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Rowing sheds in Southbank

Rowing sheds in Southbank

Rowing sheds in Southbank By Robin Grow - President, Australian Art Deco & Modernism Society The sport of rowing has always been prominent in Victoria, particularly in Melbourne, located as it is on two rivers. It seemed that every town in Victoria that was near a river or lake boasted its own rowing club. They all loved to compete, but the fiercest competition was between the Associated Public Schools, who competed annually for the “Head of the River” trophy on the Yarra since the 1860s. Competition between Australian universities has also been important. The interest in the sport has been maintained up to Olympic level, dating from the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. During the 19th century rowing on Melbourne rivers could be hazardous, due to rubbish discharged from factories and tanneries into the river. Rowers on the Yarra recalled that they knew the days when Allen’s Sweets factory was producing Steam Rollers because the river would be covered in a white residue! But rowing needs places to store boats and equipment. Southbank boasts a number of rowing sheds, nestled on the Yarra just to the east of Princes Bridge, originally constructed for prominent clubs such as Banks, Mercantile and Melbourne Grammar School (MGS). In 1951 a ferocious fire destroyed the existing timber MGS shed that dated from 1920 (the Simon Fraser Memorial Boat House) and which in turn had replaced a previous boatshed. They lost their entire fleet (eight “eights” and eight “fours” and dozens of oars). What caused it? An electrical fault? Or the work of a “crank” who had recently tried to set fire to other clubs. Nothing was ever proven. The replacement shed (also containing a gymnasium) turned out to be a mid-century architectural standout. It was designed by the emerging firm of Mockridge, Stahle and Mitchell, who had attended the school. Erected in 1953 the new shed was a relatively simple design that consisted of a steel frame, finished with precast slabs (which were dry, demountable and vandal proof) with quartz-chip faces that clipped onto the frame. Beneath the hipped roof, a balcony looked out over the river and three doors allowed boats to be moved easily. Not surprisingly it had special precautions against the risk of fire! (The firm then went on to design the Bromby building at the school’s premises in South Yarra, but that’s a story for another time!) •

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