IWD 2020: Pictures From A Land Down Under Where Women Row And Men Plunder*

A happy Miss J Thomas, winner of the Sculling Championship of the Sixth Annual Regatta of the South Australian Ladies’ Rowing Association on the Torrens Lake, central South Australia, 22 March 1919. PRG-280-1-28-67

8 March 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch suspends patriarchal power structures and gender norms for 24 hours (you’re welcome) to mark International Women’s Day 2020 on 8 March with a selection of appropriate rowing pictures from the online photo archive of the State Library of South Australia (SLSA).

While many pictures in the SLSA archive come with a detailed description, some have captions as uninformative as the one for this: ‘Women’s rowing crew practising on the Torrens River, Adelaide, South Australia’. However, the clothing indicates that it is from the 1920s. PRG-280-1-15-1044
A crew from the Barcarolle Ladies’ Rowing Club – which was on the Torrens River. PRG-280-1-19-94
Members of the ‘Ladies Boating Club’ on the bank of the River Torrens. About 1900? B-8994
A crew from Port Pirie on the Torrens Lake during a regatta held at Adelaide on 28 March 1914. PRG-280-1-10-200
Another picture simply identified as ‘women on the Torrens River’. Again, likely to be from the 1920s. PRG-280-1-19-146
A women’s crew from Lake Torrens. Early 20th Century? B-42497
The Christening of a new four at the Barcarolle Ladies’ Rowing Club, during the Torrens Swimming and Rowing Carnival on 9 February 1918. PRG-280-1-22-95
Unidentified apart from the Torrens River location. Early 20th Century? PRG-280-1-11-28
The New South Wales team, winners of the Australian Ladies’ Rowing Championships at Sydney in 1934 and Adelaide in 1935. SRG-873-1-23

2020 is to be marked as the centenary of women’s rowing in Australia. As some of the above pictures prove, women’s rowing in the country has been thriving for much longer than just a hundred years, but the Australian Ladies’ Rowing Council was established in 1920, the same year that the prestigious Interstate Championships put on its first event for women, the coxed fours.

The Mannum crew that won the first Women’s Interstate Four-Oared Championship, held on 15 May 1920 on the Brisbane River in Queensland. The splendid Australian Rowing History site tells the story. However, the trophy shown here is not the one for the Women’s Interstate Fours. If the somewhat androgynous coxswain is a girl, she is a splendid 1920s figure, though more likely to come from later in the decade rather than in 1920 itself. PRG-280-1-25-296

The Wikipedia page, Women’s rowing in Australia, holds that:

During the 1890s, cricket and rowing two of the most popular competitive sports for women in Australia… The first recorded (Australian) women’s rowing club was the Albert Park Ladies’ Rowing Club, formed in 1907 (in Melbourne), with similar clubs formed in Brisbane in 1908 (the Brisbane LRC), Sydney in 1909 (the Western Suburbs LRC), and Tasmania in 1912 (the Buckingham LRC and the Sandy Bay LRC). 

Referencing Marion K. Stell, Half the Race, A History of Australian Women in Sport (1991), the page continues:

During that time period, rowing was considered an acceptable sport for women to participate in, and was one of the first sports in which women were required to practise daily in order to excel at it.

Rebecca Caroe has marked the Centenary with one of her RowingChat podcasts, talking to Australian Olympian, Margot Foster.

The timestamps to the above programme are:

03:00 Background and history.
05:00 The Centenary and the Interstate Rowing Regatta.
09:00 The Queens Cup
12:20 Women in Sport in Australia.
16:00 History book by Judy Buckrich.
17:50 The Seoul Olympics.
19:15 Margot’s story of injustice in selection.

*Apologies to ‘Men At Work’.

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