The 1957-58 Rowing Season

As a young boy I dreamed about being an Australian International, not in anything particular, not a definite wish, just a vague dream.

In May 1952 I started rowing at Leichhardt Rowing Club.     I enjoyed it so much that I stuck with it and achieved reasonable success.

In March 1957 I was selected to represent New South Wales in the Australian Eight Oar Championship which was held in Brisbane in May 1957 and we finished second.

 At the end of May 1957, at the Leichhardt Rowing Club Annual meeting, I was elected Club Captain.

I thanked the members for their confidence and told them that my priority for the season was the winning of the State Premiership, and that I would do whatever it took to achieve that end.

I was a reasonably competent second grade sculler at that time so I started in the first grade singles races as well as any other possible events to get more premiership points.

Our club senior coach, Eric Longley, approached me and told me that he wanted to select a club eight for the N.S.W. Commonwealth Games Test Race in October and that this crew would only race in eights and in no other boats.

I could see his point, and also the premiership drifting away, but the men he wanted had done good service for the club over the years and deserved the opportunity, so I agreed. 

At that time the club captaincy was a position of great power.   I could have said no and the decision would have been accepted.

He then told me that he wanted me to stroke the crew.   I told him that I felt I had to race in as many events as possible for premiership points so I declined.

The crew won the State Test Race and I was in the winning crew because Neville Clinton was ill on the day and I filled in.

The coach, Eric Longley, then became the State Selector and I was offered a seat in the State crew - again I declined.

I was selected in a club four to contest the State Fours Championship over 2000 metres in December.

On the same day the State Singles over 2000 metres was run and I won both events, the first time in the history of N.S.W. rowing that this had been done.

I was then selected in the club crew to contest the State Three Mile Championship in February 1958 on the same day as the Three Mile Single Sculls.

I protested this selection as it was one thing to contest two 2000 metre events, quite another to contest two three milers (5000 metres).

I was told -  "Remember that you said you would do whatever it took?  This is what it takes; we don't have anybody else with enough experience to row three miles." 

I was hoist on my own petard,so, against my better instincts, I did, and we won both events.

Only the second time in the history of N.S.W. rowing that this had been done.

The State eight trained on, and Peter Evatt injured his back, I was offered the seat and again declined.

The crew then went to Ballarat, won the Australian Test Race, and became the Australian eight for the 1958 Commonwealth Games.

One of the crew, John Gray, then developed appendicitis and had to withdraw. I was offered the seat and, very reluctantly, I declined.

Peter Evatt recovered from his back injury and we combined to win the State Doubles Championship in March 1958.

The winning of the StateThree Mile Singles made me the State sculler for the Australian Championship at Penrith in May 1958, and I won this event by five lengths.

However this win did not gain me selection in the Games team as the Australian sculler.

The Olympic Silver Medalist in 1956, Stewart MacKenzie, had already been selected and I knew of this beforehand so it didn't bother me.

For me, the end of a very successful season, I thought.

The club had won the premiership, we had eight of our members on the Commonwealth Games Team, eleven of our members had achieved State representation.   I, personally, had won five State and one Australian Championship and I had reason to feel that we, as a club, had completed a very successful season.

On the Monday night after the Australian Singles I was in my father's shop helping out with my elder brother , when the phone rang.

It was Harold Alderson, the President of the Australian Commonwealth Games Federation and he informed me that the bow man of the Australian pair, Jim Chapman, was unable to go to the Games and his partner, Kevyn Webb, wished me to take his place - "ARE YOU AVAILABLE?"

I was shell shocked.  Most of my family were in close proximity to the phone and I just asked my father,  "Dad, can we raise enough money to send me to the Games?" 

(In those days we got very little support from the government and the responsibility for raising funds for any overseas trip fell back on the sport who passed it on to the team members.)

My brother, Frank, yelled out. "YES ! YES! I'll raise the money to get you away."  And he did.

My vague dream had become reality.

So I went and we won the bronze medal on Lake Padarn, North Wales, on 22-7-1958.

I haven't counted the words in this story but I have tried to keep it as short as possible, I could elaborate on it quite a bit since the bare facts lose a lot of the drama that was part of it.

My mother was a Scot, born in Kilsyth, so I took the opportunity to visit her family after the Games.

My father was an American, born in Cincinnati, so I took the opportunity to visit his family on the way back.

- Steve Roll