Robert Aitken MBE

Above: stroking the winning 1952 Victorian crew

1950 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship emergency

1951 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship stroke – Second

1952 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship stroke – First

1953 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship stroke – First

1954 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship selector

1955 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship selector

1956 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship coach – First

1956 – Olympic Games – Men’s Eight coach and sole selector – Bronze

1957 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship selector

1958 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship coach – First

1958 – British Empire & Commonwealth Games – Grading committee

1959 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship coach – Second

1959-64 – Councillor for Victoria on Australian Amateur Rowing Council

1960 – Interstate Men’s Eight Championship coach – Third

1961-64 – Scotch College first crew coach including a win in 1963

1962 – President Australian Amateur Rowing Council

1962 – Empire Games – Chairman of the technical committee

1964 – Olympic Games – Grading Committee and Jury Member

1966 – World Championships – Grading & Selection Committee

1966 – Inaugural Chairman of the VRA Officials Panel

1967 – North American Championships & Canadian Centennial Regatta – Selection Committee

1967 – Life member Mercantile Rowing Club

1968 – Olympic Games – Grading & Selection Committee

1970 – World Championships – Grading & Selection Committee

1971 – Inaugural Chairman of the Rowing Australia Officials Panel

1972 – Olympic Games – Grading & Selection Committee

1973 – European Championships & Junior Championships – Grading & Selection Committee

1974-80 – Victorian Rowing Association President

1975-79 – Inaugural Elected President of the Australian Rowing Council

1976 – Olympic Games Grading & Selection Committee

1980 – Life member Victorian Rowing Association

1980 – Co-author of the Mercantile Centenary History.

1982-93 – President Mercantile Rowing Club

1993 – First life member of Rowing Australia

Life long supporter of the Australian Henley Regatta and a regular attendee of the Henley Royal Regatta.

Born 21 July 1922 and died 5 December 2004.


Bob commenced his rowing at Geelong College before undertaking law studies. However he managed to fit in winning the John Lang Cup in the bow seat of the Extra Collegiate crew in April 1941. Bob joined the Army in August 1942 which of course brought rowing well and truly to an end. He served in New Guinea during WWII and was discharged from the Army with the rank of Lieutenant on 17 January 1946. He then joined Mercantile Rowing Club in 1946 and developed into a great rower.


His first race appeared to be a maiden eight at the Barwon Regatta in March 1946 which he stroked but was without success being defeated in the heat. The crew improved when they raced at the Bairnsdale regatta in April 1946 as they were reported to have lost narrowly. Two days later at the Sale regatta, Bob stroked the maiden eight to victory.


The 1946-47 season brought more success for Bob with maiden and junior fours at the Christmas regattas. He stroked the senior eight for two rows without a win but then raced in a winning junior eight at Bairnsdale and Sale regattas and at the State Championships.


In the 1947-48 season, Bob made the transition to senior rowing but Mercantile was to be overshadowed by Corio Bay that season. However Bob continued his Christmas regatta successes this time in the senior fours and he added Open Four wins at the Easter regattas. His love of country regattas was sealed.


The next season saw Bob continue in fine style in the senior ranks with a highlight being a win in the Champion Fours. This crew also won at Henley, Melbourne and Nagambie regattas. However the crew was defeated in the senior four at the other two Christmas regattas. Perhaps the crew enjoyed the wineries too much after their win at Nagambie. The crew redeemed themselves with fine wins at the Easter regattas. Bob showed his coaching abilities coaching abilities with maiden pairs and fours at the Easter regattas. His successes enabled Bob to win the Captain’s trophy for the most success oarsman in the Club.


The 1949-50 season saw Bob break into representative rowing after being named reserve for the Victorian eight. The Mercantile senior eight stroked by Bob finished second in the State Championships to University. Therefore University members comprised the base of the State crew of 1950. However Bob and his senior four again won the Champion Fours and other senior four and eight races.


In 1950-51, Bob stroked the Victorian eight against his old mate Phil Cayzer who stroked the New South Wales. NSW won by a length and gained the right to represent Australia at the 1952 Olympic Games. On the local scene, Bob stroked the Mercantile eight to victory in the Champion eight but he lost the Champion four by one foot to Corio Bay. The changing of the guard from Corio Bay and University to Mercantile was completed. Bob had a successful season with many senior eight and four victories.


The 1951-52 season was a highlight for Bob stroking both the Club and State eights to victory. In so doing the Victorian upset the Olympic eight from NSW. The press called for the NSW crew to be reselected but the coach and selectors stood firm and the NSW crew went onto win a bronze medal in Helsinki. By this stage Bob was also Captain of Mercantile and heavily involved in rowing, coaching and administration. As a result the Club gave Bob the honour of having a racing four named the R R Aitken which was christened by his mother. Bob maintained the office of Captain for five years.


The 1952-53 season was to be Bob’s last as an oarsman and he retired at the peak of his career. The Mercantile crew also won the Grand Challenge Cup at Australian Henley for the third time in a row.


Bob commenced coaching in the 1953-54 season with success particularly in lightweight crews with wins in the Champion Lightweight eight, four and pair. Also he took lightweight crews to Sydney to the Metropolitan regatta to enhance their rowing experience.


In the following season, Bob gained great coaching success with junior crews.


However the 1955-56 season saw Bob take over the senior crews which won the State Championship, Interstate Championship and finally a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.


Thereafter Bob and Norm Cairnes shared the coaching duties at Mercantile and also at the State level for several years.


Bob had a distinguished and successful rowing career as an oarsman, coach, selector and administrator and made a significant contribution to the sport in all these areas. He was a skillful stroke who won the biggest races of his day. He had a good eye for rowing skill, how a boat should travel through the water and a good knowledge of training. He was therefore for many years, a successful school, club, state and national coach and selector. In addition to his deep understanding and knowledge of the sport, he had a considerable intellect, unqualified integrity and impartiality and a great sense responsibility. These qualities made him a respected administrator and of course an obvious choice as President of Rowing Victoria and the first elected President of Rowing Australia. He was also the inaugural Chairman of both the Victorian and Australian umpires’ panels.


It was during his Presidency of Rowing Australia that the sport made significant steps forward in addressing the decline in the international success of Australia rowing. These changes are still benefiting the sport today despite his Presidency finishing over 25 years ago. It is not hard to realize why change occurred when the sport had available to it the significant skills of both Bob Aitken and a young John Coates, the then Honorary Secretary of Rowing Australia. Bob, John and Jim Howden were on the appointment committee of Reinhold Batschi. It was an appointment which initiated the necessary changes to make Australia one the worlds top rowing nations. Reinhold made s a significant change to Australian coaching, training and selection methods which formed the basis of todays successes. The decision required the sport to take a huge leap of faith in it’s ability to pay for such a coach, and also transform the sport from a purely amateur administration with no funds to the beginnings of a professionally run organisation. Bob was heavily involved in persuading a deeply cautious membership base of the benefits. As a person so deeply ingrained with the benefits of amateurism and use of skilled volunteers, he would have understood their reluctance. However without his support, the decision would probably not have been implemented. Bob then dealt with the issues of involved in the successful integration of the rowing associations of the men and women to form the current organisation. This was also completed during his term of Presidency.


However he was never happier than at the Club level where he taught many generations of Mercantilians the joys of rowing, coaching, club administration and most of all club life. He valued the life long friendships gained in rowing.


1956 M8 formal enhanced

Above – the 1956 Olympic Eight coached by Bob Aitken Standing middle of back row)



Return to Members Profiles