Paris or the Bush – Making Saturday Nights Better

Aussie rowing-doco to air on Foxtel’s History Channel.

19 April 2017

Greg Denieffe writes:

The broadcast rights to Paris or the Bush: The Story of the Cods has been snapped up by Foxtel and will be broadcast on their History Channel across all eight of their southern hemisphere states/regions later this month.

Paris or the Bush is the true story of how a crew from Murray Bridge Rowing Club, South Australia, overcome prejudice, age, injury and poverty to represent Australia at the 1924 Paris Olympics. The Cods’ story was closely bound up with that of the Great War in which many of them fought and one was killed.

‘We will remember them’. The Cods did not forget their first visit to France or their fallen crewmate, Hedley Joyce, when they returned in 1924. Photo: Courtesy of the State Library of South Australia and the family of R. A. ‘Bob’ Cummings.

Producers Wayne Groom and Carolyn Bilsborow resisted a request to shorten it from two hours to one, so instead it will be broadcast in two episodes of one hour each.

Anzac Day is one of Australia’s most important national commemorative occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. It is celebrated annually on the 25 April, the exact day in 1915 that the Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. It is fitting that the two episodes will be broadcast on the two weekends either side of this year’s Anzac Day.

Episode 1: ‘Dr. Macquarie’s Dream

Dates and broadcast times for South Australia are: Saturday 22 April at 7.00 p.m. and repeated three times the following day.

The times for the other states/regions are: Western Australia 5.30 p.m.; Northern Territory 7.00 p.m.; Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales/New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, and Victoria all 7.30 p.m.

In 1908, amateur rowing was a sport for the elite and the privately educated upper classes. A working-class crew flew in the face of the sport’s tradition. There was no room for ruffians with grease under their nails. The town’s doctor, C.N. Macquarie, throws the Murray Bridge boys a lifeline, paying their South Australian Rowing Association fees and buying two leaky boats. Their first race ends in disaster with them being swamped and almost run down by a paddle steamer, but the bug had bitten. The Cods first won the Interstate Championship for eights in 1913, an astonishing achievement as South Australia had never before won the annual rowing championship which began in 1878. This famous victory was unique because the event, which in 1921 became known as the ‘King’s Cup’, was wrested from the other States, not by the usual ‘composite’ state crew, comprised of the best rowers from Adelaide’s elite clubs, but by a one-club crew from Murray Bridge. However, in 1914, the Great War intervened, redirecting their lives onto the battlefields of Europe.

‘Dapper’ – The Cods in Paris during the Olympic Games. Photo: Courtesy of the State Library of South Australia and the family of RA ‘Bob’ Cummings.

Episode 2: ‘Some Legends Are True will be broadcast the following weekend (29/30 April) at similar times.

When the Murray Bridge rowers returned home from the war, battered and injured, the obstacles they faced to continue competing were tremendous. They were older and in some cases their bodies were full of shrapnel. The class barriers were still rigidly in place. But under the guidance of Teddy Higgs, himself a former champion Tasmanian rower and Boer War veteran, the Cods challenged for the interstate title again. Remaining a single-club crew rather than a state composite, they went on to win the King’s Cup three times in the next four years, dominating the sport against all comers, eventually earning the right, despite having to face an unexpected test race organized by officials which almost derailed them, to represent Australia at the Olympics in Paris in 1924.

The fascinating story saw the filmmakers visit Tasmania, birthplace of their coach Teddy Higgs; England, home of the world-famous Henley Royal Regatta; France, both the battlefields of First World War and Paris; and Ireland where they travelled to Dublin (where the only known film of The Cods actually rowing was shot) and Derry, home of their conquerors at the Tailteann Games.

At the end of movie, the credits roll to the beautiful sound of The Audreys singing ‘Small Things’.

if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed
out of all the things I’ve seen
it’s that you can leave a footprint
in a place you’ve never been

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