More on Murray Bridge and ‘The Cods’

The News, 16 July 1924.

HTBS’s Greg Denieffe writes,

My fellow HTBS-arian and Australian rowing historian Louis Petrin has kindly contacted me regarding the recent post “The Case of Cod v Cods”. Louis writes:

‘Here is a voice recording of an interview in which Christine McRae (mother of James, a Murray Bridge rower who went on to the 2008 and 2012 Olympics) says that the Cods won the race in Ireland.  Sadly, Christine is mistaken, although it would have been nice for these guys to have won something after all their efforts.

I have also found a mention of the race on the front page of local South Australian newspaper, Bunyip for Friday 22 August 1924:

Glad to know that you were on the ball: there’s nothing worse than facts being wrong and repeated. I will endeavour to write to Christine and to the various local websites pointing this out.

My view was that these guys tried as best as they could but everything was against them and it was probably the case that they competed against better rowers anyway.

The facts are, that to travel to Europe, they had a lengthy boat journey, they did not have the best equipment, although it’s hard to know why because here in Oz we did have some good boat builders, and there was no money to pay for basic things like lodgings, food, etc. But in the spirit of good sports, they gave it a go. They were not the first, nor last, to face such challenges. We need more stories on “losers” as the way they behave in losing defines them as winners.’

The Tailteann Games and the progress of the Murray Bridge crew were widely reported in the Australian papers. On the 1 August, 1924, the Sydney newspaper The Arrow questioned the eligibility of the crew to participate in the Aonac Tailteann (Tailteann Festival). The Sydney Morning Herald on the 18 August, 1924, in an article very similar to that printed in The Irish Times, reported on the three international races between the Irish and Australian crews. A local newspaper The Register reported on 6 October, 1924, that the crew were ‘Home Again’ as follows:

There was a large crowd of enthusiasts it the Outer Harbour on Saturday afternoon to welcome the Murray Bridge rowing crew, who were, returning by the R.M.S. Mooltan from London after participating in the Olympic Games. Interviewed on board the vessel, Sir C. A. M. West (manager) said that although the crew were disappointed at not getting pride of place, they were by no means discouraged, and were as keen oars men as ever. Much had been said of their inability to secure the desired success, but he would say, to express the sentiments of the members of the crew, that the best eight won. The trip had been most beneficial in more ways than one. All were enjoying good health. The crew had not practised since the Tailteann Games at Dublin, in August, so were now well rested. At the Olympic contest he was greatly impressed at the fact that the crews favoured the swivel rowlock and that the Americans used a longer slide, which appeared to help the men in their, swing and reach. The crew were in England only a few days, and were not greatly impressed by the English summer, as it rained continuously. The Thames Rowing Club very kindly made the crew honorary members for the time of their stay, and offered them the use of racing boats. In the Irish sports the Australians generally were successful, and secured 29 medals. The crew were defeated by Derry after a grueling contest. After participating in the eights and fours Pfeiffer secured pride of place in the sculling event on the same day.

Thanks to Louis, I was able to find the voice recording made by ABC Adelaide and broadcast last March on their 891 Drive programme. The radio station’s website introduced the show as follows:

Murray Cods at Paris Olympics

In 1924 the Murray Cods, a team of rowers from Murray Bridge, also known as ‘the raggedy eight’, competed in the Paris Olympic Games. [Actually it was the Murray Bridge crew of 1913 that were known as The Raggedy Eight].

But to get there they had to overcome all sorts of problems – class snobbery, interstate rivalry, being past their prime, lack of finances and transportation. They even sold a bullock to raise cash for their journey, then busked on the streets of Paris for expenses.

Local historian Christine McRae, whose son is in training for the London Olympics, talked with Michael Smyth on 891 Drive.
Chris talks us through the period from 1913 to 1924 when Murray Bridge were the premier crew in Australia; through WWI in which the club lost eight of its members and through the very successful post-war period up to the 1924 Paris Olympics.

You can listen to the 12-minute programme here.

Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia – PRG 280/1/29/198

As readers of HTBS will know, it was the City of Derry Boating Club and not the USA crew from Yale mentioned in the broadcast that defeated Murray Bridge. Nevertheless, it is well worth a listen. There are a couple of interesting callers to the show and a remarkable disclosure of true friendship shown by the crew to Wally Pfeiffer, who some people wanted banned from representing Australia. 

Chris and her son James after the 2012 Olympic quadruple sculls medal ceremony. Photo ©Stock Journal

The Stock Journal, a website that covers agricultural, political and general news affecting people and businesses in rural, regional and corporate Australia, reported on 7 August, 2012, as follows:

JAMES McRae has become the most decorated athlete in the 103-year history of the Murray Bridge Rowing Club after winning a bronze medal at the London Olympics.McRae and his Australian men’s quad scull team-mates… rowed their fastest race for the season to claim third place at Eton Dorney on Friday. The full article is here and you can watch the full race here.

I was lucky enough to be there to see James win his bronze medal and here’s my ticket for that momentous day.

James has now been selected for the Australian 2013 team as part of a coxed pair with fellow South Australian, Tim Conrad. According to the Rowing Australia website, “This crew may compete in the Coxless Pair, subject to them meeting determined performance criteria prior to 25th July.”  Who knows, he may even return to Eton Dorney in June for the Rowing World Cup.


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