Robin Poke’s PhD Submission: A Narrative History of Australian Rowing

Robin Poke holding his PhD Submission

Robing Poke submitted his PhD thesis for examination today at the University of Canberra. It is the culmination of six years assiduous research that is titled A Narrative History of Australian Rowing 1770-2016.

I have been fortunate to be Robin’s primary supervisor.

I believe it to be a magnum opus in the history of rowing. It extends to two volumes and shares some remarkable primary sources to build the narrative.

The abstract is:

This thesis describes in detail the beginnings, development and progress of rowing in Australia through fifteen chapters that set out chronologically how the sport transitioned from the days of settlement, the early watermen, and to the 19th century and the onset of professional sculling. Then came, in the 20th century, the era of pure amateurism before, given the massive funding in contemporary sport, it reverted at the very least to the semi- professional level.

The initial chapters describe the early use of boats by settlers and the exploits of the earliest professional scullers, who captured the imagination not just of the citizens of New South Wales but of all the colonies. Then comes the rapid expansion of rowing and sculling at all levels: club, colonial and national, and the onset of the amateur ideology. The transition from inter-colonial to inter-state competition is described, as is the emergence of women’s rowing. Then comes Australia’s growing involvement at the international level between the two world wars. The retirement of professional sculler Bobby Pearce and the eventual decline of professional sculling are discussed.

A continuing swing away from amateurism towards at least semi-professionalism is seen. Also described is the improvement in the administration of national rowing, at the hands, initially, of John Coates, assisted by John Boultbee. Australia’s first professional Director of Coaching, Reinhold Batschi is introduced.

An extraordinary decade in the history of Australian rowing arrives, during which the sport experiences hitherto unforeseen success and at the end of which hosts an Olympic Regatta. At the heart of this success are the stunning results obtained by a crew that had become known as the Oarsome Foursome.

The period between the celebrating of a successful ‘home’ Olympic Games in 2000 and the London Olympic Games in 2012 is described. In the interim were the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Games. The thesis ends with a discussion about Rowing Australia’s high performance plans for the future of rowing and contemplation about the process of writing a narrative history of rowing.

Robin at the Graduate Office at UC handing in his thesis

We await with great interest the external examiners’ responses in 2019.

Photo Credits

Robin Poke (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

Robin Poke’s Rowing Research


Robin Poke presented a PhD progress seminar at the University of Canberra today (Wednesday, 23 November).

The working title for Robin’s thesis is A Socio-Cultural History of Australian Rowing, 1770 – 2016.

This is a copy of Robin’s presentation

In the presentation, Robin discussed how he is organising the vast amount of primary sources he is using into three themes:

  • Professional/Artisan
  • Amateur/Elitist
  • Semi-Professional/Government-Funded Athletes

Robin has nine chapters of his narrative complete and is in the home stretch of his archival research. On his journey he has made substantial use of the remarkable repository that is the National Library of Australia’s Trove.

dscf7385Questions during and at the end of his presentation sought insights into how Robin was managing the granularity of the detail available to him. Another group of questions explored how Robin will address the socio-cultural issues in his working title.

Robin mentioned his use of photographs in his thesis and this led to a discussion of what additional information might be available within the pictures themselves. Bruce Coe shared his experiences of the use of images in his thesis on Ernest Marks and in his research on the VFL during the two World Wars.

Conversations about Robin’s work continued over lunch and so he had an opportunity for formal and informal questions.

Robin shared  these notes with the audience in advance of the seminar. They gave every attendee a feel for the rigorous work being undertaken. Robin is due to submit his thesis in 2017.

Photo Credit

Elsie Ellen Hawkins in a single scull (Australian National Maritime Museum, No known copyright restrictions)

Olympic Gold at the National Library of Australia: 12 June

I was delighted to be invited to the launch of Robin Poke and Kevin Berry’s book, Olympic Gold: Our Greatest Individual Olympians Since 1896.

The launch took place in the Conference Room at the National Library of Australia.

Senator Kate Lundy, the Federal Minister of Sport, launched the book and made it a delightful local, national and international event.

The Booktopia Blog has a detailed post about this lavishly illustrated book.

In Olympic Gold: Our Greatest Individual Olympians Since 1896, Robin and Kevin follow the inspirational journeys of Australia’s seventy-four individual Olympic gold medalists, at the Summer and Winter Games. The stories of these Olympians have been written by a variety of authors ranging from journalists to family members to the athletes themselves.

There were four of the seventy-four gold medalists at the launch and a number of contributing authors.