ACT News


Coaching them to the line


With, of course, no room for him in the boat (except in spirit) Telopea Park High School rowing coach Nigel Murray-Harvey floats, God-like, in an inset in this 1968-1969 photograph of one of his racing crews. The posed boys are bobbing on the waters of Lake Burley Griffin. This Saturday, with Murray-Harvey present (he lives in Adelaide now) he and his pioneering and inspirational contributions to rowing here will be honoured when the Black Mountain Rowing Club names a racing eight vessel after him.

More of this in a moment but first this lovely tale of plucky ingenuity, found and told by club historian Vincent McMahon.

Of course no one who takes to the lake in the good shell ''Nigel Murray-Harvey'' will ever have to worry about colliding with water skiiers. They've never had a fair share of use of the lake, thanks to officialdom's desire to keep the lake platypus-protectingly sepulchre-quiet and so without heathen power boats. But once upon a time, when the lake was brand new, water skiiers dared to dream.

In their eagerness ''The first water skiers appeared on the Lake on 16 May, 1964,'' McMahon reports. The lake was yet to be officially opened (Sir Robert Menzies did that on October 17) but on April 29 the lake at last reached its planned depth. Scarcely a fortnight later the water skiiers made their intrepid debut.

''[But] they had to overcome one minor obstacle,'' McMahon relates.

''They could not use a power boat on the lake. Improvising, two 40-feet ropes were tied to the back of utility which then accelerated to around 30 miles per hour, following the lake wall for about a mile and ending in the boat harbour before starting the process again.''


On September 20, 1963, Scrivener Dam was slammed shut and the hitherto footloose and fancy free Molonglo had nowhere to go and had to have a change of career and become a lake. Then, with the lake filled in April 1964, all sorts of water-mad clubs and societies blossomed and one of them was the original Telopea Park High School Rowing Club. It was founded in lake-welcoming 1964 and today's Black Mountain Rowing Club evolved from it but then took on its present name and identity in 1999. The club still uses rowing uniforms and oars of Waratah (Telopea) Red. Nigel Murray-Harvey was an arts teacher at Telopea as well as being the school's rowing coach and coached Telopea's winning Eight in the first Head of the Lake Regatta in 1966.

From there Murray-Harvey went on, long-time club member Peter Wright explains, to be ''inspirational'' in Canberra rowing over many years. Wright says that ''today rowing is huge in Canberra'' and that Murray-Harvey's contribution to that hugeness has been immeasurable. Wright says that his crew in our photograph ''was probably Nigel's fastest crew … they won the ACT Head of the Lake in 1970.''

McMahon's entertaining history mentions the feverish first reactions of naive Canberrans to receiving the gift of the lake. ''The lake looked like one great big playground to a land-locked community. There was little understanding of the danger it posed, both in terms of the potential for hypothermia and the potential for calm lake conditions to turn ugly quickly. On the weekend the lake was opened to the public, police and others were kept busy. There were rescues of two children from a submerged canoe, three adults and a child from a capsized sailing boat, two youths in a rowing boat, the crew of a de-masted sailing boat; and of children on wooden rafts, leaking tin canoes and tin drums.''

Saturday's boat-naming event is at 9.30am at the club boatshed on Black Mountain Peninsula off Lady Denman Drive.

Mystery of Woden's past beauty queen

The warm and festive tentacles of the giant squid of our centenary celebrations are reaching into all sorts of not-normally-festive Canberra nooks and crannies.

So for example Westfield Woden Plaza, opened on September 18, 1972 by prime minister William McMahon, (was this the peak achievement of his forgettable prime ministership?) is marking the centenary with an exhibition of sometimes quirky plaza-centric old photographs.

With Westfield's kind co-operation, we will be reproducing some of them here, including, any day now, photos of things no longer seen in Canberra shopping malls including (from the days when shopping was much more fun) a dry, indoor ski slope and tag team pro wrestling matches.

Meanwhile here, in this column which has had a bit of a beauty contest theme lately (the Lady of the Lake tournaments of the 1970s) is a vision of blonde loveliness being crowned as Miss Woden Plaza. For the moment, this picture is a mystery in that the plaza people can't yet find any information about when the event happened or who the damsel is. And so, especially if this Miss Woden Plaza was you, please, please let us know.

We can be sure that the man crowning her isn't Billy McMahon (for he, quite small, bald and garden gnomish, was of a very distinctive appearance) but it may very well be minister for the capital territory Kep Enderby who as we know put the 1973 Lady of the Lake sash around the bare shoulders of the bikini-clad winner.