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History of Rowing Victory Inc

History of Rowing Victoria Inc

7. Women's rowing and the modern era 1920-1929

Chapter 7 page 1 2 3 4

The social revolution created during the war years continued with even greater speed in 1920s with the Edwardian era differing markedly from the Victorian.

The "Roaring Twenties" changes were not just cultural with governments spending big on infrastructure and home ownership grew significantly. It was boom times, until 1929 when the Great Depression commenced.

The Princes Bridge Boat Staging 1912-19271

All rowing clubs face the perpetual issue of a boat staging unless they are fortunate that their boating area is situation on a waterway with a sand covered, beach style, gradual embankment. Very few areas offer such a natural and pleasant access.

The Yarra River, with it's excessive silt, strong currents and flooding, has always required a sturdy staging.

The original stagings were private and built by the resident boat builders and no doubt required much repair after each flood. As most Princes Bridge clubs boated from the boatbuilders boatshed, and many suburban clubs rented rooms from the boatbuilders during the racing season, these private arrangements worked well.

Later in the nineteenth century, clubs were beginning to build their own sheds at Princes Bridge and elsewhere and this complicated the issue.

The following story provides an insight into these staging issues and also highlights the impacts of the twentieth century World Wars on civic infrastructure. The information is sourced from a voluminous Rowing Victoria file and is interesting.

On 22nd of August 1912, Ted Kenny, as Honorary Secretary of the Victorian Rowing Association, wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Works seeking their assistance with the rebuilding of the staging. "At the present time it is in a very dangerous condition and as the beams are not sound enough to hold a nail it is practically beyond repair." Interestingly, the clubs and boatbuilders offered to pay 8% of the cost pa to cover the interest on the cost of the construction and also ongoing maintenance of the staging. On 12th February 1913, the Secretary of the Department of Public Works disputed the assessment of the state of the staging, undertook to repair parts of the staging, and advised that the government did not have the 400 pounds required to rebuild it. John Lang, on behalf of the Association, lobbied the Minister (in 1913 called "interviewing" the Minister) without success.

The Melbourne City Council also agreed to undertake some temporary repairs but without taking any liability for the staging. Whilst all this was occurring, World War 1 commenced and all focus and money was devoted to the war.

By mid 1914, a committee titled The Alexandra Park Committee (controlled by the Melbourne City Council), which was responsible for the maintenance of the river banks above the high water mark, was asked to consider the future maintenance and control of the staging and met with Messrs. Kenny and Lang of the VRA. The Committee has no funds and was also reluctant to fund infrastructure which was used by only rowing clubs and boat builders. 

Realising that the clubs would have to lead the initiative, in the same manner as clubs in other areas of the State, the VRA proposed that the Clubs and the Henley Committee contribute but on the condition that the boatbuilders bore most of the cost. In a lengthy report back to the VRA Committee of October 1914, Kenny and Lang made this recommendation, which the VRA Committee accepted. However, neither the Henley Committee nor all Princes Bridge clubs agreed with this solution and matter was carried forward into 1915, then 1916. By September 1916, the VRA sought from The Alexandra Park Trust for their estimate of the annual maintenance cost of the staging and an amount for a sinking fund for replacing the staging in due course. The VRA proposed that they would then allocate the cost to the various parties. The Trust agreed to provide the information requested and in January 1917 advised that 50 pounds pa for both maintenance and a sinking fund would suffice.

Again this idea failed by May 1917 due to disputes about the allocation - with the clubs happy to pay 25 pounds pa but the boatbuilders refusing to pay their share, their businesses having come to a standstill due the war. The VRA concluded that the matter be held over until the end of the war. 

However yet another twist in the story arose with the Lands Department handing over responsibility of the boatshed area to The Alexandra Park Trust from 1st July 1917 and all rents would thence forward be paid to the Trust along with the new 50 pounds pa staging charge. The VRA was asked for their views on the allocation amongst the interested parties and responded that 25 pounds be allocated equally between University, Yarra Yarra, Banks, Richmond, Mercantile, Melbourne and Civil Service clubs, and the other 25 pounds allocated to boat builders be charged in proportion to the rent paid by them.  No Henley Committee contribution was considered. Furthermore the Alexandra Park Committee reduced the first year payment to 30 pounds but asked that the VRA collect the money on their behalf. The VRA declined their request but in the end attempted to do so. VRA Hon, Secretary Ted Kenny recorded in a private note to John Lang his complaint about the correspondence, telephone calls and discussions involved, "and I reckon they owe me a pair of boots for the running about I have had in collecting the money." He added that he had no luck in getting Greenlands to contribute. John Lang personally paid for the University contribution given the slow response from University.

The same fee was charged for the next few years and the VRA again was the collector. The Council gradually took over the collection of non-affiliated Clubs prompted by Melbourne Rowing Club disaffiliating from the VRA, Melbourne Grammar School building their own boatshed, and the boatbuilders losing their tenants.

By 1921, even the Melbourne City Council agreed that the staging was in a dangerous condition with the sub-structure failing, and needing to be replaced. Even though the sinking fund had grown to 111 pounds, contributions from the now eight clubs and two boat builders needed to be increased to 10 pounds pa. And further increases followed. As expected there was much debate around the nature of the staging.

It was still not until 1927 that the staging was replaced with concrete footings and jarrah wooden structure at a total cost of 2,157.5 pounds. The funding came from the sinking fund of 430 pounds, a contribution of 700 pounds from the Henley Committee and further contributions from the Clubs of 904 pounds. The staging was built. The balance of 123 pounds was eventually paid by the Clubs. Even during construction, complications of the extent of the staging changed with Richmond Rowing Club being granted a site west of Melbourne Rowing Club which required an extension of the staging westward to cover this new site.

So after an enormous amount of effort, the Princes Bridge Clubs had a new staging in 1927, some 15 years after the urgent matter was raised.

A similar story of delay arose in the building of the Swan Street Bridge across WWII - more on this later.


1. Sourced from the Rowing Victoria staging file read by the author in December 2023

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