Five gleaming boats lay in a row against the stunning backdrop of the Canning River. Suspended above each on a tripod made from oars was a bottle of champagne, the winter wind swinging it back and forth as the boats awaited their crowning moment.
Not many people associate Aboriginal people with the sport of rowing, and that’s not surprising considering only one tenth of one per cent of rowers in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
This could soon change thanks to the Row AHEAD program between Curtin University Boat Club (CUBC), Curtin AHEAD and Clontarf College, which utilises the sport of rowing to support Aboriginal students. Since Row AHEAD began in 2014, 20 Clontarf students have completed the program with 16 forming the first Indigenous crew in Australia to take part in a state regatta.
In support of the initiative, Curtin AHEAD has donated four new boats – three single sculls and one eight, which were named alongside a double in a ceremony at CUBC on 19 June.
The event, which was attended by members of the legislative assembly, the Mayor of South Perth Sue Doherty, and the President of Rowing WA David Rose as well as members of Curtin University, Clontarf Aboriginal College and the wider rowing community, marked the significant partnership between Curtin AHEAD and CUBC in delivering an innovative educational outreach initiative.
Chancellor Colin Beckett, Chair of the Clontarf board The Hon Ben Wyatt, MLA, and Founder of CUBC Con Stacey, blessed the boats with traditional verse and the breaking of the champagne bottles.
The single sculls were aptly named in the Nyungar language: Widjin (a black cormorant that flocks on the river), Moordidjabiny (becoming strong) and Kwadjet Koorl (moving forward) to acknowledge the traditions of the boat club, the values of the Row AHEAD program and the Curtin University motto respectively.
As each boat was named, the champagne bottle was struck on the neck with a hammer, causing its contents to explode in an effervescent cloud, amid cheers and applause from the crowd.
The eight was named in honour of CUBC’s current President Cameron Thorn and the double after life member George Panorios (dec.), emphasising the long and proud history of the club.
CUBC has a strong community focus and embraces all sectors of society. It was the first rowing club in WA to allow women to become full members and has coached visually impaired people to racing level.
Through the Row AHEAD program, Aboriginal students in years 10-12 participate in rowing training sessions with CUBC over a twelve-week period with the aim of competing in state regattas. They learn correct rowing techniques, train in crews of four or eight and learn how to race in both sweep and scull boats.
The students are encouraged to enter the Rowing WA All Schools’ Competition and the Clontarf to Curtin Rowing Regatta. There is also an educational component, which positions the program within Curtin AHEAD’s remit to develop and run educational outreach programs.
Curtin University Chancellor Colin Beckett said the Row AHEAD program is not only inspiring, but also makes rowing more accessible to all Australians.
“It’s a really great sport. It teaches character, it teaches teamwork, and it’s a lot of fun as well,” says Colin.
“John Curtin made the comment that the university is ever looking forward, or looking ahead and I think that is all part of the program we are working on here.
“Rowing has been associated traditionally with elite schools. That’s something this program is seeking to address, making rowing more available to more Australians,” he says.
President of CUBC Cameron Thorn said the club was proud to support the Row AHEAD program and shares its strong emphasis on community support.
“We support the ongoing sustainability of the Row AHEAD program and the boats donated by Curtin AHEAD. We see the Row AHEAD program as an important part of our identity, and supporting the local community,” says Cameron.
“A person could not be more proud of what the Clontarf students have achieved for themselves.”