1956 New shed and Olympic Games

The club had five years almost to the day to complete the new shed. They had raised nearly two thirds of the money needed. So why did it come down to the wire, only being completed a week before the Games began. Bureaucracy at the many levels of government almost saw a complete disaster. But for the fact that the Australian Rowing Council stepped in, started to move things along in May 1956, it might never have got there.As Bob Lawrie said in his interview, it was doubtful the shed would ever have been built except for the Olympic Games. Waiting for approval of the plans took about 7 to 8 months. The architects Connor and Brophy only called for tenders in April 1956. In May, the President of the ARC and VRA was scathing in his view of the Olympic Organising Committee now saying they would build temporary accommodation for visiting oarsmen instead of helping to finish the Ballarat City shed. This seems ludicrous given that that they would spend 6000 pounds to build something that would be pulled down after the Olympics. It would have made sense to give the money to the club to finish our shed. But no!-the club had to go out and get a loan to finish it. This loan was still being repaid in 1973! The builder that originally worked on the shed started in June. Apparently according to older members he went bankrupt and Weir’s were engaged to finish it. As can be seen in the article below it was not looking promising as by October there were still no walls! By November the building was to lock up and had everything needed to host countries from around the world. The club members would spend the next five or six years finishing off the building, tiling and plaster and rendering to completely finish it.

Melbourne Argus Tuesday 2 October 1956

The following is an extract from the Official Report of The Organising Committee for the Games of XVI Olympiad Melbourne 1956.

“In May 1950 ………..At the time Lake Wendouree was selected there was ample accommodation for boats of the visiting crews in the three main boat-houses, Ballarat, Wendouree and Ballarat City. Shortly after the selection, fire destroyed the Ballarat City boat house and it was not until a week before the Olympic rowing that the new boat house was ready for occupation. With additional amenities added at the expense of the Organizing Committee, the three Ballarat and Wendouree boat-houses provided most suitable accommodation for the seventy-two boats and facilities for the crews of twenty five nations which contested the Olympic rowing events.

Argus, Thursday 24th May 1956

The club was ecstatic however and although the Annual meeting was again held at the Angler’s Lodge on September 25th, the mood was optimistic.

“At last the long awaited day has arrived-the day your committee has been waiting for and the day you have all been looking forward to since our grave loss on Saturday October 28th 1950.Tenders have been called and let for the construction of our new clubhouse, which at the time of writing this report is making very good progress and is taking shape to such an extent that by the time of our Annual Meeting it will look like a boathouse and if everything goes to plan will be constructed in time for the Olympic Games. To assist us to accomplish this, your committee has sought and been granted a loan from the State Government.”

The club had indeed waited long and worked hard to rebuild after the fire. Originally we applied for a grant but owing to the fact that we were a private club, this did not eventuate and the club was forced to seek a loan. Every fundraising event for twenty years went towards paying back the loan. This meant no money for new equipment or boats so that in 1972 when Danny joined the club the boats and oars were well past their prime. The loan was obtained until August 1956. The Hon. R. T. White MLA and Cr. G. L. Scott, the Mayor, were also instrumental in lobbying on behalf of the club to secure it. Interest rate on the loan was five and a quarter percent.

The Social Committee worked overtime this season running the weekly dances at the Town Hall and contributing 100 pounds to club funds 6672 pounds to the Replacement and Reconstruction Fund. Active membership declined a little this year and the club scored only two wins for the season. At Colac Regatta the four of C. Bolte, J. Cotter, R. Murphy and R. Jones won a lightweight four and at the same regatta C. Bolte and J. Cotter won a novice pairs. The rest of the season was a virtual desert. Numbers of crews competing at regattas were down with only one or two crews attending each regatta. At the BRA Novice Regatta the club again took out the lightweight fours. No club events were held this year due to there being no spare Saturdays to hold races. An Old Oarsmen’s Association was formed this year in order for former members to maintain their links with the club. The St. Patrick’s pairs were held for the last time as a thank you to the college for providing us a home for the last five years.

We loaned a four to the USA team and veteran cox Teddy Jones steered them in training.

President Francis E. Findlay worked tirelessly on the organising committee and as president of the Ballarat Rowing Association earned the gratitude and thanks of the Olympic Committee. He received a presentation medallion in recognition of his work.

The club hosted the following nine countries:-Austria,Chile,Cuba,Greece,Italy,Poland,Sweden,Switzerland,United States Of America and Uruguay .A board still located over the door into the boatshed today lists these countries and is a reminder of the 1956 Olympics every time one visits the shed.

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