Western Australia’s Margaret River Rowing Club was established in 1976 on the Margaret River but in 2011 the club was destroyed by bushfires that devastated the area and wiped out not only the club but a number of heritage buildings in the area and an estimated 50 homes in the district of Prevelly.
Club President Ross Lonnie explained to Rowing Australia what happened: “The club used to hold an annual regatta every Australia Day, capsule where teams would come from Albany, Bunbury and Collie and we would organise races where they would have to race for the right to challenge us as MRRC for the Head of the River. We used to have old tub pairs, and rowing boats, canoes and the like since we’re so close to the river mouth.
“The club room and shed was built by the locals, and designed by Tom Roberts. We built the original club out of strong Jarrah wood and we had some peaks and troughs in membership but with the addition of some paddlers to the group, it was rising again as we came into 2011 ahead of the fire.
“At the start of the fire season the Government decided to do a ‘controlled burn’ against the direction of the communities and it led to the worse fire we ever had. The fire crossed the northern side of the Margaret River and embers came across the river and burnt us to the ground. All that was left was half a dozen sheets of tin, we lost everything, boats and all.”
During this grim time, the members made the decision to sue the government for negligence over the fire. Three years down the line, the WA Government settled with MRRC and they were able to invest their settlement into rebuilding the club that had been destroyed and purchasing new rowing boats, canoes and stand-up paddle-boards.
“We started all over again, with the building having to be in the footstep of the old building for indigenous heritage reasons and we used Tom Roberts’ old design to rebuild the club house. And we now have a great new club room, a couple of paddle-boards, 12 canoes and three magnificent new quad pairs and three Yole boats for recreational rowing.
“We’re very excited about the reopening tomorrow, with past and present rowers coming to join us and it’s just a very exciting time for the club. When the fire struck we had 80 members on the books and we’re already on our way quickly back to that number which is very encouraging especially as we haven’t been rowing at all in four years,” added Lonnie.
Margaret River Rowing Club is due to have its official reopening on Saturday 28 November and Rowing Australia, along with all its members, wish the club the very best of luck as it rises out of the ashes.
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