As it is still 2020, I am not going to cover the year’s activities and the impact of COVID19 until the year is over. Clear perspective is often not gained until well after the event. Instead I am going to look at how things have changed over the 50 years or so we have been at the club. I was also going to do a montage of my favourite pictures but decided that there is one picture that distils the essence of what it means to wear the navy and white star. And I’ll finish with a rhyme that a young Hayden Emery wrote on the club blackboard back in 2013 when he was part of the Ballarat Clarendon College boys and girls coached by Jordan O’Keefe.
In 150 years many things change, even in the fifty years of my time at the club, things have changed. But change does not have to mean disregarding the time honored traditions and history of the club. Rather it means reflecting and evaluating in the light of history, adapting and moving on. In recent times there has been too little time spent evaluating the club’s development and obtaining feedback from members. In the past almost every rower spent time on the committee and every members was hands on at working bees, regattas, fundraising, social events, in fact everything the club did. The decisions made for the club were well communicated to every member. While it is not possible or desirable to have 150 people on committee, it is possible and desirable to expect 150 people to contribute over and above just rowing. Whether it be keeping the shed clean, looking after the equipment, fundraising or assisting with the myriad of other practical tasks that need to be done for the club to function. And it is important for good two way communication between members and the committee as the committee are there to serve the members.
Things have evolved- Ballarat is a much bigger city, the club is a much bigger club, the sport of rowing has changed. In my opinion not all these changes are for the better.
Although Ballarat has evolved, it still values its traditions and its heritage of which Lake Wendouree and the clubs on her shores are a very big part. In fact the City has heritage overlays to protect and preserve our built heritage. Rowing was one of the very earliest organised sports in Ballarat starting with the first regatta on Lake Burrumbeet in 1862. In two short years, Robinson McLaren and the Regatta Club he formed managed to convince the Water board that the Yuille Swamp could be cleared and a Lake formed making it accessible to aquatic sports. In 1864 the first boatshed was built on the shore and the very first boat races took place on the Swamp. By 1865 four rowing clubs called the Lake home, Ballarat Rowing Club, Ariel, Alabama and Lubentia. By 1869 only Ballarat and Alabama remained as the Swamp dried up from 1866-1869 only refilling in 1870. This lead to the formation of Ballarat City Rowing Club.
Although Ballarat has evolved and grown larger, it is still a small town. The degree of separation between people who have lived here all their lives, is very small. If you grew up here and went to school here, you always know somebody who knows the facts about just about anybody. Anyone who has moved to Ballarat as an adult cannot possibly know the depth of the background information and networking that still exists in Ballarat. As a long term resident I am acutely aware of how important this contextual information can be in running a club. Over the years there has been a much more personal approach and understanding of individuals’ situations that helped build a strong bond between members. Everyone knew everyone else and we interacted almost on a daily basis. As the club grows larger you lose that personal touch. There is something reassuring about knowing the names of all the club members so you can at least greet them by name. Essentially losing this basic connection means it is just a collection of strangers who happen to pass one another coming and going at the club. That does not lead to the cohesive club or build club spirit.
The sport of rowing has evolved also in the last fifty years. When I started at the club we trained six or seven days a week and raced nearly every weekend. Club rowing was at its zenith and the club system was the strongest it had ever been. Clubs like Essendon would take two busloads of rowers to regattas like Horsham and Dimboola. The Victorian Championships would be held over a weekend on the Lake with the majority of the crews being club crews. The championships attracted competitors from interstate and there would be trailers and boats from the finish of the rowing course to St.Patrick’s Point. Then in the mid 1990’s selection regattas were introduced for Australian team aspirants. This had the effect of separating out the elite rowers from the club rowers. Whereas before, any club rower who trained hard and rowed for their club could aspire to row for Australia, now you had to choose. Then in the 2000’s changes to status rules meant that suddenly Senior rowers could drop back and almost row novice again. This lead to the formation of almost scratch crews to compete at regattas. People trained less and then just put crews together almost on the day. During Danny Elliott’s 30 years of coaching all Ballarat City crews were trained hard and were regularly timed over race distance to ensure that the crews going to regattas were competitive. All our crews looked impressive from the moment they left the jetty. Many races were won before the first stroke had even been taken as our crews always looked technically excellent and always fronted up to a race extremely well prepared. These days it seems that apart from some scullers, nobody trains and crews are put together by pulling names out of a hat!
I’ll finish with Hayden Emery’s anthem from 2013 in it’s original form-chalk on blackboard.
This is the ultimate post of 150 years in 150 days. I still have many interesting posts to make but it will now go to a less regular time of once a week. I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Thanks for reading.