Club History

A Brief History of Corio Bay Rowing Club – Established 1873


The Geelong Area was investigated by Matthew Flinders in 1802, and reached overland by Hume & Hovell in 1824, although they thought they were in Western Port at the time. In 1835 John Batman and the Port Phillip Association bought 2 areas of land from the local aborigines, one of which was to become Melbourne and the other a part of Geelong. The settlement of Geelong was proclaimed in 1838.

Rowing started very early in Geelong’s history, although the early attempts at forming Rowing Clubs proved to be unsuccessful until the Barwon Rowing Club was formed in 1870.

Corio Bay Rowing Club

Prior to 1906 – unfortunately the minutes of the club prior to 1906 have been lost, so the history has been looked at through the eyes of the Geelong Advertiser and local historians such as WR Brownhill.

May & June 1873 – A series of meetings were held at the Victoria Hotel (then on the corner of Moorabool & Malop Streets – now the CBA) to discuss the formation of a new rowing club to be based on Corio Bay.

June 17th 1873 – The first official meeting of the Corio Bay Rowing Club was held at the Victoria Hotel, with elections being held and the first committee set up. The new CBRC had started with 25 members. The election results were:

President: Mr G F Belcher (later a Mayor of Geelong)
Secretary: Mr A J Owen
Captain: Mr J Fare
Committee: Mr McNab, Mr Scott, Mr Sommers & Mr Brown.

A deal was struck with the local boat builder Mr C Blunt to provide the boats needed by the club, for an annual subscription fee of 2 pounds 10 shillings per member. It was also decided to vigorously encourage “Honorary Members” at a subscription of 1 guinea per annum.

October 10th 1873 – The Club ran its first “Opening Day” competition – with scratch races in pairs and sculls over a course from Limeburners Point to the Yarra Street Pier (a distance of about one mile). The president had donated a cup for the event and Mr Fare the Captain was reported to have won both the sculling event and with Mr Bray in the pairs.

1879 – A boatshed was built under contract for the Club on the beach front.  The boatshed was opened by Mr B Johnston MLA on 28/11/1879. A photograph still hanging in the clubhouse shows the newly built single storey, weatherboard Corio Bay rowing shed standing on about the spot where the Royal Geelong Yacht Club now stands.

1886 – Was a big year for rowing in Geelong – it saw the foundation of the Victorian Rowing Association, of which both CBRC and Barwon RC were founding Members, and the first Barwon Regatta was successfully run.

Our Uniform

In the early years the uniform went through many changes. In 1874 it was reported that the Club uniform would be changed from a Scarlet shirt to a Blue shirt with a white sash. In 1877 a White Guernsey with a Blue Sash and a White Hat with a Blue stripe was adopted and this was changed in 1879 to Oxford Blue which lasted until the 1930’s when the current Purple & Gold was introduced. It should be noted that at this time the uniform included a Club Blazer and Straw Boater Hat, which were worn when travelling to and from regattas or when representing the Club.

Our Boat Shed

In July 1878, plans for a new boat shed were passed.  In August of that year a land grant for an 80ft frontage on the shore of Corio Bay was received.  The shed was described as being 60ft in length, 34ft in width containing a dressing room 20ft x 16ft. It was built at a cost of 365 pounds under the supervision of Joseph Watts, the architect who designed the shed as a donation to the Club.
In the 1920’s a push was made to move the Clubhouse to the Barwon River, as conditions on the bay were unpredictable for training. After many debates it was decided to make the move. The first opening day at the Barwon River was held on 5th Nov 1921. During the 1930’s the desire to again row on the Bay increased and at a meeting in April 1932 it was decided to move the boat shed back to the bay.
Corio Bay crews trained on the Bay and on the river during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, rowing out of Geelong College, Geelong Grammar and the Barwon sheds until their numbers grew and they were asked to leave. Due to this the Club erected the “GRA” shed in 1953, at a cost of 1000 pounds. It continued as a summer home for the Club to save transporting boats to and from the bay for training, until 1965 when the current boat shed of 2 bays was constructed and the Club again adopted the Barwon River as its full-time home. The third bay was added in 1988 and opened in June of that year.


Possibly one of the largest areas of change over the last 140 or more years is in the area of equipment. In the 1800’s the boats were not all that different from a dingy. Boats were clinker built – where one board overlapped the next. The seats were fixed and not aligned as in the boats of today and the needle blades (which were only 6 inches wide) were held into the poppets by a piece of string.

Clinker boats took over 3 weeks to prepare for the season – preparation involved filling the boat with water each day so the wood could take up the moisture from the water that didn’t leak out. After about 2 weeks the boat could be put on the river but needed to be emptied after each run. Once preparations were complete after about 3 weeks, the boat would no longer leak but was also very heavy. Clinker built boats were still in use up until the 1930’s.

Over the years changes occurred. Seats were aligned and slides introduced. Best boats became narrow and lighter as clinkers gave way to steak boats. It was the 1920’s when Mr Robert Purnell donated a Streak Eight to the Club; this boat would have looked more like the wooden boats we are used to seeing. After WWII, Albert Bell insisted the Club change the poppets on its boats to the new swivels that had been introduced in Europe in the late 1930’s.

The cost of boats has always made financing new equipment difficult; during the 1950’s the average age of the boats in the shed was 40 years.

Since then there have been major changes in the design and materials – fiberglass, Nomex and Kevlar have revolutionised the construction of rowing shells which today are faster, easier to handle and weigh a fraction of what their ancestors did.

Blades have also gone through many changes. The width, shape and materials have followed a similar program to the rowing shells with wood giving way to space age materials. At this stage the modern carbon fiber cleaver looks nothing like its needle blade ancestor.

Transporting equipment has also changed through the years. Before the introduction of the automobile, most competition was local or boats were placed on a hand pulled trolley and transported by train from South Geelong. It should be noted only 6 or 7 regattas were held each year.

In later years these hand trolleys were used to move boats between the Bay and the river and for away regattas buses replaced trains. A frame was placed on the top of the bus that would hold 3 Eights with a further 2 Eights cradled on the top of these. The bus was backed into the steep bank area between Geelong College and Barwon Rowing club and the boats loaded onto the top from across Barwon Terrace.


As a sporting club, the usual measure of success is the scoreboard. From the start Corio Bay has been a very successful club and we have produced some outstanding oarsmen.

When looking at the Barwon Regatta we see where other changes have occurred. In 1876, just prior to the first Barwon Regatta,  a member of the Barwon RC put forward a motion to the regatta committee that “No one that earned a living by manual labour be allowed to compete”. This caused heated discussion at Corio Bay. The secretary, Charles Brown, felt that “if such a motion be carried, it will effectively debar this club from competing”. Results of the regatta showed that Corio Bay rowed 3rd in the Senior gig and that George Upward won the Maiden Scull, so some resolution must have been reached.

It was reported in the Geelong Advertiser that the 2nd Barwon Regatta would be open to amateurs only. Outdoor workers such as Blacksmiths, Carters, Miners and Quarrymen would not be eligible, although outdoor workers with sedentary jobs such as saddlers or printers may be allowed to compete – at the discretion of the Regatta Committee.

It is interesting that the first Barwon Regatta was held on a Wednesday and that Mr Belcher (then Mayor of Geelong) declared a half day holiday for the event. It was reported that several thousand people lined the banks of the river to watch the races including the first 8 oared boat race ever seen on the Barwon.

The 1877 Barwon Regatta was also declared a half day holiday. The town was decked out with bunting, some 5000 spectators lined the riverbanks, including 300 picnickers who came down from Ballarat on a special regatta train. Clubs from Ballarat, Melbourne and the Murray River along with local clubs competed in the 15 races rowed on the day. The course from the Prince Albert Bridge to the winning post was estimated to be 1 mile 23 chains long and had 3 buoyed lanes marked out. It was said “It was conceded on all sides that the Barwon afforded the best possible site in the colony for rowing contests.”

WWI caused all active rowing in the Club to stop as 43 members (70%) joined the armed forces. Of these 15 lost their lives.

When we look at competitors, George Upward was our first outstanding oarsman, winning the Maiden sculls at Barwon in 1876. George continued to win and after the 1883 Intercolonial Boat Race which George stroked to victory in Parramatta it was reported that Mr George Upward was by far the best stroke in all the colonies.

1919 – the club had WC Emerson and W Brownbill represent in the Interstate Eight.

1928 – the Richardson Cup was introduced which was raced for annually between Corio Bay and Barwon, although it was 1931 before Corio Bay won for the first time.

1936 –  the Searle Brothers won in Maiden fours (Lloyd, George, Bill, Geoff & Earnest (cox). We won the Junior Eight Championship

1939 – came 2nd in the Club Premiership.  The club also won its first (of many) lightweight Eight.

WWII caused active rowing to cease yet again.

The post war years of the late 1940’s and 50’s were perhaps the most successful the Club has ever had. New members were drawn from the young apprentices of many industries and the Club became strong in Junior, Senior and Lightweight Eights. The strength was due to a large part to the coaches – Albert Bell for senior crews, Bill Meloury for the juniors and Cleat Larkins looked after the lightweights.

During this time Corio Bay was to reach the forefront of Victorian Rowing largely due to one crew – the Harmony Eight – Don Bridges, Stuart Rau, Terry Craven, Syd Thomas, Russell Wilson, Ray Barrow, Tom Hoffman, Ian Everist and David Salmon (cox).  This crew is perhaps the most famous ever boated by the Club.  One of the successes was winning the Senior 8 Oared Championship in 1947, bringing the title to Geelong for the first time in 76 years. At the time the eldest crew member was 24 and the youngest only 18, making them the youngest crew ever to have this success.

In the 1948/49 season the Club won 14 Eight oared events, in all divisions from Novice to Senior, establishing a new record. The Lightweight Premiership was also won in this season.

In the 1950/51 season Corio Bay had 2 Championship Crews  – the Senior Four (Ian Everist, Tom Hoffman, Syd Thomas, Don Bridges and cox David Salmon) and Lightweight Premiership (Ernie Lee, Bob Morell, Ken Ebbles, Frank Stevens and cox Colin Carroll).  In another first, Bob Morell won the 5 mile sculling marathon held on the Yarra in 1951

The 1956 Olympics saw Gordon Cowey represent the Club as a member of the Australian Four.

The 1960’s saw the emergence of a new group of very successful athletes including Jeff Sykes.

1962 – saw a Club crew “Corio 5 Star” win a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games held in Perth. Jeff Sykes won the Victorian Championship Senior Scull and the Australian Championship Lightweight Scull as well as coming 3rd in the Presidents cup. Other success included 4 junior fours, 3 lightweight Eights and the champion lightweight Eight.

1964 and 1965 the Club did not have a great number of wins but Jeff Sykes again won the Australian Lightweight Scull and the Club won the Champion Lightweight Four (R Web, T McNair, J Sykes, G Xouris & T Prime as cox). George Xouris also won in the Victorian Four at Penrith.

1968 – saw David Ramage stroke an Australian Pair in the Mexico Olympics

1970 – Jeff Watt and George Xouris represented Australia at the World Rowing Titles.

1973 – Jeff Sykes won the Presidents Cup and represented Australia at the World Rowing Titles. Jeff placed 10th amongst the world’s best scullers.

The club became strong in Junior Men, winning a number of state titles during the late 1970’s. Prominent oarsmen during this time were Tom Prime, Greg Earl, Peter Searle, Chris Walker, Alex Rob, and Killeen brothers Mark, Tom and Jim. Coaches at this time were Frank Steven, Bob Morell, Bill Searle and Ray Gowty.

The arrival of Stuart Wilson from England had a great influence over the coaching at the club, introducing winter training and starting the club’s gym and weights program. Stuart coached the winning State Championship Junior 4+ and Junior 8+ in his first season, and later represented the club as part of the Australian Lightweight 4-, a composite crew with Barwon RC that won the National title in 1984.

A highlight of the 1982 season was club member Andrew Cassidy winning the coveted Presidents Cup for Victoria.

The 1980’s saw a decline in the number of men competing at the Club, although some athletes did show through including Andrew Logan. This decade also saw Corio Bay Ladies Rowing Club join with Corio Bay to form one very strong Club.

This time also saw the gradual increase in Veterans Rowing, an area in which many of our older champions were again able to reach for and succeed at local, interstate and international levels. Oarsmen such as Don Bridges, Jack Horton, Jeff Sykes and Jeff Watt again brought home Gold and honour for the Club.

The 1990’s have seen Masters rowing reach for new heights, and our Club has been at the forefront in this area that shows us that rowing is truly a sport for all. The introduction of events such as Beginner and Novice Masters has enabled us to introduce a new group of people to the sport and open the Club to new recruits of all ages.

Final Words

Success can be measured in many ways. “On the water” the Club has a long record of success that few could match. In other areas we have had marvellous administrators and hard working people who managed to keep this organisation from going through some of the hardest times in modern history. This Club is more than a brick building and the boats in it. It is the spirit, loyalty of its members, whether they have been here for 6 months, 60 years or are 3rd generation.
On the water results may be our aim but it is this and all the rest that makes Corio Bay the true success it is today. The people mentioned above have had their time and their names are written in our history forever. Now is your time. Let us all respect what has gone before and complement it with our efforts in competition, with loyalty and support of each other and with Good Sportsmanship. Always be proud to wear the Purple & Gold and to tell people that you are a member of the best Club.

The Corio Bay Ladies Rowing Club – Established 1973

Unlike today, in the early  1970’s Men and Women’s rowing were totally separate, each held their own regattas and were controlled by separate associations.

In March 1973, the Victorian Ladies Rowing Association (VLRA) ran the Women’s National Regatta on the Barwon River. This peaked an interest in women’s rowing on two fronts, firstly in some of Geelong’s oarsmen, particularly those who had daughters, and secondly in some of the girls who had spent many hours around rowing without being able to participate.

With this in mind, Bob Morell (who had 2 daughters) called a meeting which was held in Tuesday the 22nd May 1973, of those interested in starting a Women’s Rowing Club in Geelong. The meeting was held in the downstairs boat bay of the CBRC shed. There were 3 “mums” present at the meeting and they were elected as the first officials of the Corio Bay Ladies Rowing Club.

President – Mrs Brenda Ebbels
Secretary – Mrs Lorene Morell
Treasurer – Mrs Greta Podbury

The new club joined the VLRA as club number 6 adopting purple and gold as their colours. Bob reported that 14 girls were receiving tuition each week and that more had shown an interest in joining.

Throughout the winter months, the new oarswomen learned how to row and trained in readiness for the new season. The equipment used was borrowed from both Corio Bay and Barwon Rowing Clubs – but tended to be equipment that would not have been used otherwise – that is the oldest and heaviest in the shed. It was not unusual to see 4 girls carrying a tub pair, or 8 girls carrying a four with the boys standing in front of the boat shed laughing.

Corio Bay Ladies Rowing Club crews had an immediate impact on women’s rowing, as all our coaches, including Bob Morell and Lex Quinn had only trained boys until this time. They trained their new girls crews the same way, and their crews were very fit, fast and trained to use a racing start which other clubs had not yet introduced.

Ladies regattas were always held on a Sunday at this time as venues were unavailable on Saturdays due to the Men’s regattas, and regattas were run under VLRA rules. All crews rowed in “tub” boats and the distances set for women’s events were 500m for novices and 1000m for all other events including Championships. Trophies awarded were often medallions, kitchen items or crested teaspoons.

During the 1973-1974 season – the Clubs first season, the Corio Bay Ladies Rowing Club won 3 State titles. The crew of Mary Renouf, Leisa Patterson (later Wilson), Jan Hyne, Nola Bateman and Angela Podbury (cox) and Bob Morell (coach) won the Victorian Championship Junior Four. Mary Renouf and Leisa Wilson won the Victorian Championship Junior Pair and the Victorian Championship Schoolgirl Four was won by Sue Ebbels, Wendy Morell, Cathy Murray, Donna Quinn, Brad Woodmancy (cox) and Lex Quinn (coach).

These three crews travelled to Adelaide to compete in the Australian Championships and came home with 2 seconds and a trophy for the Australian Champion Junior Four. Prior to this trip the club purchased its first boat which was named “The First Lady”.  Originally the “Hobart” the racing four had sat on a top rack at the back of the Geelong Grammar shed for 50 years, forgotten and considered useless. The young club purchased it for $50 and in the weeks leading up the Championship it was overhauled. Unfortunately time ran out and although seaworthy, the First Lady arrived in Adelaide covered in putty spots – she was to have been and later was painted yellow. The first lady was nicknamed the “spotted elk” and the Lamington was also suggested as a name, as a lamington drive where the lamingtons were made from scratch, was held to raise the money for the purchase and repairs. Our Junior Four looked quite a sight when it set out to race in Adelaide. Leisa Patterson was carried to the boat as she had sprained an ankle just before the regatta and the boat was covered in putty spots. The other crews were not sure what to expect – certainly to be be beaten by over a length was not what they expected!

In its first season, Corio Bay Ladies won 3 State Titles, 1 Australian Title, the Victorian Country Premiership and was Champion Club of Vitoria. Also two of our most successful rowers emerged –Mary Renouf and Leisa Patterson.

1975 saw continued success on the water and membership numbers increasing. It also saw CBRC suggest that the Ladies may be happier in their own shed so the Girls moved into the GRA shed. Mary and Leisa continued winning including the Champion Senior Coxless Pair in this year. This year also saw Morongo Girls College join Corio Bay Ladies, an association that continued until the school’s closure in the 1990’s.

During the later part of the 1970’s the members of the Club who had family ties with Barwon formed the Barwon Ladies Rowing Club and moved to the Barwon shed, becoming associate members of the men’s Club. Also a splinter group including Mary Renouf formed a third Ladies rowing Club “Artimas” which continued to compete for some  years.

Fundraising, as with any Club, was all important and many ideas were pursued including a 24 hr rowathon in conjunction with can shaking at Kmart, lamington drives and dinners. The club purchased equipment as funds were available and after the First Lady many were painted yellow and when fibreglass became available purchased in yellow. Many boats were named for two people, the Brenda Lorrene, Mary Lorraine and Jenny Elaine to name a few. The Bob Morell and Rob Allan were also proudly named by Corio Bay Ladies.

After many discussions the two Corio Bay Clubs joined in 1981 with the women becoming full members of the Club. 1988 saw the new bay added to the shed which included change room facilities for them.

The Head of School Girls must be mentioned as part of our History, as Morongo and the Geelong Rowing Association (GRA) were responsible for its instigation. During the 1970’s when only Morongo, Geelong College & Geelong Grammar had a small number of girls rowing, permission was given for the girls to race as part of the Junior Head of the River on the Yarra. This continued each year with more and more school joining in until the APS decided to restrict the competition to their co-education members. Mr Frank Covill of the GRA and Ms Dulcie Brookshaw of Morongo joined together and after discussion put forward a plan to organise the first Head of the Schoolgirls – to be open to any school with girls. This regatta has grown over the years and now has over 40 schools competing at the 2 day event.

The Club now has a number of schools rowing with it. Although Morongo has gone, Sacred Heart forms a large part of our competitive group and over the years Christian College, Geelong High, Oberon High and Belmont High along with others have represented our Club and been an important part of the club.

The years have seen many hurdles for oarswomen to cross but this Club has continued to strive and succeed throughout this time. In the beginning women had to fight to be accepted in a man’s sport but our record speaks for itself, Champion oarswomen, strong competitive schools and premierships on the board. We won the battle to be accepted and respected as part of the sport of rowing.

Corio Bay Rowing Club Life Members

Rob Allan
Ray Barrow
Cliff Biggs
Don Bridges
Peter Brussel
Norm Ferguson
Val Canny
Jim Dyson
John Elliot
Max Harding
Jack Horton
Wendy Jenkins
Bob Morell
Lorene Morell
Mary Paterson
Ron Podbury
Bill Searle
Jeff Sykes
Jeff Watt
Earnie Searle
Sue Campbell
Joan Sykes
Peter Searle
Peter Aberle
Geoff Barfoot
Don Lester