Toughest row in Australia – and we did it!

Mildura Airport has many wonderful features. An expansive, comfortable departure lounge offering stunning runway views, a wide range of fine dining establishments serving quality deep fried fare, and the finest set of boarding stairs to be offered by a North West Victorian regional airport. Sadly, I do have one slight criticism, and it is slight, but I found the lack of an aeroplane to be a little disappointing.

Fun never stops at Mildura airport

This blog post is a collective effort, compiled by bored and fatigued Richmond rowers (and one Argonaut) anxiously awaiting the arrival of their continuously delayed flight back to Melbourne. In truth the president had a captive pool of potential blog posters imprisoned for the next two hours and we were all too scared to refuse her ‘request’. Ho hum, it passes the time I suppose.
Anyway, in case you haven’t twigged by now, a contingent of RRC have been in Wentworth this weekend taking on the challenge of the Royal Flying Doctor’s 25th Rowathon, and what a challenge it was! Sadly, due to strong currents on the Murray river, this year’s event was constrained to the Darling, but the surrounding scenery was wonderful nonetheless, with almost perfect conditions allowing us to appreciate it. In total we fielded four boats <cough>and even brought a spare<cough>, all coxed quads. The full course comprised two return trips to the (now) famous Bob Hill’s farm, a 20km slog each way. As such rowers were able to nominate their target total distance, either 20km, 40km, 60km or the full 80km. RRC crews opted for a variety, with myself picking off the first and third stages for a total of 40km of rowing. The next bit I can only really describe from my own perspective….
The departure was early. Bacon and eggs were served in the dark, and with first light the boats of nervous rowers began to deploy onto the Darling. Once comfortably on water my crew spotted the cunning practical joke I had set for them. Whilst Alan did debate the possible consequences of rowing 20km with our seats on backwards, the crew eventually decided it would be wise to invest the time to refit them, for the sake of our posteriors. And with the onlookers thoroughly convinced of our professionalism we pulled away from the start, mind half drifting to the pain which lay ahead. Moments later, without anyone having spoken a word, Laurent our coxswain cheerfully declared we had just put 4km behind us. “Really?”, “Lies!’ sounded the crew, but Laurent protested his integrity, and apparently it was true! Things were going much faster than we had anticipated. Perhaps it was the lack of Yarra landmarks? Perhaps it was the current? Regardless, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all? With some “pushes for 10” the next 16km slipped under the hull pretty smoothly and we pulled across the line after a pleasing 1hr35mins on water. Greeting us were the worlds finest scones laced with jam and cream, a smiling Shern and Nic providing a dry change of clothes, and three burrowing chickens that nobody but myself seemed particularly interested in.
Mens crew heading out

All change at this point, with crews swapping out rowers for the return run, whilst those of us not rowing hitched a lift back to Wentworth on the bus. Well I say all change. Some things today would remain impressively constant. Four of the intrepid Richmond women, Sophie, Michelle, Ainsley and Karen, had decided they were going the full distance. Seeing them climb back into the boat after a thoroughly inadequate recovery period I was both full of sympathy and admiration. They rowed off strong with smiles and determination, I settled into my soft, comfortable bus seat to contemplate the next leg. But first lunch.
As is now the tradition Wentworth laid out a wonderful spread for lunch, and whilst munching on our salad sandwiches we were able to give the returning crews some triumphant cheers as they pulled across the line.
One leg done 🙂

By 12:30 it was all back on. I was back in the boat again, this time with Sarah F, Stef & Alan ahead of me, with Dennis H positioned in the coxswain seat. As we got underway Dennis allowed us a moment of relaxation, directing our attention towards a fluffy line of signets tailgating their mother. “Aww…now heads back in the boat, you’ve got 20kms ahead of you!”. And so we pushed on again, a little hotter and a lot more worn down. The distance seemingly took longer to cover this time, but as we entered the last 5km Dennis found his racing spirit. The battle-hardened girls had snuck up onto our tail and Dennis was determined to hold the racing line whilst we could. Successive pushes kept our heads firmly in the boat and the boat speed up. Eventually Kathy (coxing the womens quad) found an opportunity to push past and the chase lessened, but it was great fun whilst it lasted!
Soon we pulled back over the line again with, what I must say, felt like a tidy finish, thanks to some inspiring words from our cox. And that was my days rowing over. A quick bite of cake and we were once again seeing off the returning crews. The womens quad looked tired but never more determined.
Perfect conditions on the Darling River

On the way back to Wentworth I kindly declined the bus drivers offer to visit the River Lock and Fish Ladder (what?!), instead choosing to soak up a bit of late afternoon sunshine on the grass. There wasn’t much time to relax however, as weary crews soon began to appear. One by one we cheered the triumphant crews and, if we’re honest, adding a little more gusto for the Richmond boats. Everybody looked exhausted but proud to have achieved their lofty goals. The highlight of the day was undoubtedly seeing the Richmond Women’s quad pull across the line for the final time, home at last, having put an amazing 80km under their belts over the day. Well done ladies, outstanding effort!
Womens quad looking fresh after 80km

During the evening’s frivolities (apparently a little too frivolous for some officials!) it was announced that the event had raised a whopping total estimating to be approx $40,000 for the great work of the Royal Flying Doctor’s, with $4480 of that coming from sponsorship of Richmond rowers and extra through the skillful bidding of some RRC members at the fundraising auction. Well done guys!
Happy crew completed the challenge

The whole event took an epic amount of organisation, with 34 RRC rowers competing and various extra support crew helping out. Thanks must go to everyone who contributed with organising boats (including a boat loan from Latrobe University Rowing club), co-ordinating trailering with Hawthorn and Melbourne Rowing clubs, finding us some accommodation and generally ensuring we were all where we needed to be when and with the right stuff – never an easy task. Good job all!
Matt Ebbatson