Rowing to Government

Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.

HTBS’s contributor Louis Petrin in Australia writes,

Last week Australia saw a change of government. Why mention this in HTBS? Well the number of government leaders who had rowed is impressive – of the 28 Prime Ministers of Australia, seven were rowers! That is an amazing 25%.

Can any other country in the world claim their leaders to be rowers?

Here is a list of the rowers:

Edmund Barton – Protectionist Party – rowed in 2 seat for Sydney University at the very first inter-university boat race in Melbourne in December 1870 and won by Melbourne Uni. Barton was also a foundation member of the Sydney Rowing Club and our 1st Prime Minister in 1901.

Chris Watson – Labor Party – born in Chile (only Australian Prime Minister to be born outside of Australia, or the British Isles) he was Federal Labor’s first leader and the 3rd Prime Minister, had little schooling but rowed in the 1890s like many workers did at the time.

Stanley Bruce – Nationalist Party – Captain Melbourne Grammar School Rowing & First VIII. Bruce also rowed and coached at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University. Australia’s 8th Prime Minister.

John Grey Gorton – Liberal Party – schoolboy at Shore (where he shared a dorm with Errol Flynn), then went to Brasenose College, Oxford University in October 1932 where he ‘majored in rowing’. The country’s 19th Prime Minister.

William McMahon – Liberal Party – Sydney Grammar 1st VIII in 1926; the 20th Prime Minister.

Gough Whitlam – Labor Party – St. Paul’s College and won a Blue at Sydney Uni 1938; the 21st Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott – Liberal Party – member of the winning 2nd VIII at the GPS Regattas in 1974 and 1975. Australia’s 28th and the current Prime Minister.


  1. From Tim Koch:

    I was disappointed to see that Bob Hawke (Prime Minister 1983 – 1991) did not make the list. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, 1953 – 55, so he had the opportunity.

    However, his time at University College was not entirely wasted. As a punishment for not wearing his gown in the Great Hall for dinner he was 'sconced' to drink 2 1/2 pints (1.42 litres) of beer in under 25 seconds. He did it in 11. Hawke later said:

    In a political sense, it was one of the big advantages that I got out of my time at Oxford. It endeared me to a large section of the Australian voting population that I had a world beer drinking record.

    In 2003 Oxford awarded Hawke an honorary doctorate in civil law. At the ceremony in Oxford's historic Sheldonian Theatre the 'public orator' intoned in Latin:

    'Qui si memoret sponsione provocatum lagenam ampliorem cervisiae plenam breviori temporis spatio quam quivis alius exhausisse'.

    This means, of course:

    “He records that on a challenge he once drank off a sconce pot of beer in unbeaten record time”

  2. The comment on Tony Abbots rowing success is not correct. The 2nd V111 in 1975 was won by Kings School.

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