Grafton Rowing Club History:
Australian Rowing Professional
Flooding Grafton
Early Shipping on the Clarence

Rowing in New South Wales in the 1800s

Rowing is one of the oldest competitive sports in Australia. At least as early as 1805 rowing matches between crews of visiting ships took place on Sydney Harbour.

The Sydney Gazette recorded "The first Australian Regatta" in 1927 with a rowing race for 20 Spanish dollars. Both rowing and sailing were established sports by 1837 when the first Anniversary Regatta was held in Sydney.

Although crew rowing was popular in all colonies, New South Wales was the stronghold of professional sculling throughout the century. An impressive number of world-class scullers emerged along the east coast, most of whom learnt their sport as youngsters rowing the local rivers.

On the Clarence River, for example, roads were few and poor, the bush was thick, and the river wide and suitable for transportation. Most people became adept with an oar. Many lived on the host of islands that dotted the Clarence, and were especially conscious of the need to be able to row.

Children rowed themselves to and from school, while farmers made periodic visits to Grafton for provisions, trips that often took the best part of a week to complete. Deliveries of foodstuffs and other goods were often made by boat—the butcher boats that were so popular in rowing circles on the northern rivers in the early years of the twentieth century were direct descendants of the craft rowed by butchers on their delivery runs. Even funerals took place on the river with the leading boat carrying the coffin.

With such an emphasis upon the river, rowing became a district pastime quite naturally. It was perhaps not surprising that the Clarence became famous for its rowers:

"The famed river Clarence in Eastern Australia,
   Has borne on its bosom, capacious and vast,
   A few foremost scullers, in striking regalia,

   Prize winners all, in days that are past."

Amidst this era of rowing popularity, the Grafton Rowing Club was established in 1882, making it one of the oldest rowing clubs in Australia.