I was introduced to Mr Edmund (Ted) Higgs in a Trove newspaper reference from The Mail (Adelaide) on 19 May 1923. I found my way there thanks to Robin Poke‘s research on Australian rowing between the Wars.
Mr Higgs was interviewed about the successes of the Murray Bridge crew. Asked what was the secret of the crew’s success, he said “I put it down as a combination of practice and theory” and added “the experts will have to watch us more closely before the mystery is solved”.
The story of Murray Bridge’s success over a decade is a great story about coaching and the connection a coach made with crews of rowers.
In 2011, Wayne Groom and Carolyn Bilsborow started to research the story of Murray Bridge Rowing Club as the subject of a documentary of “the great untold story of Australia’s sporting history”. Their research and the documentary were completed in 2016 under the title Paris or the Bush. Wayne noted at the launch of the documentary:
It is the classic Cinderella story of a crew with no money, no boats and no clubhouse versus wealthy, privileged, city teams.
I was particularly interested in Ted’s role in this story.
The Mail article from 1923 had prompted me to reflect on what insights a coach has to transform a group into a team. In 1913 the crew won the national championships by a quarter of a mile in a three-mile race in very difficult conditions with “superior watermanship”.
Ted had learned about rowing on the Mersey River in Tasmania and had steered his first boat at the age of 10. The Mail article provides some detailed information about Ted that is extended in a more recent post by Geoff Smedley (2013).
Ted coached at Murray Bridge for 40 years and was still rowing himself as a 73 year old in 1953. A Standard article from 15 April 1953 reported:
In 1912-13 a club maiden crew won the champion eights of Australia, and then the interstate championship. In 1920, Murray Bridge won the first King’s Cup, rowed in Brisbane. In 1922 in Sydney it won again, and next year in Perth it retained the title. The crowning triumph the same year when it when it won the right to represent Australia at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games.
I thought the documentary Paris or the Bush was a Chariots of Fire story worthy of much wider consideration, particularly in conversations about coaching and coaches’ learning journeys.
I liked the Mail’s description of him:
… he has the far-seeing grey eyes typical of a sportsman accustomed to long distances and accurate judgement.
He talks concisely, yet graphically, like the rower who makes a clean, spectacular stroke.
Ted is pictured below in his club blazer, standing next to the Governor of South Australia.
This video is a very powerful look back at what Ted and his crews achieved. It is a short (2m 26s) video of descendants of the 1924 crew being shown footage of the crew rowing in Ireland in 1924.
The documentary contains the wonderful story of one of the crew members, Wally Pfeiffer and his crew members’ support for him. It shares an ageless story of values and ethical behaviour and is, I think, as relevant today as it was in 1924.
I am just starting my research about him but am already fascinated by his connections with current coaching issues. He understood his sport, developed a training regime to embed his technical insights in muscle memory and set a standard that his contemporary coaches found difficult to overcome.
The Murray Cods (The Murray Valley Standard, 3 March 2014)