Fairfield Canoe Club
2019 Centenary Year

“VACA – when did it first appear on the scene?”

paddle vic logo

Having acted as a volunteer scrutineer at the Paddle Victoria ‘Tay Creggan’ event several weeks ago, I wondered about the history of this association.paddle vic logo

The Paddle Victoria website indicates that: “The Victorian Canoe Association Inc., (Paddle Victoria) formed in 1930 and was incorporated in 1984. It is the State body responsible for the management, co-ordination, development and promotion of paddling in Victoria. It represents the interests of its members, the public and the national body (Paddle Australia).”

Our Fairfield Canoe Club archive material and History Group research of old newspapers suggests that this synopsis is not strictly accurate.

Our foundation Club Secretary, Harry De La Rue ,& later VACA correspondent to “WaterSports” magazine (USA), wrote in this journal on July 1925:
Early in 1920 the formation of the Victorian Amateur Canoe Association took place and lived for about two years and then went out of existence. The main reason, we believe, being the introduction of classification of paddling races on too much of a restriction for a commencement. An attempt was made last year to revive this Association without success, hopes are entertained for further successful attempts for the coming year."

What sits behind this cryptic observation?

The Age reported Oct 12, 1920 that: “At the annual meeting of the Victorian Canoe Club at the Amateur Sports Club that……..the club (VCC) had withdrawn From the Victorian Canoe Association, formed last year, owing to a difference of opinion as to what constitutes an amateur”

In February of the following year,2021, The Age Feb 5th edition contained a letter to the Editor. “Sir, In “The Age” of today there appeared under the above heading (State Canoe Championships )an abstract of a letter of mine, and a letter from Mr Carver of the Victorian Amateur Canoe Association. Mr Carver’s comments on the pair’s championship have little significance as a reply to my letter, if as intended; but, if you will allow me the space, I should like to say the race was open to any canoeist whatever, provided he was an amateur. Amateur State Championships were initiated by the Victorian Canoe Club before the existence of the association (VACA). The question raised by me was whether a race open to only half the State – I think Mr Carver’s 80 per cent is an overstatement – can truly be
considered a State championship. As the VACA now has an amateur status equal to that of the VCC (the parent body) further discussion is futile”. Your, etc Eric Pyke Hon secretary Victorian Canoe Club (foundation Sec VACA)

In response, this Letter to the Editor of the Herald Feb 9,1921 runs:
State Canoe Championships
To The Editor. “Sir – As a present member, and a delegate to the Victorian Amateur Canoe Association at the time when Mr Eric Pyke was the secretary, and his club (Victorian Canoe Club) was an active member of the Association, I would like to make public hard facts of the case. At a meeting of the Association the following motion was moved by Mr Eric Pyke, as the delegate from the VCC to the Association. “That the VACA establish and control State championships, and when feasible, promote interstate championships. The motion had the other VCC delegates support and was carried unanimously. Is this a case of repudiation? As far as independent canoeists (canoeists who do not belong to any club) who are racing enthusiasts are concerned, all well informed canoeists know there is none. The VCC withdrew from the Association without giving any reason, and the general impression was that the VACA was becoming too “democratic”. Trusting before this time next year the VCC will have a VACA star on their secretary’s pennant, and let bygones be bygones. Yours, etc. H. Mitchell Fairfield Canoe Club".

However the VACA did get resuscitated some years later as these early ”WaterSports” reports document. A re-birth some years earlier than 1930 too

Dec 1925:” Notice was also given of the intention of clubs to revive the late Victorian Amateur Canoe Association. Should this happen, canoeing should make greater headway in the future. Hopes are entertained that this association will live again very soon and will be much more successful than previously.

April 1926:” A General Meeting of canoeists has been arranged to be held at the Mitre Tavern, Melbourne, on Tuesday, February 2nd, at 8.00pm for the purpose of reforming the late Victorian Amateur Canoe Association. A good attendance is hoped for and it is expected that the Association will very soon live again and function as before in the good old days”.

The VACA was re-formed, and our FCC Secretary, Mr Harry De La Rue, became the VACA Honorary Secretary as well. It would seem that Harry De la Rue was quite a driving force at both FCC and in the broader Victorian canoeing community at that time. He, along with a band of FCC members, was instrumental in the reconstitution of the VACA. However, the re-birth of the VACA came at some expense to our club as through most of the 1925 & 1926 racing seasons club members spent every weekend working on the new clubhouse construction, rather than competing on the water. The VACA’s re-birth, with Harry in a
leadership role, found him insisting the club engage in VACA events which was at the expense of working bees on the clubhouse build! The clubhouse was not complete until April 1928, having been commenced in June 1925.

The VACA was actively involved in establishing State canoeing sprint events, canoe participation in the various Henley events on the Yarra & Maribyrnong Rivers, 10-mile marathon on the Yarra (including porterage) from Fairfield to Twickenham, & even a carnival in Bendigo. The first three clubs to join were Fairfield, Elwood Sea Canoe, Twickenham and in 1927, the Essendon CC. (No mention of the Victorian CC of earlier years!). More activities were to follow; an Xmas camp and a 4-day Easter Camp at Warrandyte (https://fairfieldcanoeclub.org.au/index.php/create-article-57), and winter social evenings.

As reported by Harry De La Rue in “WaterSports”:“On Thursday evening July 1th, 1927, the First Annual Presentation of Trophies was held at “The Palms”, Henley lawns. A large number were present and great enjoyment was had by all. Dancing was the order up till supper time at 9.30pm when the large verandah was the scene of operations for some time. After everybody had given their jaws some exercise and were appearing rather comfortable and happy, the President Mr Loyer introduced to the gathering Mr H Gyles of the Essendon River League, which body is responsible for the Maribyrnong Henley. Mr Gyles became popular when he informed his listeners that the League intended offering a handsome Cup for future competition at their Henley which would be a Victorian or Australian Championship trophy. Mr Gyles stated that the Maribyrnong Henley would become a canoeists Henley, and he looked for our support in every way.
He then presented the trophies from their Henley to the winners. The President of the Association then presented the other trophies won during the season viz: Bendigo Henley, VACA 10-mile race; VRA Regatta and Easter camp trophies.
This was accomplished by much applause, especially when it was seen that some members had the honour to receive three trophies each.
Over one hundred were present which speaks well for an Association in its first year of work."

We have a copy of the 1928 event programme & a photo of attendees. These are all on view in the Clubhouse History display cabinet – take a look for yourself.

Palms dinner menu July 1928


VACA trophy dinner 1928

Please note the toast to the VACA:
” Charge your glasses tonight
And in your delight
Drink to the best toast of the day.
Let’s all say it anew
Clubs and Associates too,
Here’s a long life to the VACA”

The Age July 1930, reports: “The VACA held its annual dance at the Fernery “The Palms”, on Thursday evening. The hall was charmingly decorated for the occasion and the dance proved a very happy affair, thanks to the efficient organisation of the council of the association led by Mr H de la Rue, Hon Sec
In addition, The Age, Aug 1930 reported that:
The VACA held its annual presentation of trophies on Wednesday night following a dinner at the Victoria Palace, Little Collins Street. The visitors included Mr E Kenny of the Henley committee who spoke on canoeing as it affected the Henley regatta and stated that the prizes for canoes at the Henley this year would be similar to those awarded last year.
The President presented trophies won during the past season. Amongst those won were the Henley Perpetual Cup, for the fours championship of Victoria, won by Fairfield canoe Club and also the Haling Cup, for the pairs championship of Victoria, also won by Fairfield.”

VACA trophy dinner 1929

This photo from 1929 is probably the same trophy presentation event.

Below is the 1961 VACA exhibit at the annual Boat Show

VACA boat show 1961-1

VACA boat show 1961-2

Trish Rosetto also recounts that in 1966 she attended the regular VACA Meetings, as a representative of Ivanhoe-Northcote Canoe Club, which were held at our Clubhouse as other clubs did not have such a good space. Attendees were often greeted by our non-financial, furry-bodied, members as they scuttled across the floor and rafters. The VACA also used to hold movie-nights at FCC clubhouse

The VACA continued thereafter and has grown into what we now know as Paddle Victoria. There have been a number of name changes along the way:- Victorian Canoe Association Inc.(1984), Canoe Victoria and now Paddle Victoria.
Quite early on VACA was involved in ‘white-water’ canoeing as well. Paddle Vic nowadays has a long list of activities sitting under their umbrella:-
Canoe Polo
Ocean Racing

What did happen to the “amateur status” fracas?

As this Jonathan Mayne anecdote about the time he ran into trouble with VACA authorities reveals, the ‘amateur status’ issue was very much alive in the late ‘60’s.
The president of the VACA was approached by an advertising company, representing Foster's Lager, as they wanted an eight-man canoe for a television ad. He came to us because we had built this eight-man canoe. It was really just a touring canoe cut in half with a middle section extension, with enough room for eight paddlers. We put together a crew to paddle it for this television ad and the story-line was for us to come up the river to the tune of "Ah, Foster's Lager, it's got the flavour", and at this stage the bloke at the BBQ holds up a glass to say,’ in basso profundo’ voice, .."the flavour". Well, they'd drunk so much of the product by this stage that all the bloke, & he was a very distinguished looking fellow, had to do was hold up his glass on cue from the director...and say "It’s got the flavour" but all he could say " it’s got “phphphphpr! “. After about twelve tries, they said "No, you’re hopeless".
In the meantime, we'd paddled up and down many times. Twelve hours we did it, and by six o'clock that night we'd just about had-it. The fall-out from this was that when it did hit the screen, we were all accused of being ‘professionals’ (by VACA) because they reckoned we must have been paid for it. As I recall, there was sixty pounds in it for us which Kev Hannington, one or two others and I, chipped across to Red Cross rather than being ‘contaminated’ with payment. Nonetheless, we all got kicked-out from canoeing and that same night we got re-instated into canoeing. Then, the secretary went home and the next morning, (& this was after Tom Ohman who had been the scrutineer had counted the votes that kicked us out and then re-instated us) she stated that she had counted the votes again in her kitchen the next morning finding that Tom Ohman had made a mistake, not once but twice, and we should have all been kicked out & not re-instated as occurred! So, they then convened another meeting to again kick us out again.
In due course they reinstated us once more, but in order to reinstate us, the then VACA official really leaned on me and said:” We really need a Treasurer for the VACA and if you would take the job, perhaps we could look a bit more leniently when we kicked you out"

Follow us on social media