clubs of Melbourne.

Between this bridge and the Botanical bridge, and a chain or two short of either, is the old Regatta course of a mile and a quarter, with a waterway only wide enough to admit of two boats racing abreast, and a direction so far removed from a straight line as to make it one of the most difficult courses in the world.

A view upstream from Prince's Bridge circa 1870

Seventeen years ago , when the sport was in its infancy, spectators had a fair chance of keeping competing boats under their eye from start to finish, if disposed to run along the banks; but of late years, from the efforts of Nature and the learned Baron Von Mueller, the scene is to a great extent shut out by a thick growth of indigenous timber and willows, which persistently assert their right to a share of the water. In the interest of the oarsman, engaged perhaps in a struggle with another of equal merit, it may be safely acknowledged that the bends or curves on this course, buoyed too, as it must be, along its centre, make it an undesirable place for settling pretentions to superiority in form or speed.

The Botanical Gardens Bridge circa 1860

What chance of success, for instance, can a sculler, say from Geelong or Ballarat, have against a local man? The one fouls the bank every few minutes while the other sails along past every danger without interruption. The same argument may be used of the coxswain, when he is a strange lad who cannot possibly steer a good course on a river which he never saw before. After many trials, many mishaps, and to better accommodate the ever increasing number of Club members, a change was made to the lower river, where the annual Regattas are now held. Indeed, this step was absolutely necessary, because, with the old system of rowing in heats, it would take a week to get through the present programme of the Victorian Rowing Association. Scratch and trial fours, and general practice, still remain the attractive features of the mile between bridges


The river improvements of 1885-1900

Now turning to the Lower Yarra we come on a stretch of water lying between low banks that certainly have no special charm to recommend them, but, what is of more importance to aspirants for fame, that water is broad enough to admit of seven or eight boats starting together. One year there was quite a rush of maiden scullers – no less than twelve gigs facing the starter – but that number tested the river beyond its capacity, and now when the number of entries for any one race exceeds half a dozen they are sent away in two divisions. The course for every class of boats except eights begins a quarter of a mile below the sugar works. Proceeding up stream, which by the way, is subject to tidal influences, and is therefore a great strain on a coxswain’s efficiency, we reach the junction with the Saltwater River, a spot well open to view from the village of Footscray, where the winning post is reached after what generally proves a hard spin of a mile and a quarter. The river narrows considerably in the last hundred yards , yet collisions occur rarely, if ever, because the tailing off commences before that point of vantage is reached, and the run for first place is left to one or two boats, which have their followers on terra firma by the thousand.

For races in eight oared boats under the auspices of the Association, the course is a full two miles – junior and senior oarsmen being treated to that distance alike. The highest eminence which can be attained by any club is to place its eight at the head of the river, and the dearest object of an oarsman’s ambition is satisfied when he can say that he held a seat in the winning boat. The point of starting is below Stony Creek, far removed from the eyes of any crowd but that which assembles on board the umpire’s steamer.

To describe the Intercolonial course a very few words will suffice. Along its whole length – a nominal four miles – the rowers keep to the Lower Yarra from a little above Stony Creek to the Melbourne Gasworks, passing bone mills, and soap and fellmongering establishments by the dozen. Odours innumerable here greet the nostrils of rowing men, and they, as the parties most concerned, will be free to admit that pulling on straight reaches of water is not at all times an unmixed benefit. The Victorian Rowing Association cannot, unfortunately, make regatta courses like those which our sister colonies can boast of, still we may go on hoping that the art of true and scientific rowing will never be lost to a metropolis where its notaries muster so largely, and so enthusiastic in their devotion to this manly sport.

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