Canberra Rowing Club was established at Lawley House, Barton on 1 May 1964. On 15 May 1964 proposed rules were adopted and an inaugural General Committee elected. Office bearers were President: Richard Luker, Vice President: Bill O’Brien, Captain: Reg Libbis, Secretary: Russ Barnett and Treasurer: Alwyn Druce.
The Club first operated from the East Basin Pavilion (now the Boathouse Restaurant) used by the ACT Rowing Association on a temporary basis during the National Regatta and selection trials for the Tokyo Olympics held on the Lake from 30 April to 2 May 1964. In December 1964 clubs were relocated to the Nissen Hut at Kingston Boat Harbour (the Igloo). This shed had no electricity, water or toilets. It was shared with Burns RC, four school rowing clubs and Canberra Women’s RC. Daramalan and St Edmunds College operated from ACT Electricity Authority buildings nearby.
The Club enjoyed great success in the 1964-65 season winning the major championships trophies and the maiden points score competition. Over the 1960s, membership and competitive success declined due to poor facilities, limited equipment and a treacherous rowing course (the 2,000 metre “National Rowing Course” in Central and East Basins) where swamping of racing crews was commonplace.
Despite the Club’s small membership and precarious finances, we resolved to build a boatshed close to Yarramundi Reach – the official ACT regatta course from 1971. A boatshed site on Yarralumla Bay was granted to the Club in 1972. Construction commenced in 1973 after we got a $4,000 loan from the Commonwealth Bank. Building the boatshed pushed the Club close to insolvency, avoided through a major fundraising effort – raffling a car – and successful lobbying for a Commonwealth Government sports facility grant. Club President Bill O’Brien was the driving force behind all aspects of this project. Building the boatshed and its extension occupied much of the Club’s energy for the next two decades.
On 12 April 1975 the Club moved its small fleet and equipment from the Igloo to Yarralumla Bay. At this stage the boatshed had a dirt floor and was without windows, showers or toilets. Club builders Ross Bower, Dermott Balaam and John Alan led the members in completing the building. A major milestone in this project was reached on 11 November 1978 when members laid the boatshed’s concrete floor.
In 1979 the Club celebrated its 15th anniversary and celebrated completion of the boatshed and the christening of our first new coxed racing IV named the W.E. O’Brien, in recognition of Bill’s invaluable service to rowing. The new boat and some talented recruits quickly led to local and interstate success. Winning the NSW Youth IV Championship in 1979 was the greatest success in the Club’s short history. This crew was comprised of the Randell brothers, Andrew and Doug, Phil Pain, a recruit from Canberra Grammar and Peter Hodges who had commenced his rowing career as a CRC coxswain. The crew was coached by Leon Bower and coxed by James McLaughlin.
Peter Hodges became the first Club and ACT rower to represent New South Wales at the Australian Championships. He competed in the Youth Eight event for the Noel Wilkinson Cup in 1979, rowing in the four seat of the gold medal crew. Peter was selected for this crew again in 1980.
The Club attached great importance to fostering rowing in Canberra schools. In 1977 students from Canberra Girls Grammar School joined the Club as junior members. The girls rowed with great distinction and within a few seasons were racing in open events. Perhaps their most memorable achievement was winning the David Steggeman Cup for the fastest coxed four in the 1979 Colin Panton Memorial Marathon. In a race marred by high winds and dangerous water conditions the schoolgirls kept the boat upright and beat a strong field of men’s crews.
Canberra Rowing Club is immensely proud of our role in fostering rowing at Girls Grammar. The school established a separate club in 1996 after nearly 20 years at CRC. A number of successful rowing careers came from this initiative, notably that of Susan Donoghoe, a multiple national champion and an Australian representative. Susan went on to inspire other rowers as a successful national coach.
In 1980 the Club first accepted students from Marist College as junior members. The boys were successful in schoolboy fours locally and interstate. Marist has not yet established a separate rowing club but the relationship has provided many fine recruits for the sport and the Club. In 1981 Marist together with the ACT Rowing Association jointly funded the Club’s first new racing VIII. This enabled the Club, for the first time, to compete on equal terms with other clubs in men’s open eight events, leading to the Club’s success in these races from the late 1980s to the present.
In the 1980s we made enormous progress in rowing and club development. Over the decade the Club more than doubled the size of the fleet, doubled the storage capacity of the boatshed at Yarralumla Bay, hosted the first rowing Talent Identification Program (TIP) in Australia and celebrated our first national champions and Australian rowing team members.
The 1980s saw the fleet expand markedly with new pairs, double sculls and a quad scull. This expansion was made possible by the generosity of boat builders Sargent& Burton, grant funding and the pursuit of sponsors by David Butt. Sponsorship support enabled purchase of the Canberra Permanent and Capital Real Estate fours. Sargent and Burton assisted with purchase of our bright red racing four, Chook Raffle. The days when we competed in training boats against racing boats from other clubs were finally over.
The growing financial strength of the Club together with a bank loan and a large grant permitted the club to roof-in the courtyard for much needed boat storage space. Club President David Butt managed this project aided by a massive effort from Club volunteers. The extensions were opened in 1988, coinciding with the adoption of our new racing colours of blue and yellow.
Competitive success during the 1980s was due to great recruits to the Club. These included Alison Chinn, Mark Kwiatkowski, Paul Cowan and Neil Manefield from interstate and locals such as Richard Finlayson, Andrew Fairfield Smith and Nick McDonald Crowley from Canberra Grammar. Alison and Mark not only contributed as coaches and competitors but instigated the Winter Time Trial Regattas and ran the event for 19 years. These recruits assisted the Club to win all premiership competitions in 1985-86 – our first since 1965 – and all the major trophies, including the Banjo and Uriarra Cups and the 1984-85 NSW Junior Premiership – a great achievement for a non-metropolitan club.
Four members of the Randell family joined the club as junior members in the late 1970s. While rowing for the Narrabundah College Students Rowing Club the Randells were coached by former Olympian Peter Shakespear in a group known as the ‘Shakespear Academy’. On leaving school, the Randells returned to Canberra RC bringing with them other members of the Academy – Reuben Bettle, James Galloway and Paul Thompson. These members and their coach had a major impact on club and international rowing, winning many national and international honours. In 1986 James Galloway rowed in Australia’s superb world championship winning eight.
The siting of the rowing unit of the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra in 1982 has had a very positive impact upon our club by drawing rowers to Canberra who joined the club and lifted the standard of local competition. Bruce Hick joined the Club in 1985 from Leichhardt Rowing Club (Rockhampton) after moving to Canberra to join the AIS. During his stellar career which included Olympic and World Rowing Championship success Bruce has been the inspiration for many CRC crews and for ACT rowing’s greatest moment – winning the 1997 King’s Cup at Lake Barrington.
In August 1988 we agreed to host the first rowing talent identification program (TIP) held in Australia in conjunction with the Australian Sports Commission. The ASC funded two apprentice coaches, Paul Thompson and Peter Lanigan, operating under the supervision of Peter Shakespear and Dr Alan Hahn and donated a coxless four – the Australian Sports Commission – to assist the program.
TIP produced almost immediate results. The girls’ squad won the NSW Third Grade Quad Scull Championship only three months after they commenced rowing training. Squad member Felicity Moore represented Australia in the 1989 Trans-Tasman Junior series after only six months in the sport. TIP proved an outstanding success for the Club and Australian rowing, identifying one Olympic gold medallist (Megan Still), two world champions (Megan Still and Elizabeth Moller), a world junior championship silver medallist (Jason McFadyen) and many national champions.
CRC went through a major adjustment to the formation of state sport academies in the early 1990s. This saw promising club athletes leaving to operate out of the ACT Academy of Sport. While clearly of benefit to the athletes, this led to a reduced coaching effort in the club and a lowering of expertise at the top end of competition. Fortunately, the Club’s profile within ACTAS has remains high. Canberra rowers within ACTAS such as Sonia Mills, Sarah Cook, Tara Huntley, Mitchell Punch and Nick Barnier have competed with great distinction and kept our name prominent at the nationals and beyond.
Club resources freed up by this change were taken up by masters rowing leading to a sharp increase in membership and activity in this area of competition. The Club already had a strong background in masters rowing going back to January 1980 when Club members first organised and competed in the Australia Day Veterans’ Rowing Championships – the first national masters rowing event. In local competition Club masters crews of this era competed successfully in second grade eights and fours.
The surge in masters representation in the late 1990s continues and sees the Club represented in strength in local regattas and the Australian masters rowing titles at which CRC is often the most successful club. We have been well represented at international championships taking out FISA and Masters Games titles at venues including Vienna, Zagreb, Racice and Turin. Masters rowers underpin our recent ACT premierships, offsetting the numerical advantage of the secondary colleges.
Every year since 2002 we have conducted a corporate rowing program to raise funds, recruit new members and lift our profile in the community. The program fully satisfied these objectives, helping to fund major improvements to the club fleet and providing rowing coaching to over seven hundred (!!) people. This program is only possible because some club members volunteer as coaches and coxswains.
Although the Club has seen many great achievements over our 50 years of operation our focus is now squarely on the future. In particular we face the challenge of replacing our boatshed with a modern training and social facility in the next few years. This project will call on the support of all current and past members and is essential if we are to realise our objective of becoming one of Australia’s leading rowing clubs