Riverfront revival continues as Murray Bridge Regional Rowing Centre opens

Olympian James McRae has helped the local rowing club open its $2.5 million home base at Sturt Reserve.

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A long wait has ended for Murray Bridge Rowing Club with the opening of the city’s new regional rowing centre on Friday night.

More than 20 years of dreaming and planning went into the project, which was celebrated with a cocktail party for invited guests on the night before the Murray Bridge Rowing Regatta.

Among those present were MPs and civic leaders, top brass from Rowing SA and the South Australian Sports Institute and local Olympic medallist James McRae.

The new facility features a five-bay boat shed, a bar, a balcony for race judges and a pontoon which makes it far easier to get boats into the River Murray.

Two of the shed’s bays will be used by the local club and two have so far been leased, generating income for the club from the SA Sports Institute and Pembroke School.

Mr McRae hoped the centre would also encourage more locals to take up rowing.

“What I would like to see happen ... is that the footy players and the netballers and all of those winter sports look at this facility as something they can use over the summer,” he said.

“What I’d like to see is Murray Bridge field some senior eights, men’s and women’s, at state championships and get back to that spirit of ruffling up the city guys – sorry, city clubs, but that’s the way it is.

“Hopefully over the next few years we can start to build that core group of young people to come through and really revitalise the region.”

The new rowing centre had a combination not common among courses around the world, he said: both great facilities and smooth water.

He believed it would eventually attract people from around Australia and the world.

The Seidel clan - Stacey, Georgia, Charlie, Tallulah, Cheryl, Victoria and Wally - attend the opening on Friday night. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Murray Bridge ratepayers contributed a majority of funding for the project – about $1.6 million – while the federal government provided almost $500,000 and the state government $360,000.

Club president Craig Christian thanked everyone who had been involved in the project, from the politicians to the volunteers, committee members and athletes who had “busted their guts” to get the club to this point.

He invited everyone to come and have a look.

“We’d like to see everyone here today come out and become a member, come and have a drink in the new clubrooms,” he said.

“This is for everyone in the town, not just for the rowing club.”

To commemorate the occasion, on behalf of the club, Mr McRae accepted the gift of a McVilly-Pearce pin – rowing’s equivalent of a baggy green test cricketer’s cap – originally awarded to local rower Walter “Bub” Jarvis.

Caroline Bilsborow and Wayne Groom, makers of the documentary Paris or the Bush, take a look at a new memorial to the Murray Cods. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Spirit of the 1924 Murray Cods lives on

Also unveiled on Friday night was a nearby monument to the Murray Cods.

The legendary 1924 Olympians overcame astounding odds to represent Australia in Paris, and their exploits had previously been celebrated in the 2016 documentary film Paris or the Bush.

The monument features eight steel oars and pillars bearing photos of each of the eight rowers, plus cox Bob Cummings.

Mayor Brenton Lewis said the Cods had achieved amazing things, especially considering the war, poverty, and prejudice they had overcome.

“The college teams, the university teams, the well funded teams that normally won events easily found this raggedy-taggedy crew that just came out of nowhere and found it really hard to beat them,” he said.

“To me, personally, (their story) epitomises Murray Bridge.

“It’s still a working-class community, and proud of it; these guys were working-class people who fought against all odds.”

Federal MP Tony Pasin described it as “Australia’s Chariots of Fire story”, and one that needed to be celebrated.

No time to waste – centre's first regatta came on Saturday

Almost 1000 rowers, volunteers and officials descended on Sturt Reserve the next day for the annual Murray Bridge Rowing Regatta.

Spectators had been barred from the event by SA Health decree in the days beforehand.

Seventy-six races were contested, including a three-mile eights event which was won by Riverside Rowing Club.