2006 The long drought.

“Our Lake is to Ballarat what our beautiful Harbour is to Sydney. It is our pride and joy and our principal source of recreation. Nothing could compensate us for the loss of that oasis in the desert in the absence of which all the surrounding mansions, villas and smiling lawns and gardens would soon present a scene of desolation.” (Star newspaper 1880)

So opened the 136 th Annual report in September 2006 and in December we were about to find out just how desolate!

Boating at Lake Wendouree is now utterly at a discount, for the water is so low and the reeds so high that a pull across the lake- if lake it ought now be called- is anything but an easy task. At present there is seldom a boat of any kind to be seen out…….  a rare apparition, the boating party. It will be a good thing for Ballarat when steps are taken to make the swamp into a real lake …… There is no other aquatic recreation possible for the inhabitants ,and so healthful a pleasure boating is, and so charming an addition to the locality as a real island gemmed lake, would be things for the getting up of which ,the town should not grudge any reasonable outlay”!

This was written in February 1866 and it could have been written in 2006 some 140 years later! Despite all the works, all the improvements, all the money expended over that time on the lake there was not any real progress in keeping the Lake clear of weed or full of water! Of course in 1866 there was only one rowing club and they just quietly went into recess for a number of years until the lake did refill. Never in the history of this club has it been so dry and for such an extended period. The much awaited winter and spring rains did not eventuate and we are facing one of the biggest challenges in our history. Just how big nobody could have guessed! Always before in dry years there were alternatives or the period of dryness only lasted for a season or so. City were called the “boys from the rush beds”  but now the City Mudscrapers would be a more appropriate name. Despite the challenge being faced, we remained a cohesive club and still managed, against huge odds, to do what we all loved to do- and that was to row. We couldn’t do it as much or as often as we would like, but every member contributed their time and energy in keeping going.

At the beginning of the season in late 2005 there was just enough water to see our Masters train successfully for the Australian Masters Games in Adelaide in November but by Christmas there was insufficient water to train with any real benefit. A few diehards kept ploughing up and down the first thousand metres of the course which still had a couple of centimetres of water in it, while daily the water level dropped so that to get to the course they had to literally force a path through the thick weed which made sculling an impossibility. Summer again bought the Lake to the lowest levels ever.

An intrepid band of Master’s women who had rowed for the previous season also joined the competitive ranks also managed to have their first races at Bendigo before all training ceased Julie Slade, Lyn Hooper, Kim Wyatt, Marion Hunt and Jean Chew did at least get a race in for the season. As the water receded,they still continued to turn up and train on the ergos and in the gym under the supervision of Kate Elliott. Training was followed by coffee for most of the rest of the year and they only took time off to go off overseas for holidays and the like. They brought a fresh perspective and a great group of new members to the club who were only tooo willing to assist at working bees or clean up around the shed.

Our amazing band of committee members continued to work on the maintenance and upgrade of the boatshed with various bits of painting finished off. The new decking on the jetty was finished apart from a small section immediately in front of the doors. It was a great pity that we could not take advantage of our completed jetty as there is now no water under it to use! Belinda Bilney actually planted petunias around the jetty to beautify the barren mud! More recently the fire-escape stairs have been painted as has the front doors making the shed look its best yet.

The third bay of the shed was cleaned out in September 2005 and new racking installed for Ballarat and Clarendon College to run their rowing program from our shed while their shed was undergoing a million dollar upgrade. This they did and they proved themselves very amenable co-tenants. Although they were unable to row after Christmas too, they continued to store their boats in our shed from January through till October 2006 at a reduced leasing fee so that they did not have the hassle of  moving their boats around all over the country side. Their new boatshed has just been completed and will be opened at the end of October 2006.We congratulate them on the huge renovation, wishing them every success with the forthcoming rowing program and thanking them for contribution to the club.

Kate Elliott spent considerable time and effort in discussions with Mr.Bernie Davern, principal of Mt. Clear Secondary College about starting a rowing program there. She drafted a proposal that would see junior rowers drawn from the school to compete for the club. The school had agreed to our proposal prior to Christmas but owing to the lack of water we have unable to get the program up and running. It was hoped that when we do get water we can re-visit this proposal.

Originally the grant was to purchase a coxless four/quad scull for our Master’s program. However we were unable to source a suitable boat before Christmas and so by the time we got round to expending it, we had no water to row on and very little prospect of getting any. So we were permitted to vary our grant purchasing more ergos to cater for our Master’s rowers who now have to train on dry land. It increased our number of ergos to six and keep a few more rowers in training.

The Australia Day Fireworks are a rich tradition at the club and this year proved no exception as we got double the amount of fireworks for our money, thanks to Colin. The Angow family had decided that as a fundraiser they would sell glowstisks to both members and the general public going past the boatshed. All was going swimmingly until a complaint was received,delivered by a Council officer who had no idea of what he was getting himself into. Suffice it to say that after Colin had a “quiet” word he withdrew the complaint and withdrew from the shed and sales continued unabated. We had the sinking feeling that there would be no fireworks on January 26th 2007 because there would be no water left to reflect them and the risk of starting a major bushfire in the centre of Ballarat pretty much a foregone conclusion. We also held a BBQ on the jetty prior to Christmas. Many members made the most of an enjoyable evening on the jetty.

The Captain’s report stated that since January there has been very little point to continuing training as we have done in the past. Not being able to get on the water means that we can’t really start any Novices. The Master’s men squad continued training in the gym over winter and will probably never care to see another ergo again- if we ever got back on the water. There have been one or two excursions to Geelong to train and a Sunday morning Staggers (running) group formed and of course many long hours spent on ergos and stationary bikes. Our sole representative at regattas was Jordan O’Keefe, who travelled down to Essendon and trained and raced with them for the later part of the season. He did so with the full approval and support of the committee. It took some arguing with Rowing Victoria for them to agree to a composite crew. Jordan being a loyal and passionate Ballarat City rower wanted to continue to be a member and  to row in City’s colors for as long as possible. Thankfully Essendon Rowing Club welcomed him and gave him the opportunity to continue to train, although this meant driving to Maribyrnong twice a week, and race for Ballarat City in composite crews with Essendon. Three members used the time to obtain their Level Two Boatrace Officials Accreditation. Ron Young , Peter Whitefield and Barry Wright could now assist in running regattas when they returned to the Lake.

Lake Physiotherapy had been our tenant for two years and continue to be our main source of revenue and excellent tenants. Club members continued to participate in a variety of Pilates classes they offered which was a useful alternative training mode.

As with the Premiership year1987, unless you were there you cannot have any idea of just how difficult it was and just how much work was put in by so few members. At the risk of paraphrasing Mr. Churchill-Never have so many (current members) owed so much to so few (the members who kept things going for the next seven years)

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