1950 DISASTER!

The 75th Annual Meeting of 1950 was held on September 29th at the boathouse. It was to be the last Annual Meeting ever held in that shed. Just a month later, the boatshed of which the club was so proud of and had worked so hard to build, was gone in one terrible night. Nothing captures the drama and the devastation of this catastrophic event in the club’s history than the opening paragraph of the 1950-51 Annual Report.

”In presenting the 76th Annual Report our thoughts turn back to that fateful morning, Saturday 28th October 1950, when we awoke to be acquainted with the news of the terrible blow that had befallen the Ballarat City Rowing Club for on this morning a fire swept through what was acclaimed as the finest boat house in Australia, leaving in its place, a smouldering ruin with a loss of valuable equipment, private property and a fine dance hall-a loss of approximately 25,000 pounds.”(Approximately $2,500,000 in today’s terms!)


This photo appeared in the Courier newspaper on Monday, October 30th 1950 showing the ruins the morning after the fire. There is supposedly film footage of the shed burning taken by the legendary Jack Anderson(Regent Theatre) who filmed many things in Ballarat in the 50’s and 60’s. he used to drive a taxi and he would take his film camera with him.

Once again fate had dealt the club a bitter and near fatal blow. Following as closely as it did on the exigencies of the Second World War, it was not just the loss of buildings and 80 years of history but more importantly, the club spirit. It could have destroyed it and the members could have thrown up their hands and said enough was enough. But they were made of sterner stuff! Stalwarts such as Otto Hauser, even as he surveyed the ruins in tears, vowed the club would rebuild. Frank Findlay had to step up and face the biggest challenge in the club’s history, literally had a baptism of fire, having only been president for just under a year. Ted Edwards had resigned as President on the 10th of October 1949. But Frank proved he was up to the task. Alongside Otto Hauser, who had just been made a life member, Ted Edwards, Bob Lawrie and Stan Wilton they immediately took steps to keep the club together. To make matters even more difficult the boatshed was only insured for 6000 pounds and to replace it would take a great deal more than that.

The local rowing schools and clubs all offered their assistance and a deal was struck with St. Patrick’s College to provide coaching for their crews in return for boats and a shed to row from. The Angler’s Club provided meeting space and would continue to do so for the six long years it took to rebuild City’s home.

Because the fire occurred in October, the club activities for the first nine months of the year went ahead very successfully with no premonition of what was to come. At Warrnambool Regatta, Frank Beattie and Albie McGuire again won the Senior pair race. We also had a winning Novice four of R. Jones, R.Pattenden, Frank Maloney and R.Murray with Teddy Jones the cox. At Colac Regatta,the Maiden four of Cliff McCahon, Ron Healey, R.Bayley and William Shuttleworth were successful. Our next wins were at the Easter Regattas when the club made the trip to Mildura and Wentworth.The lightweight four of Ralph Murphy, J.Stowell, Bob Lawrie and Kevin Meyers and a Maiden pair of William Shuttleworth and Ron Healey were winners

 The Ballarat Novice Regatta was again held and on the same day the Empire Test Race. This was for the Empire Games, forunner of the Commonwealth Games. This was held on the newly cut channel that was to be the Olympic course.  The Herald newspaper reported that “having cut a track through the reed bank in the centre of the Lake, the local council has prepared a fine and fair course….The start is in the Convent corner(Loreto) and the finish in the north-eastern side of the Lake near Cardigan Street.” This is the opposite of how the course runs today.

The fleet comprised 1 racing eight, 2 practice eights, 3 racing fours, 2 practice fours, 2 racing pairs, 5 practice pairs, 2 practice sculls and 50 good oars all meticulously and thoroughly maintained by Otto Hauser and his band. The club also placed orders for three new racing boats-an eight, a four and a pair. The locker room was lined and painted and the kitchen re-painted along with all the small regular maintenance required.

Article from after the fire. Note first shed was built in 1864 for the Alabama Rowing Club and then in 1915 the shed was renovated with a single roof replacing the two original gables.
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