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Lake Barrington – a place for all the world to see

Former Rowing Australia CEO, David Schier, shares his recollection of securing the 1990 World Rowing Championships

As we wrap up our celebration of 30 years since the 1990 World Rowing Championships were held at Lake Barrington, in Tasmania, we thought it only appropriate to share an interview with one of the people instrumental in getting the event to Australia, former RA CEO, David Schier.

Schier was a late arrival into rowing, in relative terms, beginning his love affair with the sport at the age of 24 at the Tasmanian University Boat Club before falling into the role as Chair of a Lake Barrington Development Committee after graduating university.

“I always thought if I could do something to improve the facilities for rowing and make it really good for the athletes then I would. Once I finished rowing with University and Franklin Rowing Club, on the Huon, I moved to Burnie to practice the law. I then got invited to a meeting in Devonport with three rowing clubs and it was a bit of a set-up. They wanted to develop a rowing facility for themselves on the north-west coast but they didn’t have anybody who could lead the plans and as they went around the room to get a Lake Barrington Development Committee going, I was the final one being offered a position – which was Chair!”

The Development Committee then had to work on securing funding and then ultimately a World Championships. “We had a lot competition to get funding to get the Lake Barrington Development up and running. We ran a vigorous public campaign and got the support of the then Liberal Government and more importantly, the Sports Minister, Brendan Lyons, who was extremely supportive. When we secured the funding we then got on with things like infrastructure, putting in a road to the lake and getting it to a standard for competition.”

But it was a breakfast meeting with the then Premier, Robin Gray, that led to Tasmania actually even contemplating a bid for the World Championships. Schier explains, “The Premier said to me during this breakfast meeting, ‘What are the chances of getting a World event to Tasmania with this development?’. I said to him it could be possible, but it wouldn’t be easy, only New Zealand had hosted the Worlds this side of the hemisphere and that was back in 1978 – which has been a great success. I told him I would do my best.

“I had a good relationship with the late Don Rowlands from New Zealand, a man involved in the sport only to benefit the rowers. When we began developing Barrington from 1982 onwards, Rowlands would come over regularly and he gave me invaluable counsel in what to do – and he suggested he broached the topic with the then FISA President Thomas Keller, a man who believed strongly in the universality of the sport and providing competition locations that weren’t just in Europe (having seen the success of New Zealand’s event in 1978).

“So I said to Don, ‘Do you think we could get Keller to come to our Nationals (in 1984)?’, and he said, ‘Why not ask?’ So we sent a Telex off to him and got one back saying he’d be delighted to attend as he happened to be in Singapore for work at the time and would travel down after.”

It was Keller witnessing an Australian National Championships, and the King’s Cup, in Tasmania that helped Schier and his counterparts to secure the event.

“The thing that he was most impressed with, not just the venue which reminded him of Lucerne, we had the ABC televising the event in those days and he had never seen the sport televised from a helicopter. We put him up there for the King’s Cup and he took all this video back to Europe and told his FISA colleagues to learn from us! He told us he was really impressed with our volunteers and it was a tremendous regatta, and we made a great impression on him.

“At the end of the regatta, we were having a glass of cognac and he was swirling it around and I asked him what are the chances of us getting a World Championships event here? And to my utter astonishment he put his cigar out in the cognac and said, ‘David – this is a place for all the world to see’. So that was the beginning of the bid.”

Lake Barrington from the skies as Thommi Keller saw it

In 1985, the Australian Rowing Council (as Rowing Australia was then known) sent a delegation of John Boultbee, John Coates, Ian Dickinson, David Schier and also the then Tasmanian Minister for Sport, Brendan Lyons, to Rome to put in a bid for the 1990 World Rowing Championships and, with Keller’s support, the Worlds were allocated to Lake Barrington.

“Thommi was really happy to take rowing from Europe to this far flung place of Tasmania. Bringing the world to Australia I think has further engendered a lot of respect for Australian and New Zealand rowers who travel so regularly to Europe to compete. But the event also led to changes in the sponsorship space too,” admitted Schier.

“The credit squeeze in 1987 made it hard for us to get sponsorship for the event, but to get that we had to offer naming rights, which FISA had never allowed. We had to put in a submission to Thommi and FISA, for a West German company called FAG to sponsor the event. Never one to mince his words, when I spoke to him in 1988 at the Olympics, he said ‘Well David, if we do not change, we die in beauty,’ and the sport has never looked back at offering naming rights for its events.”

Schier reflects that while the event bought great benefit to Tasmania, it also helped with the facilities development of rowing across Australia and changes in the selection process too.

“Hosting the event in Australia saw us support changes and give advice to venues across Australia for rowing. We also changed our selection processes, so that rowers from around the country, and coaches for that matter, could aspire to selection into the team. We saw rowers from Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia selected into teams that had previously been dominated by Melburnians and Sydney-siders, which gave me a lot of satisfaction.”

Reflecting on some of the greatest challenges of hosting the event, Schier said, “The greatest challenge was the financing of the event, but with an excellent organising committee, including the likes of Margot Foster, Chris Brooks and Brian Roe, it ran really well. The committee ran really well, and we definitely didn’t have a challenge of securing volunteers. We were absolutely swamped with them when we made our call out, 600 nominations within two weeks! It was incredible, from across Australia.

“Logistics were also challenging, getting boats into Australia, shipping boats over to Tasmania, but clubs on mainland Australia lent us boats for competitors. Many people had to borrow boats; it was a lot of work from a lot of people but we got there together.”