Rowing in Cairns....

Rowing in the Cairns district originally commenced in 1930, in a small timber boat shed that was constructed on the Trinity Inlet water front, adjacent to what was the Cairns Yacht Club. The Club was prosperous and membership was healthy in those early days.

The onset of World War 2 brought an interruption to the prosperity, with the boat shed being resumed by Authorities associated with the War effort. As a result the then Cairns Rowing Club disbanded and rowing activities ceased for many years.

The struggle to establish rowing in Cairns

Periodically over the next sixty years, there were many attempts to resurrect the sport and all gained short term support. Notable developments occurred in the 1950’s, the 1970’s and in the early 1990’s. The growing commercial value of water front property in Cairns however restricted the opportunities to develop a dedicated rowing facility similar to that created in 1930, and all attempts to operate a rowing club from makeshift facilities inevitably failed.

Our beginnings....

In 1995 a former coxswain from the Southport School and Senator at the time, Bill O’Chee advertised a meeting for locals interested in forming a new Rowing Club. The meeting was attended by Lowan Hardy, Chris Polinelli, John Flynn and Peter Thoren, all new to the Cairns district and all with rowing backgrounds.

The aim of the meeting was to establish a committee who would take up the challenge of developing the sport in Cairns. The goal was to make the sport a permanent fixture in the city. The group understood the difficulties in the challenge, but agreed to take up the task.

Then came the question of where it should happen.

The group quickly came to terms with the restrictions imposed by the Cairns environment. In consideration of the scarcity of land around the Inlet, the often difficult water conditions on the Inlet, the abundance of commercial boat traffic and the presence of the local wildlife, the group decided to commence rowing operations out of Kuranda, on the upper Barron River.

The club is born

The Barron Blades Rowing Club was formed in late 1995 with Thoren taking on the President’s role, Hardy that of Vice President, Pollinelli as Treasurer and Flynn as Secretary.

The club went on to become incorporated in August 1996, and there began the history of the current Cairns Rowing Club.

New members Kylie O’Rielly and Alan Henwood, both with considerable rowing experience soon also joined to create a pool of seasoned rowers.

A fleet of timber boats were begged and borrowed from the Commercial Rowing Club in Brisbane, and a boat trailer provided by the club on long term loan. The newly formed club operated from the borrowed boat trailer for a period of nine months, and hosted ‘Learn to Row’ sessions on Saturday mornings.

The Club also initiated the first School Rowing Program on the Barron River and cycled crews through the program during day long Saturday sessions for the three month program.

The move to the Inlet

The difficulties of the operation, which included rigging and de-rigging boats before and after every session and carrying boats down the steep batters of the Barron, ultimately restricted the potential for growth and the Club moved operations to the Trinity Inlet.

Once on the Inlet, the club operated out of a number of temporary facilities, including the Big Boat Shed (thanks Ralph Seed for your support during this time), and the Cairns Yacht Club – sadly now relocated. During these early times O’Chee, O’Reilly, Henwood, Flynn, Pollinelli and Thoren formed crews of varying combinations and began competing on the southern regatta circuit. Most notably the four crew of Henwood, Pollinelli and Thoren, and new member Geoff Bell, took out the State Championship Mens Fours Title on Wivenhoe Dam in 1998.


The knowledge of the previous clubs’ demises was always present. The members understood the risks and there commenced a search for a suitable site on which to construct a new facility. That search would take three years and finally led to the signing of a ten (10) year lease agreement between the Barron Blades Boat Club and the Queensland Sugar Limited Company for a parcel of land on the QSL site.

Following the signing of the lease agreement, construction of the new rowing club commenced in late 2000, and was officially opened on May 16, 2001 by local Member of Parliament Ms Desley Boyle.

The Cairns Rowing Club is formed

In recognition of its new surroundings, the club committee agreed to take on a more local and recognisable club title and in October 2003 officially became the Cairns Rowing Club.

Since the opening of the facility, the Club has grown in membership and currently maintains a membership of approximately 50 members per year.

Club members are mostly masters rowers who are active on the regional, state, and national regatta circuit. Members have also regular competitors at the World Masters Championships and can boast impressive medal hauls from all these areas.

The club has also been instrumental in creating a North Queensland signature event called the Head of the Trinity Inlet, otherwise known as the HOTTI. The HOTTI is a distance endurance event that emulates the southern regions Head of the Yarra and the Head of the Brisbane. The event was commenced in 2010 and continues to grow in size every year of its running.

The Club is actively engaged in ensuring its members are provided the best equipment possible and provided the best opportunities to develop and enjoy their rowing experience, and through this approach, the club is confident it will stand the test of time.


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