|History of AUBC|
Historical overview of the Adelaide University Boat Club
The Adelaide University Boat Club was founded on August 4th, 1881, two weeks after the opening of Torrens Lake. It was the second university boat club in Australia; Melbourne’s was founded in 1860 and Sydney’s in 1885 (although Sydney University men had rowed with Sydney Rowing Club as early as 1860, which SUBC claim as their foundation date).
If you had to nominate a “founder” of AUBC, it would undoubtedly be Frederick Halcomb, an early pastoralist in the mid-north and later Clerk of the South Australian parliament. He was not the first captain of AUBC, nor even a founding member, but he is remembered as the father of university rowing in South Australia, as it was he who established the club in its early years. He was captain (the equivalent of president in the modern club structure) for twenty out of the twenty-two years between 1882 and 1904, and was instrumental in arranging the donation of the Oxford and Cambridge Cup with his close friend Edmond Warre (headmaster of Eton), in 1893.
There is no firm evidence which of the three original clubs can be credited with the instigation of the Intervarsity tradition, and the opinions of various historians are invariably closely correlated with their colonial allegiance. However, a matter about which there can be no dispute is that it was Adelaide University rowing men who sent the original challenge to Melbourne University on Australia Day, 1888 – the centenary of the First Fleet landing – for an eight-oared race over three miles on the Yarra River. Within three years, all three universities had achieved a win. Adelaide held a particular distinction in 1896, being coached to victory by the as-yet little-known Steve Fairbairn.
In 1909, AUBC moved from its original shed where Torrens Rowing Club now stands to its present site to the northwest of the University footbridge. The new boatshed was funded by a £750 donation from Robert Barr-Smith, one of the largest single gifts the boat club has ever received.
After World War I, the Intervarsity competition was expanded to include additional Australian universities. Queensland first competed in 1920, Tasmania in 1924, and Western Australia took the cup home in their debut race in 1927, which was also the first year that all six Antipodean universities had been represented. In the 1950s and ‘60s, many of the newer universities gained entry, with a record 11 entrants at Ballarat in 1969 (also the year the competition switched from three miles to 2000m).
Rowing was suspended during both world wars, although some competitions were still held as part of “patriotic” events. Although AUBC quickly recovered following World War I, the recovery after World War II took much longer. South Australian rowing was left behind by the eastern states in the 1950s, as newer techniques developed overseas were unknown in relatively isolated ‘50s Adelaide. During the 1960s, a succession of skilled Victorian coaches defected to AUBC resulting in a renaissance of South Australian rowing. The ageing clubrooms underwent a major renovation in 1963.
1966 saw the introduction of “composite” crews in South Australian rowing – crews made up of members of more than one club. This was done mainly for the benefit of the less successful clubs – Adelaide University was a dominant force in SA rowing at the time – but in practice the composite crews, with no club allegiance, took the best rowers from wherever they could find them, which usually included AUBC. This started a long period of acrimony toward rowing officialdom, somewhat mirrored by a similar issue upon the founding of the South Australian Sports Institute in 1989.
AUBC was something of a men’s club in the 1960s and ‘70s, and as such came rather late to women’s rowing. In 1975, amid heated argument, the committee allowed women limited use of rowing equipment, but not admission to the club. Two separate clubs – AUBC and AUBCW – operated out of the same premises until sensibly amalgamating in 1979. The first female captain of the club, Frances Adamson, oversaw the first women’s eight to compete at IV in 1985. The Adelaide Uni women were the most successful in Australia during the 1990s, winning the women’s eight at IV in 1992, ’93, ’96 and ’98.
The Alan Ramsay course at West Lakes had been completed in 1977, but it was not until 1994 that the regatta centre was completed. AUBC leased a bay in the centre, and West Lakes became the Club’s second home. AUBC has also leased space in sheds at Port Adelaide, Murray Bridge and Mannum at various points throughout history.
The first decade of the new millennium saw increased co-operation between SASI and club rowers, and a subsequent spate of victories. The Men’s Eight won Intervarsity in 2009 and 2010, breaking a 30 year drought. A half-million dollar renovation of the Torrens clubrooms, rededicated the “Barr Smith Boatshed” in honour of the original donor, was completed in December 2010. Funded jointly by the University and the Vice Presidents of the club, it gives the Adelaide University Boat Club one of the finest rowing facilities in Australia and leaves the club as strong as it has ever been.
Contributing to the Club History