1971 -The wakeup call! Beginning of women’s rowing in Ballarat.

It began with this letter to the Editor of the Ballarat Courier asking the question why there were no opportunities for women to row. It was published on the 25th of February 1971 and was signed “Discontented Shore-bound girls.” It drew attention to the fact the while Ballarat had three rowing clubs, not one of them catered for women!

Copy of the original letter to the Editor in February 1971

Rowing had been a bastion of male domination in Ballarat since 1862, over 100 years, and while women had been involved, it was usually at a social and fundraising level. The women, the wives, girlfriends, sisters and daughters of oarsmen, organised and ran fundraising events for each of the three rowing clubs very successfully from the early 1870’s. For example, in the 1930’s the Ballarat City Rowing Club, Social Club, which was composed mainly of young women, raised the money for the new boatshed to be built. Several women over the years made generous donations to Ballarat Rowing. Mrs. Ure-Taylor, or Aunty Taylor as she was known, of the Lake View Hotel, was a generous benefactor of rowing in Ballarat and donated money and trophies to all three clubs.

On the rowing front, women had always enjoyed rowing in the various “pleasure boats” on the lake but had not transitioned to competitive rowing. A women’s crew had rowed at Wendouree Rowing Club in 1960, but that was a very brief lasting only a couple of weeks. The Wendouree Rowing Club at that time, certainly didn’t encourage ongoing involvement.

The letter stated that Ballarat High School had listed rowing as a sport for girls in 1971 but it was announced by the school that, due to lack of resources, rowing was again to be restricted to boys! The letter sparked considerable interest in the press and several letters of support for the “Shore-bound girls” appeared in subsequent editions of the Ballarat Courier.

Denise Widmer, a Ballarat girl, who was rowing at the Melbourne University Ladies Rowing Club wrote a letter supporting the girls. This was published in the Courier newspaper a few weeks later. Melbourne University Ladies Rowing Club had been formed in 1970. Denise Widmer was Vice-Captain of MULRC and active rower and raced in their winning intervarsity four of 1971. In her letter of support, she offered helpful advice and an action plan, suggesting they form a club and seek the assistance from the Victorian Ladies Rowing Association. She, along with Pat (Oddie) Gabb, also took the initiative to run a Come and Try Day and get all the interested girls together.

Copy of letter from Denise Widmer in support of women’s rowing, Ballarat Courier March 1971.

The next step, after highlighting the lack of opportunity for women to row despite having one of the best rowing venues in the country at their disposal, would be to hold some Come and Try days. That opportunity to take to the water, would come later in the year, in August 1971. Momentum was gathering and finally, women would get their chance to take a seat in the boat.

In the next post I will follow the development and the pioneering women who led the way in rowing in Ballarat.

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