Book Launch at Government House

The Governor and Mrs de Kretser hosted a late afternoon reception to launch the 150th anniversary history of the Melbourne University Boat Club, "Well Rowed University", in the State Drawing Room at Government House on Tuesday 25 August 2009.


The Honourable Sir James Gobbo
Former Governor of Victoria
and Lady Gobbo

The Honourable Alex Cernov
Chancellor of The University of Melbourne

Professor Glyn Davis
Vice Chancellor of The University of Melbourne

Mr Peter Antonie
President of the Melbourne University Boat Club

Mr Rob Stewart
Chairman of the Melbourne University Boat Club 150th Committee

Dr Judith Buckrich
Author of “Well Rowed University: Melbourne University Boat Club, The First 150 Years”

Mr Paul McSweeney
Managing Director of Haddington Press

Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen:

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Kulin Nations, and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

It is with great pleasure that my wife Jan and I welcome you to Government House this evening for the launch of “Well Rowed University: Melbourne University Boat Club The First 150th Years”. As you are aware, previous Governors and Government House have both had associations with the Melbourne University Boat Club and the Yarra River respectively. The foreward of this book has been crafted by former Governor and MUBC rower, Sir James Gobbo, and Government House has been happily situated near the Yarra River since 1876. In fact, there is a tunnel that leads from inside Government House towards the banks of the Yarra, although the opening of the river end of the tunnel is no longer identifiable. It’s original purpose is unknown.

When explorers first came to Melbourne from New South Wales in 1803, they were struck by the Yarra River’s beauty and pristine conditions such that it was chosen as the place for the settlement that became this city.

Settlement in this place, now known as Melbourne, followed in 1835 and so too, in true Melbournian style, did the sporting events and clubs. The Melbourne Cricket Club was founded in 1838 and the Melbourne Cup was first raced in 1861. As the beginning of the Gold Rush in 1851 brought people and wealth to Victoria, Martin Howey Irving brought rowing to The University of Melbourne in 1859, just 6 years after the University was founded. In turn, the MUBC introduced rowing to Public Schools in 1868. Attendance of 120,000 at the Henley-on-Yarra Regatta in 1911 certainly suggests that Melbournians enjoyed the rowing carnival, either because they were rowing enthusiasts or the entertainment provided on Houseboats by their friends.

The vigour of the MUBC and Victoria’s obsession with sport has ensured that Irving’s legacy has continued to thrive in schools and Universities throughout Victoria. As one of the oldest sports in the world, it is with great pride that MUBC can claim to be one of the oldest sporting clubs in Australia and also to have contributed its greatest number of oarsmen to an Olympic crew in 2008.

The history and current strength of the Club is a testament to the members and its supporters, who continually produce elite athletes and find ways in which to help the Club thrive in ever changing times.

It is with great pleasure that I launch “Well Rowed University: Melbourne University Boat Club The First 150th Years”, and would now like to introduce Professor Glyn Davis, Vice Chancellor of The University of Melbourne, to speak.

Thank you.


Thank you Governor.

Mrs De Kretser, Chancellor Alex Chernov, Sir James Gobbo:-

It’s my great pleasure to congratulate both the Melbourne University Boat Club and the author, Judith Buckrich, on the outstanding preparation of this 150th anniversary commemorative volume on the club’s history.

Judith has produced a beautiful book which does justice to a club with a unique and distinctive history.

Judith has done much outstanding historical writing, on the history of the Port of Melbourne, the history of Collins Street and the story of St Kilda Road.

In Well Rowed University she has again succeeded in digging beneath a familiar landmark, sifting through its foundation stories and the many episodes of its 150 years of life, and presenting us with a powerful testimonial about why this institution matters.

The book she has produced is a magnificently woven documentary and pictorial account of a unique sporting club whose history has been intertwined with that of the city by the Yarra.

At every stage in the history of Melbourne and Victoria, the University has been a vital contributor to the community’s life, providing education and preparation for the professions and the arts, stimulating public debate, adding new knowledge to the community through research, and enhancing culture through discussion, music, theatre and sport.

This interconnection of university and city is clearly seen in the history of the boat club.

As Sir James Gobbo says in the Foreword, rowing is a defining symbol of Melbourne in the same way sailing is of Sydney.

Boat clubs along the Yarra have been part of Melbourne virtually since Batman decided this could be a good place for a village.

And the University takes pride in the fact that its boat club has been part of the life of the Yarra as the city has grown from Batman’s village to the city it is now.

The book beautifully illustrates and documents that strong and continuing historic relationship.

James Gobbo in 1955
James Gobbo, 1955
Italian Historical Society Collection State Library of Victoria

(And might I say what a fine photograph of James Gobbo that is opposite the Foreword page! The full-page photo shows a very athletic-looking James Gobbo in 1955 about to row for the Oxford team in the annual Oxford v Cambridge race.)

Sport has played a vital role in the University’s history, and no part of the University’s sporting life has been more important than the Boat Club.

As we celebrate 150 years of the Boat Club, it’s sobering to think (as one keen member advises) that the club is older than every single faculty at the University, except for Arts.

Indeed the Boat Club has played a unique role in the internal history of the University, supporting not only a strong culture of rowing, with its many Olympians and its many generations of enthusiastic amateur rowers, but also helping a wide sporting culture to develop on campus.

The Boat Club played a leading hand in founding the University Sports Union and the University Football Club in 1904, and for this, many thousands of students over many years owe the Boat Club a debt of gratitude.

Many of the early Chancellors of the University were also Presidents of the Melbourne University Boat Club, and several of those who have wielded the oars for club have gone on to great things in many different fields.

The club has even produced a recent Dean of Education at the University!

Both Judith and the publishers deserve congratulations on the way they have told the story of the Boat Club through documents, photographs and original text.

The book brings to life so many connections with people, club members and others, of past times.

We can drink in the magnificent reproductions of photographs and line drawings illustrating races that took place a century and more ago.

WE can enjoy outstanding recent sports photography and older handwritten club records immortalized in the elegant personal script of an earlier age.

We can delight in the detail of the stories, and sometimes even be horrified by them.

For example, we learn of memorable incidents like the sinking of the Melbourne boat in the 1896 intervarsity race – and Melbourne’s non-participation in the 1900 race because of “the alarming incidence of the bubonic plague in Sydney.”

Visually there is an extraordinary wealth of history between the covers of this book, and the book itself is a work of art.

The Melbourne University Boat Club cannot quite claim the same high profile as the MCG or Flemington racecourse.

But as this book shows, the club can tell its own story – a story which resonates strongly with the larger histories of the University, and the community of Victoria.

So again, on behalf of the University of Melbourne, I congratulate both Judith and the Melbourne University Boat Club on this fine volume.

In the club’s 150th birthday year, we could have no better record than:

"Well Rowed University: Melbourne University Boat Club – The First 150 Years".


(text to come)