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Nambucca Heads Surf Lifesaving Club rowers to reunite for 110th anniversary

(From right) K Morrison, M Davanzo, A Johnson, D Dyer, GJohnson, at the Scotts Head Carnival. The iconic image of surf boat rowers is as Aussie as a meat pie.
(From right) K Morrison, M Davanzo, A Johnson, D Dyer, GJohnson, at the Scotts Head Carnival. The iconic image of surf boat rowers is as Aussie as a meat pie.

Twenty-twenty marks 110 years of the Nambucca Heads Surf Lifesaving Club - one of the very first country clubs, and only five years behind the iconic Bondi SLSC, the oldest in the world.

On March 7, surf boat rowers from the many decades of the Nambucca Club's rich history will congregate at the Surf Club for a reunion to mark the auspicious anniversary.

There are those who say that behind a strong club lies a strong surf boat crew. And it holds true considering all rowers must also keep patrol.

Hundreds of brave souls have picked up an oar for Nambucca since the club's inception.

"They say that you line a group up against a wall and throw rocks at 'em and those who don't duck become surf boat rowers," veteran sweep Garry Johnson said.

And it's true that it takes a special sort of madness to battle breakers in a heavy wooden boat, with nothing but your crew's own grit to power you through.

The first surf boats were made of cedar and took nearly a dozen fit young things to lift them. Manoeuvring them through two-metre swell was quite the feat of strength and skill.

It's no wonder the quintessential image of the bronzed Aussie surf lifesaver with abs that could bend titanium is the one seared into the popular imagination.

Sweep: G Johnson Rowers: G Welsh, R Andrews, I Johnson, A Morrison

Sweep: G Johnson Rowers: G Welsh, R Andrews, I Johnson, A Morrison

Club secretary Chris Stewart remembers his first (and last) encounter with a surf boat. A howling Nor'easter collected his oar which knocked him flat on his back in the boat where he vowed to stay until they found the beach.

"You'll never get me in one of these again," he said. "Call me when they put a motor in!"

Still, Garry said nothing quite beats the camaraderie of a boat crew, nor the feeling of catching a wave: "It feels like you're flying".

Many a Nambucca crew did the sport proud, bringing home a country title, or battling it with the best of the city clubs in the state finals.

Country Titles at Evans Head. Sweep: G Johnson, Rowers: G Welsh, G Knight, I Johnson, A Morrison

Country Titles at Evans Head. Sweep: G Johnson, Rowers: G Welsh, G Knight, I Johnson, A Morrison

"I remember we rowed in the Harbour Marathon in '92 - 96 boats all jostling to get out of Manly together. We ended up coming tenth," Garry said. "We used to be very competitive."

But with no new sweeps flowing through the ranks, the club's crew numbers started to dwindle. And many former rowers have since scattered across state lines.

A committee decided it was high time to rally the troops.

The reunion will officially start from 3pm, with finger foods and a bar at the function. And there'll be plenty of tales to tell to keep people entertained.

But more events are also being planned across the weekend, including a reception at the Golden Sands on Friday evening courtesy of former rower John Partridge. There's also likely to be a barbecue breakfast at the surf club on Saturday morning before the reunion later that afternoon.

Sweep: G Johnson, Rowers: D Dyer, A Johnson, M Davanzo, K Morrison

Sweep: G Johnson, Rowers: D Dyer, A Johnson, M Davanzo, K Morrison

The date was chosen after consultation with Bluey McKay who'll be making the pilgrimage from Cape York.

But over 90 people from far and wide are already on the list, and with a cut off of 120, it's best to get your name and number in ASAP.

Anyone wishing to attend should email details to Garry Knight at garryrknight@hotmail.com, or call Garry Johnson on 0407 007-694 for more details.

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