Ray Fanning of Grafton and Les Essex of Maclean were talking over old times while celebrating at the Grafton Rowing Club’s 130th birthday celebrations on Saturday.
Ray Fanning of Grafton and Les Essex of Maclean were talking over old times while celebrating at the Grafton Rowing Club’s 130th birthday celebrations on Saturday. Debrah Novak

Rowing club celebrates 130 years

WHILE some of the future champions of rowing had the right idea by jumping into the Clarence to beat the humid afternoon heat that unforgivingly soared into the high 30s on Saturday, about 160 past and present champs, members and supporters of the Grafton Rowing Club kept their cool by taking shelter in the clubhouse to catch up and celebrate the organisation's 130th anniversary.

Guests travelled from as far as Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Port Macquarie to join the local brigade that boasted some of the Clarence's finest oarsmen and women.

Ray Fanning, described as the "best single oarsman in Australia" by one of his mates at the event, was fairly coy about the accolades but was proud to say he did teach fellow champ and Grafton club stalwart Greg Thompson to row.

Fellow rowing identity Peter Perkins also recalled his early days with the club, joining in 1945 after things picked up again after the war.

"I won my first trophy as a coxswain," he recalled without hesitation.

Family members of club legends also joined in the afternoon of rowing reminiscence.

Eleanor Powell, the daughter of 1930s-40s club legend Percy See, recalled the times when rowing was part of everyday life.

"We used to live on the peninsular so we rowed every day to get across to the Carrs Creek school. Even when it flooded when we were older, dad would row us to Peters Ice-cream Factory and we would walk to Grafton High from there.

"We never missed a day of school," Eleanor said.

Eighty-six-year-old Bill Hough also braved the heat to get together with his old rowing mates from decades past.

"I joined the South Grafton Water Brigade in '54 and was president of the rowing club in '57-'58," Bill recalled.

"I rowed butcher boats and flood boats. There aren't many of the old brigade left now."

Ray Cavanagh, 80, was a keen rower at school, also honing his skills in the butcher boats of the time, while Maclean's Lex Essex travelled up river for the occasion, but on this occasion it was in the comfort of a car.

Despite being one of the Lower River's most famous oarsmen, Lex, who spent five years with the Grafton club when he lived at Swan Creek, had a career that spanned more than four decades out on the Clarence.

"I started rowing at school in 1940 and competed in my last professional race in 1984," Lex recalled.

"He (Lex) was one of the best," the club's oldest current member, Greg Ryan, chipped in. "There are a few of them here today."



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