1915 Winds of War

As I write the blog tonight, Victoria is entering 6 weeks of lockdown because of COVID 19. The boatshed will be shut for another six weeks. In 1915 the club was winding down too but for a very different reason. The young and not so young oarsmen were signing up to fight overseas. Everyone thought it would be over quickly but it would be four years of no rowing by virtue of the fact there were no members to row the boats. How much more difficult would this lockdown have been. Many of the young men who left would never return. We know that hopefully in 6 weeks we will recommence our training and rowing only a little the worse for wear, but still here. In 1915 all social and sporting activities were becoming increasingly affected by the war and the world, as we knew it would never be the same again. The brightest and best of our male youth, the next generation of champion rowers, was taken away never to be returned, or if returned often in a much altered state.

The lake was once again drought affected and there were many meetings to discuss ways of supplying the lake with more water. Once again the possibility of pumping water from old mine workings was discussed with the old City shaft on the Common mentioned. Water was actually pumped from the Electricity Supply Company shaft but it showed a tendency to ease off as it was being pumped into the lake. In January the lake was very low.

City competed at Colac On New Year’s Day in the Maiden Pairs. Barwon Regatta still went ahead on Saturday February 7th despite the general depression caused by the drought and the war. Ballarat Regatta was looking to be in jeopardy, as on January 18th it was reported that there was not more than a foot of water in it and it hadn’t been so low since the big drought of 1868. This led to an upsurge of suggestions to deepen the lake while the water level was so low. By February the steamers were battling to cross the lake only able to take 20 passengers for a trip across the lake that took an hour.

City again entered no crews for Upper Yarra or Albert Park Regattas. Wendouree was the only club to send a crew and they sent just one.

Ballarat Regatta did go ahead on February 13th and was recorded as a considerable success despite the difficulties. City raced in the Maiden pairs and handicapped sculls without a win. However on the patriotic front we scored two wins. In the decorated boats competition Ballarat City Ladies’ Club won with the best decorated boat “The Allies” and also came first in the Best Dressed Crew Competition!

In March the State Government gave the City Council a 500-pound grant that the City matched pound for pound to be used to beautify the lake. A working bee was held around various rowing sheds to clear silt away from them. Men were to attend at 2.30 sharp with spades. The Council kindly arranged to cart the silt away. The Council were advertising garden soil from the Lake at two shillings a load. The City engineer was authorised to hire more workmen to take advantage of the low water level. In March the premier arrived in Ballarat to inspect the works being carried out. It was also possible to see the remains of the 1869 embankment, which from Macarthur street out to the rushes was high and dry and it was possible to walk out some 200 yards.

1915 Members of the three rowing clubs digging the silt out by hand from the lake bed between Wendouree and Ballarat boatsheds.

The Walker Cup competition was held for crews from various companies known as the Trade Fours. The Ronaldson Tippett crew won for the third time and so got to keep the cup. Very little interest was shown in the competition as events on the world stage had taken precedence. Because of the low level of the lake any further rowing was almost impossible until June when rain fell and improved the water level sufficiently. Also about this time news was filtering back to Australia about the now legendary landing on Gallipoli.

The Agricultural High School (later Ballarat High School) was looking for government assistance to build its own shed. They had rowed out of City’s boatshed and were coached by City members for most of their early years. The school started in 1910 and put aside 150 pounds to build a boatshed but it did not go ahead at that time because of the low level of the Lake and because building costs had increased.

At the end of June 1915 it was decided to cancel Ballarat Regatta for 1916 as so many oarsmen were at the Front and so many had already lost their lives that it would not be considered seemly to hold a public regatta. Barwon and Henley Regatta committees also cancelled their regattas. When Ballarat Rowing Club met in July 46 members had already joined the army. The Ballarat Show was abandoned for this year also. At Ballarat Rowing Club’s Annual Meeting they congratulated City on their new shed. It was at this time the money in the building account was expended on re-roofing the old shed and generally improving it. This is the only mention Ballarat City receives in the newspaper for most of 1915. The improvements to the neighbourhood were most marked. From comments made many years later by club president Frank Findlay in 1968 it would appear that the old Alabama shed was re-roofed. Photographs from that time show that the old double gable was replaced by a single span. We can only speculate on the limited evidence available that the Building Fund accumulated to build a new shed was spent on the roof, as the committee were concerned that the government might require them to hand the money over to the Patriotic Fund.

Gentleman standing on dry Lake bed just in front of Ballarat City Rowing Club. The round brick outfall is still next to the shed today.
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