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History of Rowing at Sydney Boys High School, 1947-1960

by Graham Pilger

Sydney Boys High School rowing - Some thoughts on the 'Golden Age' 1947 to 1960

This interesting and well written short history of an important period in the history of this school boat club was written by Graham Pilger in 2010 in preparation for a 50 year reunion of the winning 1959 crew.

We thank those involved with that reunion and in particular Ian Stewart, for permission to reproduce this essay.


Although there have since been isolated High successes - by a fourth four in 1962, a second four in 1963 and a first four in 1976 (equivalent in status to a third four in earlier years) - the winning of the Yaralla Cup fifty years ago was destined to be the school’s last important hurrah at Penrith. The success of John Callaway’s crew in 1960 marked in effect the end of a remarkable fourteen-year post war period for the school ‘on the river’. Whether by virtue of the numerous wins and places gained by its crews during that time or simply through the misty - and possibly rosy - memories of ‘old rowers’ looking back down the years to their youth, this period has come to be known as the ‘Golden Age’ of High rowing.

The ghosts of much earlier ‘old rowers’ would point, with some justification, to an even more gilded period from 1924 to 1931 when the newly-born High rowing had had instant and outstanding success - the very first crew, a first four, winning its heat and final by about ten lengths - to be followed, within the next six years, by an extraordinary run of five Heads of the (Parramatta) River. High’s arrival ‘on the river’ obviously came as a shock to a hitherto complacent GPS rowing community. It took them a while but, inevitably, most of the other schools came around to adopting the novel idea, ably demonstrated by the first High crews, that training in earnest for rowing events actually paid off!  

Of course, such a universal change in attitude by the competition had the effect of bringing later performances by High crews ‘back to the field’. Ironically, however, by the early ‘thirties, GPS rowing had adopted most of the extended training times and routines which had led to the High eight’s disqualification and the ’No Race’ nonsense of 1930. High’s first coach, George Hancock, was captain of Glebe Rowing Club, and treated the pioneer crews from the school, first housed in the Glebe shed, as if they were active club members, ie they were expected to give the same time and training effort needed to become fully competitive. Perhaps George didn’t realize what he was starting; but the principles he espoused then remained to inspire a new generation after WW2. 

Against such a background the following memories of one whose rowing career spanned most of those post WW2 years may be of interest to others who also were lucky enough to have worn the chocolate & blue and to have been a contributor to and a beneficiary of that ‘Golden’ period in High rowing - a period that ended 50 or so years ago this April.  

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