The Centenary Season 1970-1971 was another “watershed” in the club’s history, not only for achieving its one hundredth birthday but also it was pivotal in terms of how the club would progress into the future. The feeling of ambivalence is best summed up in the Annual report:
“The past season has seen the club achieve a goal few amateur sporting bodies can boast, that of continuous existence for 100 years, and we are all very proud to be connected with the club in this memorable year. Those of us who attended the Centenary reunion can only admire the spirit of Ballarat city that exists throughtout the years among the many former members both young and old.
Unfortunately the same year has found the club at a crossroads with rising costs in rates and maintenance and with no visible means in sight of increasing our income to meet these costs we find ourselves without finance available to replace our most vital items, that of boats and associated equipment.”
As well as the ongoing problem of finding adequate finance to keep the club running, this year the club also had the added “problem” finishing the season without a single win for first time since the late 1890’s! The club attended only twelve regattas with twenty-eight crews but not one could score a win. We again had members moving away for education and employment and the loss of more experienced members, as always, impacted on crews.Young coxswains from last season, Colin Angow and Daryl Calvert joined the club as rowing members, their size, age and weight proving no barrier to competing and they displayed enthusiasm and dedication representing the club at a number of regattas. The lack of finance and the difficulty keeping members, plus an ageing fleet that was no longer really competitive, meant a crisis for the club.
The older stalwarts of Ted Edwards, Otto Hauser and Frank Findlay were reaching an age when they deserved to scale down their involvement in the club. Alan Dixon had also contributed significantly to the club over the past fifteen years, both as a rower and on the committee. After seeing the club through its Centenary year, Alan Dixon resigned from the committee due to business commitments. Albie McGuire continued to be the main coach and also did much maintenance and work around the shed. Norm Angow supplied the club with his boat and motor to assist with coaching.
The time for a yet another “changing of the guard” was approaching.
One of the first celebrations was the Centennial Open Day which was held at the end of 1970.The usual scratch four races were held. Frank Findlay and Ted Edwards donated the trophies and the winning crew was J. Michelini, D. Calvert, M. Coghlan, A. Rowan and D. Calvert the cox. But the highlight of the 1971 was undoubtedly the Centenary Dinner on the 1st of May, organised by Alan Dixon. Nearly 500 invitations were sent out all over Australia and the resulting attendance of 300 exceeded all expectations. This caused some catering problems at the time, as the hall was not set up to cater for so many. The ladies of the club prepared a magnificent buffet supper and decorated the hall in club colours for the occasion. The Mayor, Town Clerk and City Engineer along with Mr. Tom Evans MLA and Mr. Dudley Irwin were guests for the occasion. The president of the VRA Mr. M. Williams also attended. Mrs. Findlay, wife of the president, made and decorated a centenary cake which was cut by Mr. Ted Edwards and Mr. Otto Hauser. Many old members renewed acquaintances they had rowed with at the club and had not seen for many years. A wonderful evening was had by all. Alan Dixon did an outstanding job of organising and ensuring the success of the evening. To his lasting regret, he was so busy that he did not take one photograph of the festivities.
The club did make one change that was to ultimately prove very successful and ensured the club’s later survival. It was a change that would reverberate around the hundred-year-old domain of men and thrust the club “kicking and screaming” into the modern era. Women’s rowing had been mooted as early as 1865 but finally in 1971, a meeting was held that decided to admit women rowers to the club and host women’s rowing in Ballarat. Ballarat City was the first Ballarat club to do so and one of the very early non-metropolitan rowing clubs to include womens’ rowing. This was possibly the single most significant change to the club and it would have the greatest impact in all areas of operation.
Begonia City Ladies Rowing Club came into being in August 1971,without a place to call their own and depending on the three male clubs for equipment and coaching. It was a battle to get acceptance by the male clubs especially the administrators. Initially no club would give them space in a shed although they did loan equipment. The club’s colours were maroon with a white star with a begonia as its motif and it was to be a separate entity, having their own constitution, meetings and regattas and being affiliated with the VLRA-Victorian Ladies’ Rowing Association. It took just four months for Ballarat City to realise the benefits of hosting the women’s club. It would enable the club to effectively double the population from which it could draw members. It was the answer to the crossroads they had found themselves at!
However the most immediate and potentially devastating impact of admitting women to the club was the departure of staunch and long serving president, Frank Findlay. The story I have heard from several sources was that at the meeting to decide about admitting women, veteran president Frank Findlay announced that if women were admitted to the club then he would leave. In reading minute books from this era this is exactly what happened. A special meeting was held on the 14th of November 1971 with Mr. Findlay in the chair. T. C. Edwards, A. Dixon, N. Angow, R. McGuire, G. Angow, R. Murphy and D. Calvert were present. The secretary Rob McGuire reported that Begonia City Rowing Club had been contacted, offering them use of the club facilities from Monday to Friday from 5pm and to participate in the club Open Day and they accepted. Norm Angow moved that a letter be sent confirming the arrangement. Mr. Findlay then excused himself from the meeting and Mr. Edwards took the chair reading “Cobber’s” letter of resignation. The meeting resolved to hold over the resignation until Mr. Edwards had had a chance to discuss it with Mr. Findlay. Another special meeting was held on the 23rd of November this time with 28 members present. Frank Beattie moved that the resignation be accepted and a letter of thanks forwarded to Mr. Findlay. It was seconded Ralph Murphy and the club accepted the departure of one of its most dedicated presidents. A letter of thanks was sent and the committee was to arrange a suitable presentation. Frank Findlay had given the club over twenty years of phenomenal service unequalled by any other president. He had used strong tactics when strong tactics were needed. He had, in short, ensured the survival of the club. Mr. Findlay’s resignation left the club without a president. Once again that other outstanding stalwart, Mr. Ted Edwards stepped into the breach and accepted the nomination as President, to again steer the club through a challenging time. There were echoes of Peter Cazaly’s resignation nearly 90 years earlier when the long serving, hard-working and inspirational Cazaly resigned unwilling to compromise his principles. And it would echo again in more recent times with the ousting of another long serving committee member in similar circumstances.
Opening Day 1971 proved to be a unique affair and one of the biggest open days ever. Over one hundred people from the two clubs attended and for the first time mixed fours were raced. The ladies were racing themselves instead of “nominating” a male rower to compete for them. Trophies were donated and presented by Mr. Ted Edwards and Mrs. Dorothy Angow (Colin Angow’s mum and apron wearing feminist) to the winning crews. The members of that first ever combination crew were Ron Healey, Frank Beattie and Doug McKee. The mixed four included two young ladies who were founding members of Begonia City, Denise Moroney and Irene Hatt.