Without the rowers the river might seem silent and lonely, as though something were missing from its rippling surface. Without the river, the rowers would know an entirely different life, devoid of their passion for sculling their way down the river.
Alan Haynes, President of the Footscray City Rowing Club, wouldn’t have it any other way. The rowers’ clubhouse, 20 metres from the edge of the Maribyrnong is his home away from home. He can be found at the clubhouse regularly, maintaining the boats, training young rowers, or enjoying a few stubbies at the club bar with his fellow rowing colleagues.
Alan has been rowing on the river for nearly 30 years. He remembers the days when the abattoirs backed on to the banks, spilling their refuse into the water.
“You’d be rowing along and the water would suddenly be bright red,” he says. “…there would even be part of a carcass in the water now and then. It was shocking!” The horrid pollution of those days has passed, though, and the waters are no longer stained red with gore. “Urbanisation is doing a lot to clean up the river. All the landscaped tracks along the banks have only sprung up recently. People just want the river to look good,” Alan says.
Today, Alan is pleased with the efforts to clean up the river. “It’s cleaner now than any time I can remember. There’s still a way to go, but it’s definitely coming along.”
From 1988 to 1992 Alan was the club captain, and then in 1996 he took over the club presidency. Though his days of competing in regattas and winning state championships may be over, Alan is still training others to follow in his footsteps. Interest in rowing is increasing – Footscray City Rowing Club now has more than 100 members, including Alan’s own daughter. The club has a strong reputation amongst other rowing clubs Australia-wide, and consistently spawns quality athletes.
The club is not only built around competition though. A few of the rowers belong purely for recreational reasons, enjoying a row on the beautiful waters of the Maribyrnong while heightening their physical fitness.
Alan says to anyone interested in joining his club: “Learn to row, enjoy it. If you want to race, we’ll get you there.”
Alan says that some users of the river “don’t respect the river like we do.” With a speed limit of five knots along the stretch of river in front of the clubhouse, Alan is constantly frustrated by hoons who don’t adhere to the limit.
“They come speeding along at thirty-odd knots like bloody idiots.” Perhaps what they fail to realise is the damage their trailing wake can do to the small, slim rowing boats. Alan, who spends enough time repairing the boats as it is, doesn’t need the extra work.
“If we see them speeding along, we call the police straight away.” Aside from the frustrating speedsters, the river is quiet and calm. “It’s a nice river to row on.…I can just sit and watch the river forever.”
To contact the Footscray City Rowing Club phone 0419 519 317 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Story by Damon Ambatzis
Photos by Vin Maskell