The Australian Boat Race

Video from the 2011 Australian Boat Race.

Louis Petrin, who is going to be one of the officials at the Australian Boat Race between Sydney University and Melbourne University on 4 November, writes,

The Australian Boat Race is a one-on-one, Oxbridge style match race between the best women’s and men’s rowing eights from Sydney and Melbourne universities. Held annually, the venue alternates between the Yarra River, in the heart of Melbourne, and Sydney Harbour. It encapsulates the long-standing rivalry between two great cities and two great universities.

 The Australian Boat Race is a unique event in rowing and in sport in Australia. Long distance match racing has been absent from competitive rowing in Australia for many years. The popularity of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race and the Yale-Harvard Boat Race highlight the untapped opportunity in Australia in the sport of rowing. There is always a great interest in a head to head contest in sport between two universities, two cities and two states that have enjoyed a long and natural rivalry. Normally, the two competes in stakes of fashion, food or culture. Now we have rowing to argue who is the best.

Sydney and Melbourne universities are Australia’s oldest and best-known universities. Their rowing clubs were founded in 1859 and 1860, respectively, and are currently the two most successful rowing clubs in Australia, together contributing 18 athletes to the recent London Olympic rowing team.
The two universities first raced each other in four-oar, fixed-seat, string-test gigs in a head-to-head challenge in December 1870, with Melbourne winning the race held on the Yarra River easily, in a time of 31 mins 4 secs. Among the Sydney team in two-seat was a young Edmund Barton, who went on to become Australia’s first prime minister in 1901.

A view of the Yarra River course where the first race between Sydney and Melbourne universities took place on 23 December, 1870. Photo from: 10/1860-rivalry-begins

In 1871, the Melbourne crew again won the 5.6 km race, by 3 lengths in a time of 27 mins 55 secs.

The event was revived in 2010 when Sydney University Men’s Eight won on home waters in Sydney Harbour. In 2011, the 4.2 km race rated right up there with the world’s best, with a winning margin of just ”two inches” to Sydney. So Sydney has twice won the Edmund Barton Trophy for The Men’s Eight.

James Marburg, Melbourne University, with Nick Hudson, Sydney University, the two 2011 Boat Captains. Photo from:

On the other hand, for the past two years, Melbourne has taken the Bella Guerin Trophy for The Women’s Eight.

Kim Crow, Melbourne University, with Beatrix Sheldrick, Sydney University, the two 2011 Boat Captains. Photo from:

By the way, Kim Crow (pictured above on left) recently won bronze in the women’s single scull Olympic final, just a day after collecting silver in the women’s double scull with Brooke Pratley.

This year’s race will feature an incredible eight Olympians, seven of whom rowed for Australia at the recent London 2012 Olympic Games. Sydney University’s Francis Hegerty (2008, 2012), Fergus Pragnell (2008), Bronwen Watson (2012) and Monique Heinke (2008) have all been to Olympic Games. While for Melbourne University’s James Marburg (2008, 2012), Cam McKenzie McHarg (2008, 2012), Josh Booth (2012) and Phoebe Stanley (2012) also competed at various Olympic Games.

On Sunday, 4 November, 2012, the race returns to Sydney Harbour, racing from Woolwich to Darling Harbour. The two race courses are indeed very different courses, with the Melbourne race being held on the Yarra River, which is notorious for its many bends. The race starts at Victoria docks and finishes 4.2 kilometers upstream, by Federation Square. In the 2011 race, the challenging Melbourne course saw the Men’s oars overlapping as the Sydney cox to advantage of the twists and turns to push the Melbourne boat towards the river bank nearing one bend.

Sydney Harbour, on the other hand, is a relatively straight course but the water can get choppy so it is expected the race will still be quite a challenge. See also Louis’s earlier post.

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