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ROWING (Centenary History)

ROWING (Centenary History)

See Also ROWING (Sport)

The following text is an excerpt from the Centenary History of the Geelong College published in 1961:

Chapter fourteen

'ALTHOUGH THE COLLEGE was always within easy reach of the river, it was many years before rowing became so popular as to call for a boat-house and boat club. In 1873 the Barwon Rowing Club discovered that in the two large Geelong Schools there was much promising material. Boys from the College and the Grammar School were invited to join the club and take part in the first scratch fours held on the Barwon. The Grammar School crew won the race. It was from that beginning that there sprang the rowing enthusiasm in both schools, though activity at the College remained for some time spasmodic and "unofficial".

It was not till 1877 that a College crew again tried conclusions with another school. A race in clinker fours was arranged with Hawthorn Grammar School, who won by two lengths. The College crew was:—G. E. Morrison, bow (10 st. 3 lb.); W. Longden, 2 (10 st. 7 lb.); J. Ware, 3 (12 st.); H. Osborne, stroke (11 st.); R. Rede, cox (5 st. 3 lb.).

It might have been expected that a College Boat Club would be established at once, but Mr. Morrison was not in favour of it, and eleven years were to elapse before it was eventually permitted. Then, in 1888, Old Collegians and others interested in rowing, led by Dr. H. R. Salmon, contributed the money necessary for the purchase of a pair, a four-oared gig and two pleasure boats. For a few months the boats were housed in the Barwon Rowing Club sheds, but soon a site was obtained near Prince's Bridge, a boat-house erected and a moat cut from the river to the shed. In 1889, a new four-oared gig was bought, so that races would be possible, and rowing became fairly established as a popular sport.

In 1891 Norman Morrison brought a great enthusiasm to the school. More boats were bought and excitement was roused by trial fours which were then rowed. Regular coaching was given, and, though a racing crew for outside competitions was not produced, high hopes were entertained for the future. The popularity of Saturday river trips was redoubled. The "long, down-river days" became an outstanding feature of school life. Boating parties camped for the day, and sometimes the weekend, at The Willows, Campbell's Point, Cormorant and other favoured spots. Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove—not then the popular resorts they afterwards became—were also frequently visited by the more energetic crews.

A solitary four composed the racing "fleet" up to 1896. Then a new boat with outriggers and roller slides was added. It was named "Pegasus". In that same year a "Captain of the Boats" was formally appointed for the first time. He was Frank McFarland, also captain of football and cricket.

The first "eight" was added to the fleet in 1902. It was presented to the school by Mr. J. L. Currie, one of the original Collegians of 1861, and was named "Lorna Mary" after Mrs. Currie. Mr. L. St. G. P. Austin had come to the College as a master in 1901 and gave a great deal of attention to the boats. Under his coaching the rowing progressed considerably, and with the presentation of the "Lorna Mary" the day was in sight when a College eight would be able to compete with other schools. It was not until 1904 that this actually took place. The Ladies' Challenge Cup at Henley provided the opportunity and, though the announcement of the race left but little time in which to prepare a crew, Mr. Austin took up the work with enthusiasm. However, the crew met Wesley College and were defeated by two lengths, though only after a hard-fought race. This was a creditable first performance. In the same event in 1905 the College met Geelong Grammar School-the first regular race which had ever taken place between the two schools, ancient rivals in all other sports. The Grammar School won.

Rowing improved noticeably in the next few years, with Mr. W. Pincott, as coach, assisting Mr. Austin in the Club's activities. With the entry into the Public Schools' contests for the Head of the River, there was great encouragement for perseverance in this sport.

* * * *

The crew of 1908, the first Public School year of the College, achieved the distinction of securing second place in the Head of the River, rowed on the Yarra. In the first heat, after a very exciting race, they beat Wesley College by a length and a quarter. In the final they met Scotch and Xavier. The race resolved itself into a match between Scotch College and Geelong College, and ended in the defeat of the Geelong crew by a length and a half. So delighted were the Old Collegians that they presented a cup to each boy in the boat in memory of the event.

From this time on, the Head of the River came more and more to dominate the sport. The College Regatta was advanced from spring to autumn as the boatrace changed from October to May. Great pains were taken to maintain boats in good condition, and eventually the sheds were moved from near the start of the mile course, an area subject to serious flooding, to the present position below the Barwon Bridge.

In 1914 a crew coached initially by the Principal (Mr. Bayly), and finally taken over by Mr. Pincott, won its heat and finished third in the final; in 1917 the new coach, Mr. Henry Young, produced a crew which gained another second place. But then, for almost twenty years, the picture of College rowing is a study in sombre tones. The institution of a House Regatta, and of second and third eights' events with the Grammar School, did not change the fate of the senior crew, which only once, in 1924, seemed really unfortunate not to reach the final. In 1919 and 1933 illness among the rowers precluded College participation.

Great credit must be given to the coaches of that disappointing period, Messrs. H. Hurst (1923), C. Collyer (1924-31), L. J. Campbell (1932-3) and R. D. Emms (19345), who worked on without visible success, and to the boys whose patient loyalty demonstrated the true value of the training they received.

So for twenty-eight years, the Geelong College battled without any notable success. It had reached the final on three occasions, and each time the high hopes of supporters had been dashed. But relief was close at hand.

In 1936 the College boated a crew stroked by A. W. Douglas, with a new coach, Mr. Charles Saleh, who had had considerable rowing experience in Sydney. The heats provided a sensation. A member of the College crew slipped while stepping into the racer, "Norman Morrison II", and holed the hull. Scotch rowed up to the start, but, realising that something was wrong, returned to the sheds. As they crossed the finishing line, the judge's gun was fired, giving the impression that Scotch had been awarded a row-over victory.

However, after a few minutes both Scotch and Geelong crews were seen to be rowing up to the start together. Scotch's sportsmanship had declined an empty victory. The damaged boat had been speedily patched up, and a few minutes later the College rowed strongly past Scotch to win the heat. In the final on the following day the College crew defeated Wesley and Geelong Grammar School.

The win was popular with all, whether supporting the College or not, and hundreds of telegrams were received from well-wishers all over Australia. But the real importance lay in its effect on morale: ever afterwards the school was able to recall the year 1936 as marking an epoch in its history, an assurance to all future teams that victory was not impossible.

* * * *

Charles Saleh coached the first eight from 1936 to 1940, when he joined the Army. He returned in 1944 and coached the crew stroked by N. J. Spalding. That year the final was held on the Yarra, and Geelong College, rowing in a borrowed boat because of war-time transport restrictions, recorded its second victory by one and a half lengths from Melbourne Grammar School, with Scotch College third.

When Mr. Saleh went to live in Melbourne, Mr. Albert Bell consented to take up regular coaching of College crews. (He had already coached here in 1941 during Mr. Saleh's absence.) For ten years he laboured to give the College another victory; his boys frequently reached the final but were not good enough to win. Finally, in 1955 a crew stroked by F. S. McArthur rowed brilliantly when pressed by Wesley at the mill on the Barwon to give the school its third victory. McArthur again led the winners in the following year, and in 1957 D. R. Messenger stroked what was probably the best crew of all in College's third consecutive victory.

In these years D. M. Caithness and A. T. John (coxswain) joined the small band of Public School boys who have been members of three winning crews.

In 1958, although the first eight was equal second in its final, College crews won the second, third, fourth and fifth eights' events against all schools, proof of the enthusiasm of the boys and the efficiency of their coaches. In 1959 and 1960 the first crews, stroked by T. W. Sproat and A. C. H. Whitehead, respectively, were again winners, with the junior crews still very strong, finally confirming the dominance of the College in Public School rowing.

* * * *

The basis of the Boat Club's present high standing is Mr. Bell's strong personality. By his merciless selection on the one hand, yet his friendliness and encouragement on the other, he has inspired the boys to give their very best and has won their respect and affection. In the last decade he has been one of the school's outstanding characters.

No history of the Boat Club would be complete without reference to the part played by Old Collegians. They found the money to establish it originally and have ever since contributed generously to the substantial expense of providing boats and oars and other equipment, large and small, including the speed boat, "J.H.C.". Some, with rowing experience, have given time and effort to coaching. As leaders and organizers, a few deserve special recognition. The late Mr. Archie Shannon gave freely of his time, money and knowledge for many years. Since 1941 Mr. J. H. Campbell, as rowing master, has helped to make the Club a happy place. Mr. Robert Purnell is a leader among a younger group whose loyalty gives promise for the future.

The many staunch supporters, other than Old Collegians, have included a number of Geelong oarsmen who have been pleased to devote their efforts and skills to the training of the boys.

* * * *

After the second war there were developments which made rowing more attractive to participants and onlookers. The use of smooth-skinned ply-wood boats for the crews, and speed boats for coaches, made school clubs second to none in equipment—as witness the College's fine present-day fleet. Expansion of the Head of the River programme to include second and third crews, with losers' finals; the holding of junior regattas; the entry of schools in open regattas; all of these made for a season's worth-while rowing and racing. On a few occasions there were contests against school crews from other States.

In later years the exclusive use of the much improved Barwon course avoided city crowds and the exaggerated publicity which once afflicted the Head of the River. It also brought a happy return to an informal picnic atmosphere among the spectators.

Few schools can claim to have had such influence on any sport as Collegians have had on senior rowing in the last twenty years, when it has been common to find them in Victorian King's Cup and Inter-Varsity crews. Two outstanding performers were A. M. H. Aikman and J. G. Howden, bow and four in the 1956 Australian Olympic eight which came third in the final to the U.S.A. and Canada. This crew was coached by another Collegian, R. R. Aitken, who was himself the stroke of several brilliant Victorian crews.

* * * *

The motive behind the encouragement of the Boat Club in the early days seems to have been to cater for a boy's natural instincts for outdoor life, an informal picnic atmosphere, or a simple desire to play about with boats and water. In spite of the intensity of striving for success in modern time, the informal spirit still remains and is the magnet which continues to draw boys to the banks of the Barwon.'

* * * *

Sources: The Geelong College 1861-1961 by G C Notman and B R Keith, Chapter 14, pp 105-110.
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