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History of the Club

by Frank Steuart

This project was started some years ago, when I was asked to write a history of the Association, on the basis that I was one of the surviving founding members, and we were fast running out of them.

Sailing on the Barwon River Estuary has been in existence since the mid 1800’s, well before the bridge was even thought of.  Commercial fishing boats used to moor in the estuary around Ocean Grove, their only source of power being their sails. Later on private sailing boats of all sizes used the river, and even keel-boats used the Connewarre Lakes for racing until it began to silt up

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, with the bridge linking Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove, the fishing boats were restricted to the mouth of the river, using the Big Jetty below the bridge as their base. Smaller sail boats continued to operate further up in the estuary although racing was an ‘ad hoc’ event. Eventually fathers who sailed small boats with sons or daughters as crew thought that races with some basic rules would be a good idea, although no formal organisation was contemplated. As the numbers of boats grew, and the social aspect of families competing with each other came with it, the idea of a Sailing Association started to form.

The Barwon Heads Sailing Association (BHSA) was founded on the 14th January 1968 to organise Mirror Class and Combined Races on the Barwon River. The Annual Subscription (per Boat) was $1.00 and the first officers of the Association were as follows:

  • President – Hector Bourne

  • Vice-President – James Campbell

  • Secretary – Frank Steuart

  • Treasurer – Sylvia Aitken

  • Patron – Oscar Meyer

The first formal race meeting was held on the 29th January 1968, starting from the Ozone Road Jetty, a six mile run up the Barwon River, round a marker and return.  If sufficient enquiries were received, a separate event for other boats was promised.  History does not relate whether there were sufficient “other boats” to justify a separate race.

The germ of a Safari was born some two years earlier, when two Mirror owners, James Campbell and Hector Bourne, decided to sail up the river to Tait's Point in the Connewarre Lakes, have a picnic and return.  Their spouses and other non-sailing types would travel by car to Tait's Point with the food and other goodies.

It was on this trip (so the stories go) that James Campbell rammed a ti-tree stake, part of a fence, which spiked through his hull and held it captive.  James allegedly sawed through the stake (don’t ask me where the saw came from) and sailed the boat home with a towel stuffed in the hole to slow the water intake.  The sawn-off stake was kept as a memento, and the feat it immortalised has been preserved in Serena Steuart's trophy for the Easter Sheepwash Race and other miniature trophies for the same race.

By 1967 other sailing boats were making their appearance on the river, Mirrors being promoted by Rex Fettell, a master from Scotch College, who brought his Mirror down to the Barwon and was the first person seen to carry his Mirror on his back like a tortoise, a habit quickly picked up by other Mirror owners, thereby probably setting off the trail of bad backs which seemed to afflict so many of the former Mirror skippers in later life. As a result of seeing Rex (and his small son) in action, many more skippers started to buy Mirrors and with their eldest child as crew, took to racing.  When the eldest got tired of crewing for dad, or acquired their own boat, the second sibling took over.  By 1967, John Robinson, myself, Ted Orchard, Herbert Lees, Gerry Lewin, Alister Scott, Charles Aitkin, Tom Swan and Margaret Morrison were all the proud owners of Mirrors.

Sylvia Aitkin was, in many ways the organising force behind the formalities in the early days. I was certainly roped in by her as the first Secretary, a position I held until 1973. Formal racing was certainly well under way by 1969, when the turning buoy was set up at almost the entrance to the Lake.  In this year also, we were trying to get the Barwon Heads Park Committee of Management to give us a site for a clubhouse, and our first Constitution was in the course of preparation.

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FELS drives crashboat_edited.jpg
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In late 1969 our Newsletter set out details and a drawing of our proposed Clubhouse as well as dates for the forthcoming December/February sailing season, and a copy of the draft Constitution.

A Newsletter in early 1970 reported on the AGM held on the 15th January 1970, held at the home of Herbert and Margaret Lees, when the following officers were elected:

  • Commodore  – Hector Bourne

  • Vice-Cofnmodore  – James Campbell

  • Rear Commodore – Ron Eilenberg

  • Secretary – Frank Steuart

  • Treasurer – Vacant (No nomination has been received.  The Secretary had been acting as Treasurer)

  • Committee – John Robinson, Herbert Lees, Gerry Lewin, Stu Johnson and Margaret Morrison

As the numbers of parents/members attending the meeting was very poor, a further meeting was called, for the 27th March 1970, in order to fix the subscription so that building a Clubhouse could be financed.  It was felt that there was not a sufficient representation present from those people who would be paying.

At that stage, the proposed subscription was:

  • Family – $10.00

  • Ordinary – $5.00

  • Junior – $2.00

  • Family Life – $100.00


The Barwon Safari in that year had 18 entries, most of them Mirrors, and was held on the 1st of January 1970.

The adjourned meeting in April 1970 was attended by 40 people, who unanimously agreed to adopt a draft Constitution, to build a Clubhouse for the estimated cost of $3000.00 and fix the suggested subscriptions.

The next Newsletter was sent out in November 1970, and detailed the attempts made to obtain a site for the Clubhouse, starting with our original letter to the Park Committee of Management in February 1969.  This rather assumes that there must have been some activity in 1968.  Although many promises were made by various persons on various committees, all came to naught.

Some time later in 1971, Hector Bourne, the Commodore, reported to members that it was unlikely that we would obtain a site for a clubhouse, having regard to the discussions he had recently had with the Lands Department.

At the AGM in 1972, after less than half of  the entrants finished the race due to high winds, Alan Murchison suggested that there should be a “Safari Medallion” for all boats who finished the Safari, and Ron Eilenberg suggested that we should design our own burgee.  Both suggestions were adopted.

The Easter Newsletter of 1973 reported on the Safari held on the 20th January 1973, attracting 31 entries, with 21 Mirrors.  There was also a report of an official sailpast, held in strong winds, when one enterprising skipper, identified only by his Mirror number, endeavoured to formally salute the Commodore by standing in an upright position, and landed in the water right in front of the official party standing on the jetty.

This was the first year that the “Safari medals” were awarded, and which have been a feature of the Safari ever since.  Many boat owners have fixed their medals to their boats, and these look very impressive as a record of the boat's age and successes.

In the absence of a regular Clubhouse on the foreshore, Frank Steuart built a large garage on his own property, where the rescue boat and the Club buoys were housed.  One or two members left their boats and gear there, but this was discouraged due to lack of room.  Eventually Frank needed his garage to store furniture when he sold his Hawthorn house and the boat, motor and buoys were stored in his smaller garage. When this garage was taken over by Kate Brown, the boat was stored at the home of one of the Committee members, although occasionally we have had to resort to hired premises.

The Association was incorporated under the Associations Act, on 27 December 1984 and continues to the present.

In early 2002 we eventually took possession of our own Clubhouse, using the remnants of left-over space from the public toilets erected near the Ozone Road Jetty. Association Members did a lot of refurbishing and painting of the old toilet block, and pay a rental to Barwon Coast.

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