In 1981 a group of Murray Marathon paddlers got together and decided to form a canoe club.
Sandra Dunoon, Maurie Raynor, Colin and Carmel Brown, Peter Shorten and Chris Harris, were soon joined by Robert and John Schram and a mix of surf club paddlers and curious beginners. The first meeting was held at the Geelong Fitness Centre in Fyans Street which was owned by Maurie at the time.
The club quickly became prominent in competition and by the mid-eighties it had won its first Victorian Marathon Club Premiership. During the first decade, seven members were selected to represent Australia at World Championships. Carmel Brown, Colin Brown, Brigitta Henderson and Peter Shorten competed in the World Marathon Championships. Brett Tyack, Aaron Tyack, and Blake Rodgers participated in the World Sprint Championships.
Fundraising was always important and one novel event occurred in 1984 when the club conducted a 24 hour relay on the rowing mile. This attracted some excellent publicity and raised a few thousand dollars for the future clubhouse.
In 1987, the club hosted the Australian Marathon Championships. The race went downstream over the first and second breakwaters down to Lake Connewarre, back upstream to the Moorabool River, portaging across the cow paddock to the Barwon and return. There were no circuits in those days.
Around this time, The Geelong Dragon Boat Club was formed. Many Canoe Club members tried their fist at this strange new sport and were so successful that they won both Moomba and the Australian Championships. The prize for winning was entry into the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival. The Beau Tin sponsored crew represented Australia in Hong Kong at the World Championships in 1987,1988 and 1989.
The club operated without a clubhouse for eight years. Members met at the car park at the rowing sheds and changed in the open. Hot showers were only a dream. A number of venues were sought without success.
When it was discovered that a wool storage shed at Marnockvale had been vacated and was about to be pulled down, club members approached the Rural Water Commission who controlled the premises. It was perfect for the club’s needs – large, close to the water and upstream of the weekend powerboat section. It took a lot of convincing, an agreement to use member’s labour to knock down some adjacent buildings and the payment of commercial rent to convince the Rural Water Commission to let the club lease it.
In 1990, the club took over the running of the Geelong to Barwon Heads ski and kayak race. This race had been run by the 13th Beach Surf Life Saving club since 1973. It was renamed the Bridge to Bridge Challenge. Sponsorship came from companies like Ansett, Competition Kayaks, Barwon Heads Hotel and Westcoast Watersports.
At its peak, 180 paddlers took part in the charge down the Barwon to the sea.
1990 was also the year that the club started its handicap race series. Once a month, members would gather at the club for the 8 km race to Fyansford and return. Geoff Ford established a Lotus spreadsheet to calculate start times based on previous results, although this didn’t stop some members trying to negotiate with Reg Parker, the starter, for more lenient handicaps. This race series quickly grew into an institution with paddling numbers between 20 and 30 not unusual. Paddlers would often come from Ballarat and Footscray to join in the fun. The races were usually followed by soup in winter or a few light ales in summer.
In 1992, the Rural Water Commission was disbanded and Barwon Water was given control of the Canoe Club area. They were a lot more accommodating than the Rural Water Commission and the club found them to be helpful landlords. Membership grew to about 200 at this time and social events included bush dances, trivia nights and dinners.
At about this time club members pitched in to build the second landing 200 metres upstream of the club. Barwon Water supplied the materials, Colin Brown supplied the brains and the rest of the club members provided the brawn. This was used as a portage landing enabling quality races to be conducted.
In 1998, the club was successful in acquiring a $40,000 grant from the Victorian Government’s Community Support Fund. The grant, along with about $80,000 from fundraising activities, enabled us to build the upstairs section that we have today.
In 2000, the club successfully hosted its second Australian Marathon Championships and was awarded the championships again in 2003 and 2011.
2000 was also the year that the Geelong Chapter of Dragons Abreast (Geelong Juggernauts) were invited to join under a special arrangement. Initially they used the boat that the former Beau Tin crew members had purchased, but eventually with sponsorship from the Zonta Club they were able to buy their own.
Shortly after the Geelong Firecats (another dragon boat club) formed and joined the club. This club later renamed itself and now exists as the Geelong Dragon Boat Club.