May 2020 News

Above: New senior high performance coach Mike McKay back in 1992 winning gold at 1992 Olympic Games

Provided by your faithful correspondent Trident.

Past news can be found at this link.

News covered this month:

  • Great news – limited return to rowing Sat 16th May
  • New website and member membership system due 1st July
  • Dredging Update
  • Happy 90th James and Garth
  • 1924 Olympic crew documentary – changed screening time
  • Amanda Bateman, a Lifeline Community Custodian
  • Dredging news
  • So what our rowers doing?
  • Ben Dodwell elected to the RA Board
  • Congratulations Noel Donaldson and Doug Donoghue
  • Peppercorn Lawn blocked off until March 2021
  • Mike McKay takes charge
  • Thank you Paul McGann
  • From the vaults – Charlie Cunningham, what a character!


Great news – limited return to rowing on Sat 16th May

Published 15th May 2020

Rowing Victoria has published the linked guidelines which have been adopted in full by the Club. Please read and follow to the letter.

Sculling sessions
High performance group
This must be organized and supervised by a high-performance coach who will advise the Captain so that we ensure that there are no more than 10 people at the Clubhouse at any time.

Club and masters rowers
Any use of the Club must be booked with the Captain The Club has three club sculls available.

Sign in/Sign out procedures
To manage numbers and know who is at the Club, the following additional Mercantile procedure is also implemented:

  • When entering the Club you must sign in scanning the sign in QR code found at the downstairs entry door which will link to a questionnaire on the Google docs which you will need to complete.
  • When leaving the Club you must sign out scanning the sign out QR code found at the downstairs exit door which will link to a questionnaire on the Google docs which you will need to complete.

Safety officers
There must be a safety officer present at all sessions. Safety officer check list.
High performance groups
This will be the coach organizing the session.

Club/masters rowers and private scull users
This will be a person appointed by the Captain and may be you. Please ensure that you understand and follow the RV guidelines fully and use the safety officer checklist.

Other matters

  • Come dressed for rowing and bring in your own pre-filled water bottle.
  • No use of changing rooms (other than to use toilets), gym, kitchen, bar etc.
  • Maintain physical distancing – greater than 1.5m from the next person.
  • No leniency – failure to follow the RV guidelines, the sign in/sign out procedures, booking and safety officer processes will lead to serious disciplinary action.

Get in, train, get out.


New website and member management system due 1st July

Published 15th May 2020

Members are advised that the Club will be introducing a new website and associated membership management system on 1st July. More details will follow shortly.


Dredging works update

Published 12th May 2020

The long awaited dredging works are about to commence, just in time for the reopening of sculling. See attached for the latest details and timings. Please read the changed traffic rules.

In summary the works are planned as follows –

1st week of dredging (18th – 22nd May)

  • A section at the centre of the landing will be open for access and egress by rowing skulls.
  • The downstream end and the upstream end of the VRA landing will be closed and fenced off.
  • Dredging will take place at the downstream end of the landing and progress in an upstream direction.
  • Maintenance work on the landing will be undertaken by Parks Victoria at the upstream end of the landing.

During the remainder of the works (25th May – 10th June)

  • The downstream end of the landing will be open for access as dredging works will have been completed in this area.
  • The section of the landing which is adjacent to the dredging works will be closed and fenced off at all times.The closure will move with the progression of the dredging works from the downstream towards the upstream end of the landing as the dredging advances.
  • Sections of the VRA landing which are at a safe distance to the dredging works will remain open.
  • The closed section of the VRA landing will be clearly marked by being fenced off.


Happy 90th James and Garth

Published 10th May 2020

Two of our distinguished members James Harvey and Garth Manton have reached 90 years of age. Happy birthdays.

James Harvey centre at a President’s luncheon
Garth at a regatta in recent years

They still have many years to go to catch Athur Atkins who is 103 not out!


1924 Olympic crew documentary – changed screening time

Published 7th May 2020

Slight change of time for the screening of this documentary – even your correspondent gets a comment on it.


Amanda Bateman, a Lifeline Community Custodian

Published 6th May 2020

Amanda Bateman has been selected as AIS Lifeline Community Custodians. She is part of a larger group of 22 athletes from various sports who all have a passion about giving back to the community and helping Lifeline reduce the rate of suicide in Australia.  Each have their own story to tell.

The immediate focus for this year’s Custodian cohort will be lending their voices to Lifeline’s first ever National Emergency Appeal which is in direct response to the impact of COVID-19. The campaign ‘You’ve got 30 seconds to save a life’ is  aiming to raise $5million to fill the funding gap caused by cancellation of key fundraising events, storefront closures and an increasing demand for services.

Follow this link to find out more about her work in the prevention of youth suicide in Australia.

Well done Amanda.

Amanda on the podium in the double last year


Dredging News

Published 6th May 2020


Parks Victoria has engaged Victorian Marine Services as the dredging contractor. VMS is a local company who has carried out most of the dredging in the Yarra the last 10 or so years.

The dredging at the VRA landing is scheduled to start on the 18th of May and will be completed by the 10th of June. The start date is dependent on the processing time of a work permit for the works. If the work permit application is processed ahead of schedule the dredging will start earlier but not before the 11th of May. The slight delay in the scheduling of the dredging works is due to that our procurement process took a few weeks longer than expected due to COVID 19 related considerations and issues. Parks Victoria are still on schedule to finish the dredging before the potential winter sculling event in the Yarra on the 13th of June, if that competition will be held.

To ensure the safety of the public and the river users, and to ensure that any Princes Bridge based rowers can access the river (this is subject to COVID-19 restrictions), the following will occur:

1st week of dredging (18th – 22nd May):

  • The downstream end and the upstream end of the VRA landing will be closed and fenced off.
  • Dredging will start at the downstream end of the landing and progress in an upstream direction.
  • Maintenance work on the landing will be undertaken by Parks Victoria at the upstream end.
  • A section at the centre of the landing will be open for access.

During the remainder of the works (25th – 29th May):

  • The downstream end of the landing will be open for access as dredging works will have been completed in this area.
  • The section of the landing in proximity to the dredging works will be closed and fenced off at all times.
  • The closure will move with the progression of the dredging works from the downstream towards the upstream end of the landing as the dredging advances.
  • Sections of the VRA landing which are at a safe distance to the dredging works will remain open.

VMS will install fencing around the landing and put up signs with information about the closure. There will be an exclusion zone on the river around the dredge and the placement area. The exclusion zone will be marked by Water communication Buoys as well as stringline buoys at the upstream and downstream end of the exclusion zone. There will be one way traffic past the exclusion zone with downstream traffic having right of way, this will be clearly communicated with signage.

Parks Victoria are expected to provide an information sheet.


So what are our rowers doing?

Published 5th May 2020

In short, training with social distancing, and not in boats.

So what are they doing?

  • Ergos
  • Cycling
  • Stationary bikes
  • Running
  • Competitions including the Tour de COVID designed by Nick Mitchell and a team event titled Red’s Challenge, designed by Red Matthews. Results from from event can be used in the other.
  • The participants include any Mercs rowers who are planning to row next season to our Olympians, Jess Morrison, Kat Werry, James Rook, Amanda and Katrina Bateman, Gus Widdicombe and Liam Donald.

Red’s Challenge is managed by Red Matthews and he is the holder of the rules. It is run in teams carefully selected to balance out the talent and also has weighted results for running, cycling and ergos. The ‘Draft’ for the teams was witnessed by all on zoom and many were ‘dressed’ for the occasion. There is a different challenge each week. Ergs are done together via zoom to provide the social interaction and coach involvement. All results are published.

Nick Mitchell’s stage reports for the Tour de COVID make for some interesting reading.

In summary, there is plenty of action (and comment) and the Olympian squad members in particular are doing a heavy training load.

Keep up the good work and Go Mercs.


Ben Dodwell elected to the RA Board

Published 5th May 2020

Club member Ben Dodwell was elected to the Rowing Australia Board on the weekend along with Sarah Cook from Sydney University Boat Club. Ben was previously an appointed Director on the RA Board.


Congratulations Noel Donaldson and Doug Donoghue

Published 5th May 2020

Rowing Australia elected four new life members on the weekend, and two of them were Mercs members – Noel Donaldson and Doug Donoghue.

Well done and well deserved.

The other two new life members were Kath Bennett and Nick Green.

Noel Donaldson in 1996

Noel Donaldson, is one of Australia’s most successful Olympic rowing coaches. Under Donaldson’s guidance, Australia’s Men’s Four won gold at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games. In addition, Donaldson coached multiple Australian crews to World Championships success and recently returned from New Zealand to take up the position of Head Rowing Coach at the Victorian Institute of Sport – a role that sees him help develop Australia’s up and coming rowing talent.

Doug Donoghue

Doug Donoghue AM is a former coach and administrator who has dedicated decades of his career to supporting and promoting the sport of rowing. A coach of both Sydney Boys High and Sydney Rowing Club, Donoghue worked for over 20 years at the Australian Olympic Committee and was instrumental during the Sydney 2000 Olympic bid.

Donoghue was a Member of the Venue Advisory Committee of the Sydney International Regatta Centre, while in 1995/6 when the AOC and AIS took over the running of Rowing Australia’s HP Program, Donoghue, alongside fellow RA Life Member, John Boultbee AM, ran the High Performance Commission of Rowing Australia.

He is a former Vice President of the NSW Rowing Association and a previous Member of the NSW Sports Advisory Council. Prior to his role on the AOC’s Executive Board, Donoghue was a rowing commentator for ABC Radio at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games and commentator for Network 10 for rowing and canoeing at Los Angeles 1984 Games and again in Seoul in 1988.


Peppercorn Lawn blocked off until March 2021

Published 5th May 2020

The Metro Tunnel works are taking over the lawn next to Richmond Rowing Club for the next 10 months. For details, follow this link.

The impacted area


Mike McKay takes charge

Published 1st May 2020

Mike McKay receiving his last Olympic medal in 2004

The Club is delighted to announce the appointment of Mike McKay OAM as our senior high performance coach.

As a level 3 coach with excellent relevant academic qualifications, Mike not only brings a strong technical backing to the role, but exceptional leadership, business and management skills that will enable the Club to achieve its high performance goals. He is a committed Mercantile member and we look forward to him starting on 1st June.

The Club undertook a world wide search to find the best candidate. We were fortunate to have a good number of quality local and international applicants from which to choose. It is therefore pleasing that one of our own was assessed as the best and that two of the short listed candidates were Club members. It shows the depth and quality of our Club membership.

Mike is keen to get underway. Mercantile has a proud history of being the most successful Australian rowing club, with more World Champions, Olympians, top coaches and administrators. I’m really excited about returning to my club and working alongside all our male and female athletes, from our current Olympic stars to the next generation of young athletes beginning their journey, in and out of the boat. Mercantile has an important role to play.

Our success and rich history has been built on a culture of excellence, friendship and health. I’ve been the recipient of outstanding coaching and support from Mercantile ever since I first walked through the doors as an 18yr old. We worked hard and rose through the ranks as friends, having fun and winning races along the way.

I’m thrilled to be the current guardian of our culture and the way we do it at Mercantile, whereas in life, ‘Every stroke we take, we take a stroke to win.’

Great news for the Club and our athletes.


Thank you Paul McGann

Published 1st May 2020

Outgoing high performance coach Paul McGann

The Club would like to record it gratitude to Paul McGann who took over the high performance role six months ago to fill the void until the appointment of a new senior high performance coach. We are most appreciative of Paul assisting the Club in this way.

Paul attacked the role with enthusiasm and skill and sadly we did not get to see the results of his and his athletes work with the National Championships cancelled due to the pandemic.

It is through the work of members such as Paul and now Michael, that Mercantile remains such a force in Australian rowing.

Thank you Paul.


From the vaults – Charlie Cunningham – what a character!

Published 1st May 2020

Whilst going into the vaults of the Club, we find some gems. This month we highlight one of the great members of the Club, and what a character.

Major Charles Stuart Cunningham. Born in Hobart circa 1865 and died in Melbourne on 6 Feb 1939.

Charlie Cunningham as Captain – the Club’s second Captain

Charles S Cunningham was the Mercantile Rowing Club’s first inter-colonial representative being the five seat of the winning 1890 Victorian crew. He was also to be an Olympic selector in 1912 and also was a person behind the organisation of the 1919 Peace Regatta.

The obituary in the 1938-39 Mercantile Rowing Club annual report follows:

The passing of C S Cunningham has taken yet another of the men who were responsible for laying for the Mercantile Rowing Club the foundations on which todays successful organisation was built. He was one of the body of enthusiasts, who in 1885, prepared the site of the present boathouse, when it was a swamp. The outstanding personality and ability of Mr Cunningham made it inevitable that he should take a prominent part in the development of the Club. He was a member of the first crew to win a maiden eight for Mercantile, as far back as 1885, and by rowing in other successful crews helped to establish the Club’s prestige in regatta racing. he was Captain of the Club during the years 1889-94. For many years he was a contributor to the “Argus” and “Australasian” and by his shrewd comments and constructive criticism rendered fine service to rowing.

One of the activities which gave him a great deal of satisfaction was his association with the AIF crew, which won the King’s Cup at Henley Royal Regatta in 1919. He did good work in the organisation of the two crews which represented Australia in this historic race. Despite advancing years, Mr Cunningham continued to take an active interest in rowing till the time of his death, and he attended most of the Club’s fixtures in recent years.

So passes another link with early Victorian rowing and the Mercantile Club.

Charles Cunningham seated on the right hand side in a suit with 1912 Olympic crew

C S Cunningham is often referred to in the early part of the Mercantile Rowing Club history.

A nucleus of successful oarsmen had originated from the first winning crews.  ….  C. S. Cunningham and V. F. Mason rose from the first winning Maiden Eight to be among the club’s first successful oarsmen in junior ranks following a win in the Maiden Four (Richmond Regatta 1886), Maiden Pair (Richmond Regatta 1887), Junior Pair (VRA Regatta 1888) and Junior Four at Albert Park in 1888.

And later:

C. S. Cunningham, having taken over from Boyd as captain in 1889, did not win any further races for the club, but had the honour of being the first club member selected to represent the colony of Victoria in the Inter-colonial Eight in the 1890 Season. Cunningham was to gain further distinction in later years when he was appointed one of the three Olympic selectors and accompanied the Australian Eight to the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912.

That was an impressive record. However read the following obituary by his friend R W E Wilmot in the Australasian and yet more is revealed.

MAJOR CHARLES S. CUNNINGHAM, who died after a short illness on Sunday, February 5, was one of the best-known men in the Victorian rowing world for very many years. He was captain of the Mercantile Rowing Club from 1889 to 1894, succeeding W. S. Boyd, who held the position from 1880-1888. He won his first race, the junior pairs, at the Melbourne regatta in 1882 with V. F. Mason as stroke, and the friendship then established remained until his death. He rowed No. 7 in the Victorian crew which won the inter-colonial race on the Parramatta River (N.S.W.) on November 29, 1890. The stroke of that crew was Bob Nicolson, also a close friend.

He was one of that group of rowing enthusiasts led by Sir George Fairbairn, the late Mr. A. R. Blackwood, and Captain W. C. Rivett, who established the Henley-on-Yarra regatta in 1904, on similar lines to the Royal Henley-on-Thames regatta, and he was for very many years one of its officials.

Mr. John Lang, in his history of rowing, “The Victorian Oarsman,” writes:-“In 1897, through the energy of Mr. C. S. Cunningham (“Tingle’ of ‘The Australasian’), the Governor of Victoria, Lord Thomas Brassey, and wealthy men joined with enthusiasm to send a crew to London. Unfortunately the project fell through.” In 1910, he revived the proposal and approached Mr. Guy Nickalls, England’s famous amateur oarsman, with a view to arranging for an Australian crew to compete at Royal Henley-on-Thames. There were many obstacles to overcome, but when Charlie Cunningham took anything in hand he was not easily deterred, He wrote articles in “The Australasian” and never lost an opportunity of pressing his proposal. Eventually he triumphed, and in April, 1912, the first Australian crew sailed from Melbourne. He was one of the organising committee and a selector, and his enthusiasm led to his accompanying the crew to England at his own expense, as assistant coach. Australia won the Grand Challenge Cup at Royal Henley and competed in the Olympic Games regatta at Stockholm, being beaten by the famous Leander Rowing Club crew. He was delighted, for the eight had proved conclusively that the standard of rowing in Australia was as high as he had always thought.

He contributed the rowing notes to “The Australasian” for many years under the pen-name of “Tingle,” and his column was regarded by rowing men all over the world as authoritative and informative. He was a man with strong opinions, and had the courage, at whatever cost, to express them and to provide constructive criticism. A few years ago he contributed a series of articles on famous shipwrecks to “The Argus.”

Charlie Cunningham, who was born in Hobart, joined the staff of “The Argus” when quite a lad, and served his paper in many capacities until he resigned to engage in shorthand work at the Law Courts. His ability as a shorthand writer was so well regarded that judges accepted his notes as correct, and they were recognised as such by the Court. He was specially engaged in many most important arbitrations after the collapse of the land boom, and his promptitude and accuracy earned for him a reputation which was unrivalled. The first big case in which he was so engaged was, I think, the inquiry into the affairs of Trinity College in 1890-91, when there was a revolt of students and an investigation of all the circumstances by a committee of the general assembly of the Anglican Church.

Although aged 50 years, he enlisted for service at the outbreak of the Great War, and served in Sir John Monash’s brigade.

After service in Egypt he suffered a serious illness. When he recovered he was taken on the headquarters staff to organise and administer a postal service for the whole of the A.I.F. On his return to Melbourne he was appointed to establish and control the repatriation system for Victoria. When this work was established he retired and resumed his work at the Law Courts.

In recent years he had confined his activities to business concerns in which he was interested. He was a director of several companies.

Major Cunningham was one of four brothers, Sir Edward, for many years editor of “The Argus,” and Messrs. Robert and Roland Cunningham, well known in musical circles and on the operatic stage in London. He was him self an excellent singer, with a strong, resonant baritone voice, which was frequently heard in the cause of charity and at the Melbourne Savage Club, of which he was one of the earliest members. He was one of that talented company of amateurs which formed the Lyric Club in the early ‘nineties, and produced “The Pirates of Penzance” at the old Bijou Theatre. I fancy he played the part of “The Pirate King.”

Charles Cunningham was one of those men who had a very wide circle of friends, who admired his good fellowship, envied him his great strength, and appreciated his enthusiasm for all that he touched.

His physical strength was remarkable, and I can recall him, as a member of the Young Victorian Patriotic League, gathering round him a number of rowing comrades and quelling a hostile election meeting at East Melbourne. It was in the Trinity schoolroom, and a number of larrikins from Collingwood set themselves out to break up the meeting. The Y.V.P.L. was muscular as well as patriotic, and Charlie Cunningham stood it for a while, and then one by one threw the interjectors out into the night.

On one occasion be engaged in a wrestling competition in a railway carriage which lasted for nearly three hours, while the train travelled from Sale to Warragul. It was one of those old second-class double saloon carriages, with a partition across the centre, about 3ft. 6in. high. He was returning from a regatta at Bairnsdale, and, when a friend entered the carriage at Sale a discussion arose as to strength. A challenge was thrown out and the wrestle began, each trying to put the other over the partition. It ended without result when Warragul was reached for dinner. When the meal had been enjoyed and the journey resumed it was suggested that, the contest should continue, but the competitors had had enough. One of the party, a St. Kilda footballer, anxious to see some more fun taunted C.S.C. with not being game. “Why,” said he, “you could not pull me over.” That was too much for the strong man, and lunging across the partition, he seized his tormentor by the scruff of the neck and with one hand swung him high over the partition. Arms, legs, and curls were in the air as the footballer subsided. He had not realised the strength of his opponent.

In 1912 he rowed an open sculling boat, with sliding seat, from Princes Bridge to Twickenham and back – about six miles-towing a full American bucket with a bridle attached to the outriggers. He was then aged 47 years, and lost 91b. weight during the ordeal, which lasted five hours.

Strong man, oarsman, kindly hearted congenial companion, and excellent raconteur, Charlie Cunningham has gone to his last rest, and there will be many who will miss his cheery greeting and his enthusiastic outlook on life.

What a character. He was one of the golden threads of the fabric of the Club.


Past news can be found through the link.