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The oldest guys on the river

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Rhonda Dredge

The country’s oldest competitive rowing crew was out practicing on the Yarra for their next comp in Geelong and the pictures tell the story.

The crew won the seniors’ eight at Henley in February and their fitness shines through despite an average age of 84.4.

Second oldest rower, at 87, is Derek Wilson, spokesman for the group.

The city’s most picturesque photo setting with its imposing city back drop did well to form a halo of enthusiasm around the rowers.

 

“We practice twice a week 51 weeks a year,” Derek told Southbank News. “Every Tuesday and Thursday we’re out at 8.30am.”

 

That’s up and down the Yarra, through rain and shine, mud and tides, pandemics and no pandemics, between the Bolte Bridge and Dights Falls, taking in 13.5 kilometres of river.

Some were keen to get the eight back into the shed so they could have a break, but Derek was up for a chat.

“It’s an interesting river,” he said of the Yarra. “There are lots of bends and bridges you have to be careful of.”

He said one had to be “extra-careful because the bridges don’t line up. You have to zig zag.”

“There’s one up near Hawthorn where you have six inches either side of the oars to get through. It’s the narrowest bridge in Australia.”

Downstream the bridge in front of the casino is only “six inches above your head”.

But the worst thing about the Yarra is the mud, he said. “What really is difficult about the Yarra is the silt. You have to keep checking the silt.”

He said you can’t step out of your boat because of the mud. “It goes up to your knees.”

Derek has been rowing for 72 years. “I started at 15 when I was at Melbourne Grammar.”

You could talk forever about the poetics of the river, but time waits for no-one.

The guys turned over the 20-metre Jack Bennett and carried it back to the Banks Rowing Club for a well-earned break •

 

Captions: Derek Wilson (right) with coxswain John Mitchell and the Jack Bennett crew after their 13.5-kilometre practice.

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