13 February, 2011

Row, row, row your boat...

It seems that rowing was definitely the order of the day today as I went for my run. Having forgotten earlier warnings that there was a regatta being staged, I hit the river as usual but then found myself wading through the middle of the Rowing Victoria Schools Regatta. After threading my way through a significant number of teenage girls in Lycra, lugging skulls, I then passed their well-dressed parents providing support from the marquees along the bank. Finally I found some clear space and headed over the McIntyre Bridge.
Whilst I was never a rower, I did spend my fair share of time on the bank barracking loudly for the Grammar contingent in my day. And what a day it was in 1986 when Grammar's boys and girls crews both won the Head of the River.
As a consequence, I know that the McIntyre Bridge is important to this particular rowing course as the point from which the final surge from the line was made. It was also during this time that I was made aware of the alternate name for the bridge in question which reflects its main purpose - that being the transport of sewage from one side to the other on its way out of town. Today I made use of its secondary purpose as a footbridge and headed over and then up river, past the top of the course where amongst others, Carey and Caulfield were being exhorted to do their best by coaches comfortably positioned on the bank. No sign of Grammar, I noticed.
Once past Princes Bridge, I was clear of the rowing fraternity and headed for Queen's Park. With nothing better to distract me, it occurred to me that I know virtually nothing about the history of rowing on the Barwon. So, now I am rectifying this situation:
The Barwon Rowing Club which wears the familiar blue and white hoops was the first club to be established on the Barwon in 1870. In recent years, the previous timber shed owned by the club was demolished and replaced by a more solid concrete structure, which presumably will be able to better withstand the periodic flooding to which the rowing sheds are subjected (as recently as last week-end as it happens). The previous structure it was suggested, was at risk of being deposited in Lake Connewarre if subjected to too many more floods.
Almost as old is the Corio Bay Rowing Club which is located a couple of boat sheds downstream, however in its earliest years the club - as reflected by its name - was located on the shores of Corio Bay and only later moved to the banks of the Barwon. Its present building was erected in 1965 with some additions made in subsequent years.
Between these two bastions of the Geelong rowing scene are the sheds of Geelong Grammar and Geelong College - rivals since the 19th century. The Victorian School Boys Head of the River today is fought out by the 11 schools in the APS (Associated Public Schools of Victoria) however, the event was initially established in 1868 in a race between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar, raced on the Yarra River with other schools joining the competition in subsequent years. In 1879 the race was for the first time held in Geelong on the Barwon River. From this time, the race moved back and forth, being held in Geelong every few years until 1948 when it moved permanently to the Barwon until, 2000 when the Boys Head of the River moved to the Olympic standard course at Nagambie.
The equivalent race for girls was first held on the Barwon in the 1970s and was replaced in 1987 by the Head of School Girls Regatta which is still raced in Geelong in March and this year will be held on the week-end of the 19th and 20th of March - must remember to run elsewhere that week-end!
Okay, so now we know a little more about rowing on the Barwon, however skulls and shells are not the only rowing craft to make use of the river. Only a little further upstream, near Balyang Sanctuary is the Geelong Canoe Club, which was established in 1981 and holds regular races throughout the year. These guys (and girls) paddle singly or in pairs in canoes and kayaks and yes, there were several on the water today as I passed.
Somewhat more unusually however, there was also a dragon boat crew out on the river. I discover that they were most probably the local Dragons Abreast crew, known as the Juggernauts who train from the same facility as the Geelong Canoe Club. For reasons I have never quite understood, survivors of breast cancer seem to be drawn to this particular sport and this crew are no exception. Rowing in a pink boat and wearing teal Lycra - or was that a teal boat and pink Lycra? - it was fairly clear what their common cause was.
So clearly on the river was the place to be this afternoon, although there were a good few of us beside it making use of the track. Observing all of this, I made my way back over the river at Queen's Park and headed back towards the girls in Lycra. By this stage, I thought I'd pretty much seen what there was to see in the way of oar- and paddle-powered boats and knew pretty much what they were about. That is, until I came across a kayaker towing a timber palette of the type commonly used to transport bricks and other building materials. What the???!! The paddler had attached the pallet by a rope to the back of his or her vessel (I was too distracted to notice gender) and was making their way downstream with what I suspect was a fair amount of effort. Timber pallets are not the best design for slicing through the water and this one was digging in its metaphorical toes. Its front end was at the surface of the water with the remainder riding higher at an angle of about 45 degrees. Where was my camera when I needed it?
If I'd had the energy, I'd have scratched my head. As it was, I continued on my way, finally deciding I'd had enough when I once again reached the eloquently named S#*t Bridge. I figured that whilst I had the presence of mind to duck and weave my way through the rowers and spectators on my outward journey, my agility on the return trip was probably not of a standard to guarantee that I wouldn't flatten some poor spectator or find myself plowing into the middle of a no doubt very expensive shell, so I erred on the side of caution and made the rest of the journey home at a civilised walk.

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