MUBC's 150th Anniversary Celebrations

150 Rowers Afloat on the 150th

On Thursday 3 September 2009, exactly 150 years to the day since Melbourne University Boat Club was founded, 150 or more MUBC oarsmen and oarswomen and coxswains took to the water in a flotilla of eights, fours, pairs, quad sculls, double sculls and single sculls and rowed past the MUBC boatshed. All of the Melbourne television stations were in attendance in the morning and the ABC took a live cross for an extended interview with Club President, Peter Antonie.

MUBC 150th Anniversary poster

To commemorate this unique event, the Club has commissioned a poster (594mm x 840mm), as seen above. It is a wonderful historical record of both the century old boatshed, in its near original (and pre-extension) form, and of the marvellous event itself.

The poster is available for sale from Margaret Matthews in the MUBC office:
phone 9650 1902 or email

The price is $35.00. If you wish to have it laminated that can be arranged for an additional $8.00. Only 50 copies have been printed so place your orders now before stocks run out.

View photos of 150 rowers afloat (in new window)

150th Anniversary Dinner

A huge crowd of MUBC members, friends, partners and supporters turned out for the 150th celebration dinner at the Plaza Ballroom on Thursday 3 September – nearly 450 people across an age span and an involvement with MUBC of 80 years were there. The feedback from attendees has been outstanding.

If you were unable to make it or would like to re-live some of the night, then read the copies of the speeches following and check out the ‘hero video’ made by Michael Nicholson that was shown on the night. Congratulations to Rob Zahara for organising such a great event.

150 years ago today, on 3 September 1859, a four of university men, stroked by Professor Martin Irving, defeated a crew drawn from the metropolitan banks over a course from the Botanical Gardens Bridge to Princes Bridge. It was the first winning crew in a race between amateurs on the Yarra. Directly after the race Melbourne University Boat Club was formally constituted.

This was only one year after the Melbourne Football Club was founded and only a month or so after the Geelong Football Club was established. The first Melbourne Cup was yet to be raced. On the back of the gold rushes Victoria was growing rapidly, but the population of Melbourne was only just over 100,000. As those of you who have already read our recently published history Well Rowed University will know, the Yarra was a very different river to that we have known through our lives. And given that the number of students at the University at this time would have been not many more than 20 or 30, recruiting for the crew must have been an interesting task in itself.

100 years ago, in 1909, MUBC had only recently moved in to its new boatshed, built in large part through the incredible determination of John Lang, and proudly depicted on the front of your menus. The Melbourne University Sports Union, established through the efforts of the Boat Club, was only 5 years old. We are delighted to see a number of representatives from Melbourne University Sport with us here tonight – including the President, Marcus King; the new Director, Tim Lee; long standing Treasurer, Alf Lazer; and Vice-President and former Director Cheryl McKinna. In 1909, Sir John Madden, who had been Vice-Chancellor and then Chancellor of the University, had just passed on the baton of the Presidency of the Club. President Peter Antonie, in his recent speech at Government House when the history was launched, advised the current University Chancellor that he was ready to continue this tradition and succeed to the role of Chancellor in due course.

79 years ago, in 1930, the person who has clearly won the award for being the oldest person here tonight, Sir Archibald Glenn, represented MUBC in the first of his four years in the Intervarsity eight after the first of his 3 successive wins in the Mervyn Bourne Higgins Trophy for Ormond College. He sets an outstanding example to all of us, especially many of our younger members, in that even at the age of 98 he still replies promptly to his emails! Indeed, in completing the form that Rob Zahara sent out to you a few months ago asking for contact details etc, he chose the home email address in preference to the work email, noting that ‘I am 98, so am retired’. In 1930, one of our most famous members, Dr Clive Disher, who brought the Kings Cup back to Australia for competition between interstate eight oared crews, was President of the Club. A photograph of Dr Disher in the stroke seat of the 1913 Intervarsity eight is on the back of your menus.

50 years ago, in 1959, Dr Disher was by then the Patron of the Club, and Harvey Nicholson was in his second term as the President of a club that had had an extremely successful decade, winning eight successive Intervarsity eight races, a number of Henley Grand Challenge Cups and senior eight titles, and seeing significant representation for Victoria in Kings Cup crews and for Australia in the Olympic Games. It is fantastic to see so many representatives from the crews of that era here tonight, including almost everyone from the 1952 and 1957 Intervarsity eights.

In the 50 years since then we have seen three significant developments not only in world rowing but also for MUBC and its place in Australian and world rowing. 1963 saw the first lightweight four race at the Intervarsity Regatta – won, of course you might say, by MUBC. And 3 members of that crew are here tonight. Rowing developed internationally with World Championships being introduced in to the calendar.

1974 saw the first time lightweights were represented at the World Championships – Australia, represented by an all MUBC coxless four, won the gold medal. And all 4 members of that crew and their coach are here tonight. One of the most significant developments over the past 50 years has been the dramatic growth in women’s rowing. A Melbourne University crew won the fours at its first Intervarsity in Queensland in 1970 and, internationally, the first time that Australian women rowed at the Olympics, 1980 in Moscow, 4 of the 5 crew members were from MUBC and 3 of that crew and their coach are here tonight.

And now, on 3 September 2009, we have nearly 450 people gathered to celebrate the first 150 years of Melbourne University Boat Club. Welcome to all of you. I am sure that you will have a great night and we have decided to keep the formalities to a minimum to allow you the maximum time to talk and to mingle and to meet old friends and perhaps even some former opponents (as is the case with the group from our proud rival Monash University whom we are delighted to see in force here tonight).

Before I introduce our first guest speaker to you, I have a few things that I must mention. Firstly, we have some copies of the history of the club Well Rowed University available for purchase tonight – including some of the special Limited Edition run of 250 copies. We are delighted that the author Dr Judith Buckrich has been able to join us tonight.

We have some stock here of the new all silk club ties available for $45. And you can place an order for some of the special 150th club merchandise and wine. The merchandise is on display at the back of the room over there and order forms can be completed there.

I must express the thanks on behalf of the whole club to the History Committee that has been the driving force behind all of the 150th activities this year. It has been a long time in the planning – our first meeting was nearly 3 years ago. Field Rickards, who has been responsible for all of our liaison with the University and secured the very generous donation from it that enabled us to have the confidence to proceed with the commissioning of a history; Sal McKenzie, who organised an extremely successful gold subscribers literary lunch with the author; Adrian Maginn, who provided enormous support in the detailed review of the information in the book and produced almost single-handedly many of the Appendices; Margot Foster, who has been responsible for developing the 150th merchandise and for marketing the book around Australia and internationally; Rob Zahara, who has done an amazing job in bringing together the dinner tonight; and Paul McSweeney, whose completely pro-bono work in the publication of Well Rowed University has been extraordinary and the result is there for you all to see. When Paul first got his hands on a copy of the book it was very much like that of a parent first holding their new born baby in their arms.

And then there have been people like John Whiting (whose grandfather H J Whiting stroked 6 Intervarsity crews between 1899 and 1906) who organised the150 people on the water on the 150th at 7am this morning with associated media coverage. What a great idea and what an event! And Michael Nicholson with his video coverage that you are seeing tonight.

So to all the members of the History Committee and the many others around the club such as John Whiting and Michael Nicholson who have helped, thank you very much indeed.

I would also like to particularly thank all of the subscribers to the history project who between you contributed nearly $100,000 towards the cost of the history. Without your support none of this would have been possible. It is great to see so many of you here tonight – some who have come from overseas and many who have flown in from interstate especially for this occasion.

As we come together tonight to reflect upon 150 years of history we see:

  • a club that has had 38 oarsmen and oarswomen represent Australia in the Olympics from 1912 up until 2008 in Beijing;
  • a club that has had 89 oarsmen and women represent Australia in World Rowing Championships between 1962 and the present day;
  • a club that has had numerous Victorian representatives in the Interstate Championships;
  • a club that has won over 60 national championships in its own right and a further 100 or more as part of composite crews; and
  • a club with a record of success in the various events in the Australian University Rowing Championships that is second to none.

I think that on a night such as this we can fairly claim to be one of the leading rowing clubs in the world. And, as is stated in the book, I think that we can also claim to be one of Australia’s most successful sporting clubs.


Introduction of Minnie Cade by Rob Stewart, MC

And so now I turn to introduce one of our best, and one of Australia’s best, oarswomen as our first speaker tonight, Minnie Cade.

Minnie started her career with the club in 1985 under the guidance of Barb Fenner. She has won two Intervarsity Lightweight fours, at least 10 State titles, at least 10 national titles, the Victoria Cup for interstate women’s lightweight coxless fours on six occasions, represented Australia at 5 world championships in the lightweight coxless four winning a silver medal in 1988 and a gold medal in 1992. Whilst studying Planning & Design and Architecture at Melbourne University as well as her rowing, she also managed to represent the University at skiing in 1986.

I am reliably informed that in her early days of lightweight rowing she found keeping her weight down quite a challenge and, one Monday after a weekend off, she turned up weighing in more than 5 kilograms heavier than she had been on Friday. Her response was ‘well what do you expect after spending a weekend with heavyweights!’ Apparently she made up for it the next week by pulling what was then a record score for lightweight women on the ergometer.

Minnie retired from rowing in 2000 and is now a Vice-President of the Club. To provide her ‘Reflections off the water’, please welcome Minnie Cade….

Speech by Minnie Cade

Good evening friends & rowers. Welcome.

This morning we had 150 members out in boats joyfully paddling around the Yarra to mark our 150th birthday, it was a great experience and a lovely site
and tonight it’s equally impressive to look out and see over 400 past and present members here for our annual dinner.

I was very pleased to be asked to speak tonight. I have been clearly directed to give you all a brief picture of women’s rowing at MUBC over the last 40 years. The first shift which is particularly close to my heart, has been the involvement of women rowers at MUBC.

I joined MUBC in late 1985 not only because I was heading off to Melbourne University to study, but primarily because of MUBC’s reputation as a strong and successful women’s rowing club. It was a place where women had access to their own boats, to good coaching and facilities and where everyone trained extremely hard.

Those of us who were able to walk into a place where women were very much a part of club life can thank those who began it all in the early 70’s. When rowers like Sally Harding and Ann Chirnside first joined the club they found themselves at times not entirely welcome and were seen by some as not serious and taking up precious resources.

I do however have first hand reports that there were some men who were in fact quite keen to have females around and wanted a male/female club, and I have been assured that there was one gentleman who stood out as always being exceedingly kind and helpful. This man was the late Tom Yuncken and it would be lovely to acknowledge his part in creating the unified club we have today.

Back to womens’ rowing....With grit, determination and the will to win, the women were already competing at their first World Championships by 1975 and the crew that was ultimately selected for the women’s coxed 4+ in the 1980 Australian Olympic Team was ALL MUBC: Sally Withers, Pam Westendorf (don’t worry about Dimboola Rowing Club, Pam’s MUBC through and through), Verna Westwood and Anne Chirnside, coxed by Susie Palfreyman and coached by David Palfreyman.

It was then the turn of the lightweight women to begin to add to MUBC success. Lightweight rowing for women at MUBC began in the early 80s. MUBC women made up the majority of the Australian 8’s that were victorious on a yearly basis at the biggest international race at the time, Canadian Henley.

Lightweight rowing then became officially included in the World Championship Regatta program in 1985. Gayle Toogood was the club’s first lightweight onto an Australian World Championship Team that year along with MUBC coach Brian Dalton winning bronze in the coxless 4.

MUBC was then instrumental in producing the first Australian women’s crew light or heavy to win a Gold medal at the World Championships. Prior to 1992 gold medals had eluded Australian womens’ crews (and indeed most men’s crews). The 1992 Australian women’s lightweight 4- training out of MUBC, with MUBC coach Brian Dalton and 2 MUBC rowers, De Fraser and myself finally secured the win that was to open the floodgates for countless Australian female World Champions to follow.

And now to some stats, everyone loves a good stat, though I have to admit that I have, how should I say, developed these facts myself!! Since those first years of the 70s, MUBC women have won a vast number of state, national and international titles, and I would be confident in stating that we have put more women onto Australian teams than any other club in Australia. Cheer please.

We have had a female representatives on every Olympic Team since 1980 bar one. Cheer please.

And we have been one of the most successful lightweight women’s clubs in Australia with rowers on every team from 1985 to 2009. Cheer please.

This leads me to one of the most important aspects about our club: the women and men are now a united club!!

Rowing is one of few sports that men and women can do together, in the sense that whilst we are all in separate boats we can train and race together as a team. Not only can sons and daughters say that their Dad rowed for MUBC but now they can equally say, my MUM rowed for MUBC.

At our club right now we have mothers, sons, fathers, daughters, brothers and sisters all rowing together, and of course in the ultimate degree of difficulty category we have wives and husbands rowing together!! And what finer example of a husband & wife rowing together could we possibly have than…. our dedicated president Peter Antonie and the highly decorated Fiona Milne. Cheer please.

And finally I wanted to talk to you about departure and return. I spent 15 years training twice a day at the boat club and as a result have a great many memories. Most people here will also at some time or other have spent far too much time at the club. Rowing can be an all consuming sport and often when one makes the decision to stop one is pretty much compelled to abandon it completely (except for Peter and Fiona!) We have all wandered off to do far more important things. I see many people here tonight who I have not seen for over a decade. But the great thing about MUBC is that you can just appear again and slot straight back into it.

Whilst quite a number of things have changed at MUBC: There is now a sophisticated security system with swipe cards, boats are racked de-rigged with quick release riggers, you cannot hose down a boat anymore, you can’t sneak through under Princes bridge from Southbank in your car any longer and you can’t drive up and park in front of the sheds.

But equally many things have not changed and probably never will: The staging is still slippery, rotten timber, possum pee still drips off the ceiling staining our boats, the place still smells that same old smell and the towels are still breeding in the changerooms.

So if you’ve been missing these things and have been thinking of coming back for a row… I just wanted to assure you that you will always be welcomed with open arms.

Thank you rowers and have a great night.


Introduction of Sir James Gobbo by Rob Stewart, MC

Amongst the esteemed alumni of MUBC (and there have been and are many), we have none more esteemed than Sir James Gobbo. A Rhode Scholar, a distinguished barrister who became a judge of the Supreme Court and Governor of Victoria. And this from humble beginnings – arriving in Melbourne in the 1930s as a very young boy from Italy – indeed I remember Jim telling me once about his first days at a primary school in Melbourne when his mother sent him along in the traditional Italian school clothing of the era, which was a smock with leggings and a large bow.

But in this introduction I think that I should concentrate on Jim Gobbo the oarsman.

He was the 3 man in the Xavier crew that won the Head of the River in 1948. It took more than 50 years for Jim to lose the title of ‘a member of the last winning Xavier crew’. This didn’t occur until 1999 when Peter Antonie coached another Xavier crew to victory.

In 1951 he was bow in the Melbourne Intervarsity eight that dead-heated for first place with Sydney University after a 3 mile tussle. After a successful defence of that title in 1952, with a number of you here tonight, Jim went on to become President of Oxford University Boat Club and rowed in the winning Oxford crew in the 100th Boat Race in 1954.

I asked former crew members whether they could help me out with some faux pas or amusing story about Jim, but I was told that he was a fairly quiet, serious student back in University days and that ‘even at an early age, Jim was very distinguished’.

Well he has certainly served this club and the wider community with great distinction. He is a former President of MUBC and his daughters Flavia and Olivia both represented MUBC and are here tonight, as, I understand, is one of his grand-daughters.

It is my great pleasure to introduce our guest speaker, Sir James Gobbo.

Speech by Sir James Gobbo

Tonight is all about a great Boat Club. Many, if not all, of us who went down to the Yarra to row agree with the character in the Wind in the Willows who said:

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

This is admirable advice and over the ages, many have acted on it – mostly by taking to boats with sails. Some have even used motors. But a slightly lunatic percentage have taken to boats with oars – a fiendishly hard way to propel a boat. In history, slaves and those vanquished in war were condemned to pull oars in huge galleys and triremes. Incidentally, only the Venetians used free men in their galleys and the Venetian Republic lasted a thousand years! Whilst I am manifesting my ethno-chauvinistic pride in my Venetian ancestry, may I add that Venice was holding Women’s Regattas on the Grand Canal as early as 1610! Whatever happened in history, now we pull oars for pleasure – and some pain – and this Club which we honour has been doing it for 150 years.

All this talk of oars reminds me of an occasion when there was a fashionable wedding at a church in London. The participants marked the occasion by having the bridal party process under an arcade of crossed oars. The event was witnessed by a Cockney lady and her daughter who said to her mother, “EE Mum, look at them ‘ores” – to which her mother replied, “Them’s not ‘ores dearie, thems bridesmaids!” (My apologies to Shirley, Flavia and Olivia who have heard this story a few times!)

For most of the past 150 years, the core activity of the Melbourne University Boat Club has been the Inter-Varsity Eights Race. But there has been a growth of other Inter-Varsity events, particularly with the welcome advent of women’s rowing, both in Varsity and in Club rowing. The Inter-Varsity Eights trophy has been the Oxford and Cambridge Cup, donated in 1893 by Old Blues who had rowed in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. This is rowed every year on the Thames in London at the beginning of Spring and generates much popular interest and more than its fair share of eccentrics. One of these wrote to me in 1955 when I was President, that is to say Captain of the Oxford Crew. This gentleman’s name was Colonel Wintle, late of the 1st Royal Dragoons. Just before the Race he wrote to me as follows:

I have always barracked for Oxford and I wish to confide to you a new method of rowing which would surely surprise Cambridge.

I have come to the conclusion that no engineer worth his hire would design a petrol engine all eight cylinders of which fired simultaneously. Accordingly, eight oars should not be in the water at one time, and never should all of them be out. I am sure an eight would be driven more smoothly and at greater speed by a syncopated stroke in which each pair of oars fired in turn.

There may be snags to be overcome, of course. It would be difficult for the most lion-hearted stroke to rally a weary crew to one last-gasp attack, if they were all banging away in jerks of their own. The seats would have to be spaced more roomily to prevent one man dashing forward for his own beginning, and colliding with the man in front who was already half-way through his stroke. Feel free to use my design next year against Cambridge, if it is too late to use it this year.

This charming eccentric ended his letter as follows:

Please don’t feel obliged to reply – you must get a lot of letters like this from well meaning lunatics like me.

Colonel Wintle also became interested in law and accused a solicitor of defrauding one of his relatives. Colonel Wintle took the solicitor to Court and appeared for himself, without a barrister or solicitor. He lost before the Trial Judge and again lost in the Court of Appeal. He appealed to the House of Lords where he won. After his win, he said he won because he had finally appeared before his intellectual equals! Those of you who would like to know more of this English eccentric can look him up on Google.

We no doubt each treasure special memories of races. For me, it is my memory of what was the Inter-Varsity Race of 1951, which has been the only dead heat ever. It was rowed over three miles on the Huon River at Franklin in Tasmania. The Huon River course is a very beautiful one in a valley with large old trees, mostly Huon Pines lining both banks to the water’s edge. It was a dead heat between Sydney and Melbourne. There are at least several other features of that race that make it memorable, apart from the dead heat. One of these was that the Sydney crew which was very good, had a 5 man who was one of Professor Cotton’s guinea pigs! Professor Cotton was a Professor of Physiology at Sydney University who became famous in rowing because he selected students according to various tests and then had them taught rowing. Most of them had very successful rowing careers. One of these was 5 in the Sydney crew. He announced in the last few days that he had reached his physiological peak and that he would not row again until the race. He took himself off to Hobart to join his wife or partner. This interesting eccentric was coaxed back after several missed outings. We will never know whether or not he was right and what part all this played in the dead heat.

The following year, a number of us announced to our Varsity coach, David Salmon, who is here tonight, that we had reached our physiological peak and thought we might have a rest day, but he was quite unsympathetic.

The other feature of this memorable 1951 race was that the Dinner was held in the Franklin Hotel. There was an excess of alcohol consumed, to put it mildly, and too long a gap between race and food. As a result, the Hotel – and the staff – not to mention the crews – were the worse for wear and the Varsity Race was never again rowed on the Huon.

The following year the Inter-Varsity Eights Race, which was won by Melbourne, was held at Murray Bridge in South Australia. Many of that crew and its coach are here tonight. There was understandably much anxiety on the part of the organisers as to the after race arrangements, especially as the Dinner was to be held in Adelaide, some sixty miles away. The organisers arranged that before boarding the buses, all the crews should “line their stomachs” with a long drink of milk from large cans provided for this purpose. They failed, however, to guard the cans. The Melbourne cox, the late John Button, later to be a Senator and Federal Minister, who had been cox the year before, procured a number of bottles of rum and enriched the milk. I vividly recall his malevolent grin as he did so.

The bus ride to Adelaide became very lively and the Dinner was, again, somewhat boisterous.

This story of cox John Button will, I hope, serve to correct a tendency to undervalue the cox. Not only does the cox have the heavy responsibility of careful steering and command but less obviously, an extrovert cox can be a powerful boost to morale. Moreover, a good calling voice can do wonders for the rhythm and swing of a crew over many miles of training.

We all share precious memories of – dare I say it – the poetry of rowing. We recall those still Autumn evenings for which Melbourne is famous when the boat was gliding on the Yarra framed by the canopies of golden leaves on the trees which line the river. We recall too, the soft gurgle beneath us as we let the boat run. For the more recent rowers, we recall the clean crisp mornings when the city had scarcely woken – magical experiences which bonded us to the river and to each other.

We remember with great affection our Boat House, the last of the wooden boat houses decorating this precious riverbank in the centre of our City.

We have all been greatly blessed to have been members of the MUBC. For one thing, in our Club we were frequently stretched to perform – and pushing oneself to the limit, whether in study or sport, is a great training for career and life generally. We were blessed to meet an interesting cross section of students from different University disciplines. For example, in the two crews in which I rowed there were future engineers, doctors, scientists, architects, future leaders of industry and commerce – and only one other lawyer!

Above all, the MUBC was the source for all of us of many lasting friendships which we count as one of the enriching legacies of our University days. Indeed, for some of us the Boat Club – and rowing – was, unlikely, as it seems, a place for romance – and even eventually wedlock. So, for example, I met Shirley, my wife to be, at a rowing function.

We are enormously proud of the contribution which this Club has made to men and women’s rowing at all levels, especially the great record of its members at the very exacting level of Olympic and World Championship regattas. It has been a very successful Club over such a long period. This could not have happened without a lot of people – rowers, coxes, coaches and administrators and supporters putting in a great deal of effort, time and loyalty.

For all these reasons, we rejoice that the Club which gave us so much has reached this splendid 150th anniversary. May it continue to flourish and to enrich the lives of many generations to come.


Introduction of Peter Antonie by Rob Stewart, MC

And now, to propose the toast to the club it is my pleasure to call upon a man whose rowing career with the club already spans more than 30 years (and whom I would back to still be rowing for the club on our 200th anniversary); the only person to have won the President’s Cup for single sculls, the Penrith Cup for lightweight fours and the Kings Cup for eights; an Olympic and World Championship gold medallist in an international rowing career spanning 24 years; the first Australian to be awarded the FISA Thomas Keller Medal for outstanding contribution to rowing; the person who really needs no introduction; our President and ‘our living treasure’; Peter Antonie.

Peter Antonie
Peter Antonie
President MUBC
Speech by Peter Antonie

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