Rowing has been a popular sport since the early nineteenth century, with the first recorded race held on the River Derwent in 1815. Early races were usually the result of wagers, but from 1831 most races took place at the many regattas around the island. The first intercolonial race was held in 1861, Tasmania losing to New South Wales.

As rowing grew in popularity, clubs were founded: the Shipwright’s Point Rowing Club in 1867, the Derwent Boating Club in 1869 and the Tamar Boating Club in 1870. North v South eight-oared races were held annually from 1891. Rowing was a prominent sport in schools, and the first women’s race was held in 1913. There were many Tasmanian stars, notably Cecil McVilly, who won the Australian championship, competed in the 1912 Olympic Games and in 1913 won the coveted Diamond Sculls at Henley-on-Thames. Archie Robb and Fred House rowed in the Australian team which won the first King’s Cup, the prestigious trophy offered by King George V after the First World War. The King’s Cup became the prize for the Australian championship; Tasmania won in 1926, and a women’s crew won the Australian Women’s Four-Oared Championship in 1921. Rowing’s popularity declined in the 1950s, but the state produced three national champion scullers, Graeme Squires (1963), Reg Free (1969, 1970) and Ted Hale (1976-81).

In 1978 the Tasmanian Rowing Council chose a new venue, Lake Barrington, a non-tidal course created after the Forth River was dammed. The Council developed this into a world-class site, and in 1990 the World Rowing Championships were held there, with a record 41 nations competing. While regional regattas have declined, a Tasmanian Institute of Sport rowing programme facilitates successful international competition and rowing is strong in schools. Recently, Tasmania has produced several champions. Stephen Hawkins, Tasmanian schoolboy sculling champion at fifteen, represented Australia aged seventeen, and in 1992 he and Victorian partner Peter Antonie won gold in the Olympic double sculls. Tasmania’s only gold medal winner at Barcelona, he returned to a rapturous welcome. Dana Faletic won the Australian single-scull championship in 2001, was a member of a world championship team in 2003, and, with fellow Tasmanian Kerry Hore, won bronze at the 2004 Olympics.

Further reading: I Winter, Blades down under, Devonport, 199; D Young, Sporting Island, Hobart, 2005.

Wendy Rimon

SOURCE: Copyright 2006, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies