How Epsom Girls Grammar Rowing Club started

This contribution is from a founding member of the Club, Hewitt Harrison who kindly provided the following recollection of the birth of Club.

The birth of rowing at Epsom Girls Grammar School . . . .

Over the 1987/1988 summer three of the senior girls at Epsom spent their time rowing with the Auckland Rowing Club. Quite how they came to be rowing is not known - this occurred quite independently of the school - but their enthusiasm for the sport they had taken up (and maybe for the fact that Auckland Grammar School rowed out of the Auckland Rowing Club boatshed.... ) suggested to them that perhaps EGGS should establish rowing as a school sport.

Over the winter of 1988 they spread the word amongst the girls at the school and in the spring a small group of girls (Teresa Good, Gretchen Harrison, Catriona McGregor, Mandy Phillips, Melanie Phillips, Jane Riley ???) registered their interest and were introduced to the challenge of early morning fitness training at the school gymnasium three mornings a week at 6.15am!! They were soon introduced to the realities of rowing with some – again, early morning – training sessions in a rowing skiff on the Tamaki Estuary, rowing out of the Auckland Rowing Club in ARC equipment. The boat offered was not exactly top racing standard but nobody knew this, and it would not have mattered anyway! Our first coach was Trevor Dix – and what a jewel he was. More about coaches to follow..

Those who have rowed know that the sport is demanding, not just from the actual rowing perspective but also in respect to administration, funding etc. I well recall my daughter Gretchen telling me one day, aged 14, that I would need to rise early the next day to take her to school as she had to be there by 6.15am. When asked why, she responded that she was taking up rowing – totally out of the blue! Being confident that this would not last I reluctantly agreed to this supposedly short term commitment! I was proved wrong in my assumptions and early morning starts quickly became the norm!!

The school, while happy to endorse the sport of rowing as an official school sport, also very quickly made it clear that there were no funds nor administrative support that the school could offer – the best they could do was provide a teacher to be our liaison person within the staff. We were fortunate to be offered the services of the teacher who had volunteered to take the early morning fitness sessions – while she had had no rowing experience she had had plenty of similar involvement with swimming and was very sympathetic to and supportive of the girls needs in this new sport.

The next step, having realised that the girls were quite serious about this sport, was to set up some form of infrastructure to support them. In this we received a lot of guidance and advice from members of the Auckland Rowing Club – who had warmly welcomed the arrival of the EGGS girls. Interestingly, however, their support was also qualified with the clear message that while they would do as much as they could to assist us their resources were limited and that ultimately we would need to become self-supporting! Wow, that meant buying our own boats, oars and all sorts of other associated equipment, none of which made much sense to a group of parents with no know ledge of the sport!

Naturally, in these circumstances it was necessary to establish a parents Committee – being such a small group (about six rowers if memory serves me correctly) parents of all the girls who had become committed to the sport joined together and formed the necessary Committee. Our liaison teacher was also part of this group. This all happened between  August and December 1988! It was definitely a case of the blind leading the blind as nobody within this group had had any experience of rowing at any time previously! Well perhaps not quite the blind leading the blind...

We were fortunate to have the services of a member of the ARC, being also the father of one of the original girls who had rowed with ARC over the 1987/88 season – Tony Callis – who made himself available to offer support and advice. He also through his business activities gave the club opportunities for fundraising ventures. The club’s first boat purchase was a second hand Eight that we purchased from Kings College Rowing Club – as we did not have any money for this purchase at the time Tony and a parent under-wrote the purchase. Tony was invaluable in many ways in assisting in getting the club established. Occasionally, his daughter Susan after leaving EGGS would come down to the club and help with the coaching of the girls and would also sometimes go out for a row with them. If anyone can take credit for the establishment of rowing at EGGS. Tony would qualify!

Our small Committee met regularly and quickly came to understand what was required – a very enthusiastic group of parents who were committed to supporting their daughters were not about to be seen to be failing in any way!

One of our early challenges was organising the first summer coaching camp for the girls – we learnt that this was a traditional part of the rowing season, was generally residential, held over New Year or early January, and held away from the club! With lots of suggestions coming from many directions it soon appeared that our options were in reality quite limited! One of the group of rowers was from a farm adjacent to Lake Whakamaru and we were offered the use of their woolshed for sleeping and the kitchen in the house for catering!! So this was where the club had its first summer training camp. The second year we camped out in the ARC boatshed for a week – this worked well but did not have quite the same ambience or ‘romance’ as a location away from Auckland as far as the girls were concerned! Ultimately we moved the following year to the top end of Lake Karapiro and the Epworth camp complex, utilising this facility for a number of years.

From January through to March 1988 we were to learn that some time was spent travelling to regattas at Rotorua [Blue Lake], Te Awamutu [Lake Ngaroto] and of course at Lake Karapiro. The latter required us to stay overnight naturally, so accommodation had to be organised – another challenge! For our first few years we were privileged to be able to use a small shearers quarters adjacent to the woolshed (well – a 50m walk away) on the Naish’s[?]  (Mrs Naish being an EGGS old girl!) property just north of Tirau on the main highway. The accommodation was basic and the toilets and showers were located in the woolshed so all the girls and coaches, parents etc had a small walk to get to the ablutions facilities! The big plus was that our breakfasts and dinners were all provided by our hostess – I can assure you we ate very well! Subsequently, as the club grew in numbers, we moved to a backpackers lodge just north of Cambridge.

How were the girls doing in this first season, one might ask? Well, we were all novices of course – apart from our main coach Trevor Dix! But, the girls – rowing in Auckland Rowing Club colours until the Head of Harbour regatta – seemed to be competitive through the early season, and then when we moved into the school regattas they did seem to be performing quite creditably! Trevor had some support from Red Williamson, an Auckland Rowing Club Masters rower with an international rowing coaching background and another ARC rower, Clive Williams – both of whom became full time coaches for the club in following years. Then along comes MAADI – the big regatta of the season and the one that all school rowers target for their best row of the year – and we win gold in the Girls U17 Novice Fours! How about that!! Great rejoicing all around – and a very proud group of parents!!

This was appropriately accepted as something quite notable by the school, and rowing was given due recognition and has been respected as a school sport ever since. It was another couple of years before the school agreed to bestow school sports colours for rowing, however!

Naturally, the success in that first season encouraged a larger group of girls to sign up for rowing for the 1989/90 season – and the rest is history as they say!

I think I am correct in saying that within six years of this first season we had become a fully independent rowing club, owning all our own boats, boat trailer, coaching boats, oars etc and even our own towing vehicle (a retired fire engine!) – sufficient to support a club that had grown to 40+ rowers. So, we had heeded the ARC’s early advice to become independent but to this day the club remains based at the Auckland Rowing Club and rows in their colours at all club regattas, switching to the Epsom singlet for the school regattas.

As a footnote – in those early days the school certainly did not have the funds to spare to enable the club to buy boats, either new or second hand, but they did offer some small financial support with later boat purchases. In that first season/year we had spent a lot of time talking with other school rowing groups – who were all very supportive – and from these discussions it became apparent that we needed to establish the rowing club as a separate legal entity in order to retain some independence, as well as giving us the opportunity to apply for funding without having to be constrained by the limitations of education department rules and regulations. So, in 1990 we established the Epsom Girls Grammar School Rowing Club as an incorporated society.

Written by H Harrison