Wendouree Ballarat Rowing Club

A Story of two Happy Rowing Friends

You never know what opportunities your actions will create for you! One of the best actions I have ever done is walk into the Wendouree Ballarat Rowing Shed in approximately 1997 and ask if there was anyone who would like to row with me??

Grada Richards happened to be in the shed at the time and a voice said “ I will” which was the start of a wonderful friendship that will continue to the day we die.

Our time spent together has been full of fun, laughter, serious and relaxed rowing, support of the club and members and support of each other in times of challenge.

Never a harsh word has been shared EVER in our time spent together- how special is that!!!

Unfortunately our time on the water has come to an end due to health issues for Grada but our friendship will endure and continue to grow.

I studied to be a Physical Education teacher at Melbourne University where I was introduced to the sport of rowing, on the Yarra River. I was involved with the creation of the Melbourne University Ladies Rowing Club in 1969 with success for us from the very start and with me developing a deep passion for the sport. I never dreamt that I would row after all the years of walking past the Ballarat Boat Race on my way to hockey in my brown Clarendon rain coat to hide my knees from all those school boys .It was termed unlady like to row and that we would ruin our bodies and not be able to have children- I have 4 children and a healthy body !!!

Someone has to be at the start of anything so I found myself at the start of womens rowing in Ballarat when we travelled up to facilitate rowing workshops and the formation of the Begonia City Rowing Club who we subsequently competed against. I was sent to Hamilton to teach my 3 year bond out where I was involved in the creation of Lake Hamilton and the start of rowing in that town whilst I drove or flew to Melbourne each weekend to train for the Nationals and selection in the first Australian Pair.

Due to travel cost and fatigue I decided to travell to Warrnambool from Hamilton to row with Nestles Rowing Club where we enjoyed the coaching of a wonderful man Roy Scutcheon who facilitated great success with the club.

After overseas trips teaching and climbing mountains I married, lived near Skipton and was teaching physical education at Ballarat and Clarendon College 1979 so naturally I started school girl rowing there. Unfortunately I was only a year there teaching and sharing my love of rowing as we moved to farm in NSW which meant the end of rowing for me until the late 1990,s .

I was a sweep oared rower , usually stroking with a bit of sculling as entertainment so when I met Grada I needed to learn to scull better. My motherinlaw gave me a second hand Sykes double scull/pair for Grada and me to row in – what a fabulous gift it was as we shared Gradas single scull and my double so we were able to row whenever we wished and not rely on a club boat .

Grada and I would row at 8.30am Monday mornings when the schools had finished rowing and we only had to dodge the swans and weed cutters. I live an hour out of Ballarat so to keep fit and become fitter I worked out in my garage on my erg and bowflex , making the most of time on the water whenever we could.

When Lake Wendouree dried up we would put the boat on top of my car and drive three hours to Nagambie to train for 2/3 hours ( they did let us store the boat in the Nagambie shed for a while)then we would drive home .

Boat on top, off we went to the Australian Masters Championships in Adelaide in 2002where Grada and I had fun and I also rowed with my University friend Kathy with us winning the Australian Masters pair –we hadn,t rowed together or trained in a pair for 40 years so we were over the moon with the result.

The world masters games were in Ballarat in 2002 where Grada and I rowed in many combinations of crews including mixed 8s and double sculls  with Wendouree plus womens 8 stroked by Leaane Martin who had us flying , quads with Canberra friends, single sculls and our double together –what fun it all was with Kathy and I once again winning our pair with no extra training-I guess we were fit so that helped.

Grada and I decided to travel to Sydney with the boat once again on top with the single scull as well but – the police stopped us in Maldon and suggested strongly that the boats were to come off the car, put down beside the road and ?????

With the show of some compassion we were allowed to drive up to Sydney compete where once again we had fun then drove home again , only to be stopped by Vic Roads on the edge of Ballarat . I promised to take the boat off at the shed ( the double had come back to Victoria on a trailer and I was only carrying Gradas single ).

The upshot of all that stress was to have the Yellow Peril made at Murray Bridge which was a beautiful small trailer that legally carried the double and several singles.

It was also easy to manoeuvre when backing etc so we were very happy to still be able to travel and row which meant many trips to Geelong to participate in the winter sculling series on the Barwon .

We did this for several year , especially for me to improve my sculling skills which weren,t very good . It was great fun for both of us !!

Grada and I once again travelled to Sydney to participate in the World Masters Games with the trailer and our team all having a great regatta however , unfortunately the rowing course was belted by wind on a few days so the part of the program was cancelled .This meant many visitors from overseas did not have a chance to compete at all due to their programming- what a disappointment for so many . Grada and I missed rowing in several events. People complain about Ballarat and wind on the course but Sydney beat us hands down !!!

Both Grada and I put our hands up for possible selection in the Womens State Masters 8 at the Australian Masters regatta –this involved travel to Melbourne for trials then if selected travel down to train .

Well, once they balanced out the ages to come up with D category both Grada and I were successful , being selected to wear the big V. It was fun with both of us enjoying success and realising the travel and time commitment makes it too hard for us living outside Melbourne.

Over the years Grada and I have travelled to help at regattas to do the job of bow numbers plus we ran several fundraising events plus helped with other fund raising activities.

I took on the job of secretary for a few years but at that time I struggled with computers so I needed help from one of the members to print the minutes. I did consider taking on other positions in the club but living out of town made it too difficult to commit the time needed to do a good job . We organised a few fun rows on the Goulburn where we would row with Nagambie rowers in their boats then visit the winery and enjoy a lunch together as a club.

I must say it blew me away when I went to the first School Girls Regatta on the Barwon with my daughters –to see sooooo many girls rowing was absolutely inspirational

as I had been away from the coal face of rowing so long.

My 4 children participated in rowing and enjoyed it to their own level but I am the one who is passionate about it.

Also to meet women rowers back at Melbourne University who have represented Australia with great success opened my eyes to the opportunities that women have now .When I stood next to the “ Heavy weight rowers “ and said I was one of you –I realised how small I am and now I would probably only achieve the position of cox !!

The pure delight of Grada and my rowing together was

highlighted by Grada’s since of humour with her cracking a new joke every time we paddled together.

The delight of finding still water somewhere on the lake meant our rows were always fun but challenged our fitness and balance. When we competed we would often put our names on the orphans list to try to have more rows but , unless they were beginners , who we were always happy to row with, the serious competitors would ask us what success we have had – they wouldn,t row with us as trophies were not important to us --- participation and fun was the number 1 priority for us. What do you do with trophies anyway ??! Both Grada and I strongly believed in rowing with anyone when we could and not being elite in our attitude.

Grada is also a gifted seamstress who created our crazy legging for the World Masters Games ( that is the first and only time I have been told what beautiful legs you have Pat ). She also created covers for our blades for when we were travelling , ear warmers for cold winter mornings and all sorts of creative goods.

We are both really sad that Grada has health issues and that she does not feel confident to row any more. We were both planning to row until our 90,s but no such luck. Unfortunately, as we all know , 2020/21 Covid lockdowns has made the chance to row go right out the window.

Grada has sold her single scull to a young female rower in the club whilst I am donating my double to Ballarat Grammar ( where I coached for a few years but distance put an end to that funfor me )---  for the young rowers to have as much fun as I have. I was given a gift of fitness , delight in rowing and fun by my Mother in law so to me it is only fitting to pass the gift on to the young students . We plan to have our final row together taking my boat across the lake when lockdowns finish and our world opens up. The weather will be perfect and the time together treasured !!!

Grada and I have loved our time with Wendouree Ballarat Rowing Club, we wish the club happiness and success in all they do whilst Grada and I keep our friendship connected and growing stronger in the years ahead.

Thank goodness I walked into the shed that day and asked “ would someone like to row with me?”----- and Grada answered “ YES- I WILL” !!!!!

Patricia Gabb 4/9/2021.


WBRC Address:
Shed 29, Lake Wendouree Foreshore, Ballarat, Vic, 3350
PO Box 162 Wendouree, VIC, 3355
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