Historic Melbourne-Sydney rivalry continues on the Yarra River

Image of rowers
The University of Melbourne’s women’s crew on the Yarra River during the 2017 Australian Boat Race. Image: Tobias Titz

Both highly trained athletes and novice rowers will take to the Yarra River on Saturday 12 October in the annual rowing race between the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney.

Now in its 11th year, the 2019 Australian Boat Race is hosted by the University of Melbourne. Starting at midday, crews from the two universities will compete for bragging rights, racing more than 4km from Burnley to Princes Bridge in the heart of the city.

The two rowing clubs first met informally on the Yarra River in 1860. A decade later the competition had become a regular feature of university life, in the spirit of the famous boat race between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

The tradition was revitalised in 2009, heralding a new chapter in the 150-year-old rivalry between Australia’s two oldest universities.

University of Melbourne rowers

This year the Melbourne crews are supported by an Alumni Ambassador, rowing legend Kim Brennan (née Crow), who rowed in the 2011 Australian Boat Race before going on to win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the women's single sculls.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of this very special event, this time as Alumni Ambassador. The boat race is so rich in history and rivalry, and I’ll be thrilled to cheer on the University of Melbourne crews as they grace the Yarra,” Ms Brennan said.

First-year Bachelor of Biomedicine student Eliza Gaffney, who will be rowing for the women’s team and who attended the same senior school as Ms Brennan, said Brennan’s sporting and academic prowess inspired her to start rowing.

“I was in Year 10 when Kim won gold at Rio. I remember seeing her name on the Honours Board at school — I found it really inspiring to see she could achieve such a high level of sporting success and study hard, because that’s what I wanted for myself,” Ms Gaffney said.

Also in the women’s boat is Master of Development Studies student Fiona Macklin, who came to Melbourne this year from her undergraduate studies at the University of Cambridge, where she rowed in the 2016 boat race against the University of Oxford.

Fiona’s grandfather also rowed for the Cambridge team in 1951, making her debut in the Australian Boat Race the latest chapter in a proud family history.

“The rivalry here actually seems a bit less intense than between Cambridge and Oxford — my teammates say the girls from Sydney are really friendly — so I’m looking forward to a different experience,” Ms Macklin said.

University of Sydney rowers

Andrew Le, the cox of the University of Sydney’s men’s crew, will be the first rower from an Asian background to participate in the Australian Boat Race.

His father, a refugee from Vietnam who came to Australia by boat, is one of his biggest fans.

“Dad didn’t know anything about rowing when I first started in Year 7, and now he knows more about what is going on than I do,” Mr Le said.

“The sport is really unique because it grabs the tallest and biggest guys and puts them in the hands of someone who isn’t as tall or as big as them. I think that’s really cool because not a lot of sports do that.”

University of Sydney civil engineering student, 21-year-old Marcus Britt, will captain the men’s crew for the second time this year, continuing a family tradition his father Rob started when he captained the University of Sydney Boat Club in 1983. A third-generation rower, Mr Britt represented Australia at the under 23 World Rowing Championships.

“My father introduced me to rowing when I was 11 years old and he has been supportive of me ever since. In the last 10 years of my rowing career, I think he has been to just about every race,” Mr Britt said.

Novice race and new scholarship

A new feature of this year’s race is the ‘novice race’, which will see mixed teams from both universities competing. Each member is in their first year of competitive rowing. The race was created to make university rowing more accessible to students without a rowing background.

Alongside the races, the University of Melbourne is celebrating the launch of the inaugural Jopling Family Rowing Scholarship, Australia’s preeminent university rowing scholarship.

Created to attract the best and brightest rowers to study and row at the University of Melbourne, the scholarship will provide financial support of up to $25 000 per year (plus further in-kind support) for up to four years. From 2020, the scholarship will be awarded to students who have demonstrated community leadership, a strong academic record, and rowing talent.

Next year the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney will celebrate the 150th anniversary of intervarsity sport in Australia.

All the action will be streamed live at: www.australianboatrace.com and www.facebook.com/unimelb.

Follow the hashtag #AusBoatRace on Instagram and Twitter.


12.20pm – Novice race (Melbourne vs. Sydney)

12.40pm – Women’s College 2km race (Ormond College vs. Wesley College)

1.10pm – Men’s Australian Boat Race (Melbourne vs. Sydney)

1.40pm – Women’s Australian Boat Race (Melbourne vs. Sydney)

2.10pm – Presentation of the 2019 Australian Boat Race Awards