Mike Nicholson: A Life of Rowing and Filming

Victoria won both the King’s and Queen’s Cups at the Australian Rowing Championships in March. From the film Australian Rowing Championships 2021 by Mike Nicholson.

20 May 2021

By Göran R Buckhorn

The other day, Michael “Mike” Nicholson, Australian filmmaker and member of Melbourne University BC, contacted HTBS to ask if we were interested in showing his latest film, about the 2021 Australian Rowing Championships held on Lake Barrington, Tasmania, between 22 and 28 March? Of course, we were, Göran R Buckhorn writes.

Filmmaker Mike Nicholson

Mike Nicholson became involved in rowing in 1964 as a 10-year-old coxswain at Melbourne University Boat Club (MUBC). Since 1976, he has been a filmmaker. “So, combining rowing and filmmaking couldn’t be better,” Mike told HTBS.

“Like so many of the rowing fraternity, the 2020 lockdowns everywhere in Australia meant no rowing. Then, the pull of the river was at its strongest come 2021 and having the Australian Rowing Championships hosted at Lake Barrington, Tasmania,” Mike continued. “This is a rare thing happening these days as the championships usually are held at Penrith, New South Wales.”

It meant Mike quickly booked his airline ticket for what he called “an overseas holiday and filmmaking excursion.”

In 1986, Nicholas Green arrived at MUBC. He was just out of school and was stroke of the senior eight. “l was invited to steer it, which l did for about a month,” Mike remembered. “Nick was the natural choice to interview for the 2021 Australian Championships since it was in Tasmania he began his ‘campaign’, winning his first World Championship title in the coxless four in 1990.” That is the boat who came to be known as the Oarsome Foursome – or as Mike calls it, “the Awesome Foursome”. And then Nick Green went on to win two Olympic gold medals in the coxless four and a few more world titles.

One particular interest of Mike’s at these championships was the Men’s Under-23 Interstate eight.

“They were all from MUBC, something that has never happened at my club before, as far as l know,” Mike said. 

This year was also the 100th year of women rowing in Australia. “Rosemary Chapman-Popa was the stroke of the Victorian Queen’s Cup Eight and l had taught her mother, Sue Chapman, how to row at school,” Mike remarked. “She went onto win a bronze medal in the coxed four at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.”

So, what is the hardest part with filmmaking?

“The hardest part of filmmaking, although it is the most enjoyable, is the editing, because it is what you have to leave out – there are so many rowers and scullers and events,” Mike told HTBS. “Then, there is the question of the length. In this day and age, the concentration span of the young seems to have narrowed somewhat. In recent years, l am trying to make rowing films that are also of interest to non-rowers, which is a challenge in itself.”

And Mike added: “Oh, and humour. I have noticed that my most successful crews, the ones l have either steered, coached or sculled in, they have always had humour woven into their hard training. l try to reflect that where l can in my films.

Mike’s film Australian Rowing Championships 2021 is released on Vimeo and is 15 minutes long.

The results from the 2021 Australian Championships can be found here.

More of Mike Nicholson’s rowing films can be found here.

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