- The Beginning
The following attempts to recall much of this time and urges members and readers to gather more information about our story and canoeing in North East Victoria. The MMCC, like the river it takes its name after, has undergone significant change in 30 years. Here is a map outlining the club’s path unfolding over three decades.
The 1970’s saw the early development of white water canoeing by the MMCC in this part of Victoria. In 1973 Maurice Phipps, a Yorkshire man and physical education teacher at Wodonga High School placed an advertisement in the Border Morning Mail – asking anybody interested in paddling a canoe to come along to a meeting.
An enthusiastic gathering was held at the Kiewa Consolidated School and a club was formed and other early meetings were also held there.
Initially called the ‘Bogong Canoe Club’, the name continually proved too obscure. Maurice, during the Christmas of 1974, was at Brady’s Lake in Tasmania (for the Australian Slalom Championships) apparently many ‘Taswegians’ asked him what it was like paddling in the High Plains. Because of the difficulties involved in explaination a name change was deemed necessary.
During subsequent meetings much discussion on a new name took place. After many suggestions and rejections, Sue Phipps’ idea of the ‘Kaiela Canoe Club’ was finally adopted – ‘Kaiela’ being an indigenous usage for the Murray River.
However this also met with confusion. “Who?” (name repeated) “What’s that mean?” (name explained) “Never heard of it!” was a common conversation. Again the difficulties of communicating our geography mounted, no linkage was made and yet another name was sought.
Eventually, in honour of that once beautiful river, paddled so often by the early members, the name of the ‘Mitta Mitta Canoe Club’ was taken on.
Some of our early members listed in the club’s first newsletter of February 1974 included: Walter Waldner, Fred Schmidt, David Ross, Peter Robertson, Leo O’Neil, Rod Dowding, Col Joss and founding member Maurice Phipps.
Often camping out on weekends, members practiced technique and having fun in the bubbling white water rapids of nearby rivers. The most favoured places were the camping sites on the Mitta Mitta near Dartmouth and the Walnuts; nearby the legendary ‘Scales Street’ rapid was always a rush.
This was before the Dartmouth Dam was built and ‘Scales Street’ now lies below the dam pondage. Much time was spent here but other rivers of the North East were travelled to and explored as well. In the evenings members would sit around the campfire and talk or have a singsong.
- Boat Building
Boat building was a big part of the club’s early activity. Many days were spent at Mike Carter’s farm ‘Redwood Park’ over the bridge at Waterworks. (NB The Waterworks refers to the Albury City Council’s waterworks situated on the Murray river just north of the city limits).
It was here the design of an Olympic boat (brought back from Europe by Walter Waldner, an Austrian ex-Olympian) was copied many times. Frank Harrison soon emerged as the club’s chief boat builder meeting the demand from more paddlers joining up.
Frank made moulds for various styles of boats; his most famous – the Dart – was a slalom kayak. It was made very strong because of his new technique of joining the decks to the hulls. Boat building remains a part of the club (in 2003) with Chad Meek operating Weapon Kayaks, a professional business in Lavington.
- Early Competitions
Competitively, a small group followed the slalom race circuit around Victoria and NSW. In 1977 the Club assisted with the Australian Slalom and White Water Titles held at Dartmouth with some 400 competitors participating.
The following year Diana Waldner and younger brother Bob represented the MMCC successfully at the New Zealand Slalom Championships. But just as momentum appeared to be gaining the path was literally blocked.
In 1979 the Dartmouth Dam was complete and so the flooding of the best parts of the Mitta Mitta River were too. Promises from government to help build a ‘controlled water’ slalom course were not kept, and so, white water racing slowly declined for the club. Despite this, wild water touring was still pursued elsewhere by the fun loving ‘spills and thrills’ type members.
In the meantime, against the current of all this white water boating, were the Joss brothers, Bernie and Col. Preferring the smoother waters of the Murray River; they were the club’s only flatwater paddlers in the early years.
Long sessions of training in their open TC2 boat saw them compete in many Murray Marathon races, their earliest being 1973. Though not a club member yet, a young Stuart Baker, aged 14, paddled in that year’s race as well. Jim Sloan competed as well and also in 1972.
Through the commitment of these members and others, to the flatwater craft, the club reshaped itself. Frank Harrison maintained his industriousness but changed his focus to building boats for marathons. Unfortunately many members were not as forgiving about the ’drowning’ of some of the most beautiful parts of the Mitta Mitta by the Dartmouth Dam and soon left the club or turned away from the sport altogether. The mighty Mitta Mitta was sorely lost and is ventured now by the club more in memory than canoe.
- The Move to Albury
In the early 1980’s, with the club gearing more towards Murray River paddling, a boat shed for better storage was needed. Many members boats were being stored under the caravans of friends at Noreuil Park in Albury. International representation by Jim Sloan meant the introduction of the racing kayak. These kayaks were longer, sleeker and more expensive than our previous boats and secure storage was now a high priority.
In 1981 the club was granted a two-year lease to the park’s closed ‘bathing pavilion’. With some boat racks installed this makeshift solution helped training on the Murray begin in earnest. With increased membership and only very basic amenities, it wasn’t long before the shed needed further improvements.
Many weekend working bees saw new facilities built: a roller door opening up access, extra boat racks, new showers and more lighting. By mid 1986 most of the work was done. Fund raising was crucial and many activities were organised like: Dutch auctions and BBQ nights at Redwood Park, film nights and dinners at the Commercial Club, and an art show organized by Karen Zerbst was most successful.
Out on the river K1’s became the boat. Club competition was strong and there were regular attendances at Victorian club venues with many wins by members: Sloan, Palich, Douglas, Zerbst, Peters, Haydon, Pitman and Ferguson. The ongoing success of these paddlers at Australian Championships allowed club representation at the World Championships throughout most of this decade.
In 1985/86 the club lifted the status of its annual two-day race to an international level. This was eventually named the Frank Harrison Memorial Race in recognition of his generosity and dedication to the club over many years. These ‘Milo Races’ (so called after the sponsor) for K1 and K2 boats were centered on the Murray River and its adjoining creeks and offered tough racing for international and national competitors.
By the end of the 1980’s new directions were emerging for the club. There was a need for further extensions to the clubhouse. While the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation (AWDC) announced plans for water recreational facilities – using the abandoned ‘gravel pit’ – only a few minutes drive away, accessed from the Lincoln Causeway, on what is now called ‘Gateway Island’.
Coinciding with this, the arrival from Northern NSW of Matt Coulter (an Australian champion and World champion silver medallist) among the club’s ranks brought fresh challenges for all.
Navigating the way into the 1990’s, John Barnes and committee proposed a two-stage development of the clubhouse. Firstly, to expand the boat rack capacity and provide male and female toilet/shower rooms, and secondly, to build a double storey clubhouse room.
In 1993 the first stage was complete and was officially opened and commemorated by the erection of an Honour Board. The second stage was to build a double storey to house club rooms where meetings and social gatherings could be conducted. In 1993 it seemed a very distant goal.
- Birth of the Parklands Lake
The AWDC’s plans saw the old gravel pit transformed into a Parklands Lake. An offer to use this as a canoe facility was accepted and brought into use for training by mid 1992.
Together with co-tenants, Water Ski Club, a boat shed and club/race room were built. Landscaping by the AWDC saw a wonderful water-training venue established.
During this decade ‘Schools Canoeing’ expanded under the guidance of teacher members: David Ross, Col Peters, Mal Bird, Bruce Marshal, Karen Zerbst, Kerrie Carrie and Caroline Whittle. After the inclusion of a boat pool in the boat shed, the canoe programs of school sport were greatly aided.
Combined with the use of the lake these programs became much safer. Many of the school paddlers became club junior champions including Matt Flower, Letitia Quick and Nicola Cronin. And more recently, Matt Miles, Adrian Graeber, Jeremy Kent and Astrid Baker have joined them.
- Our Competitive Spirit
While members have mostly taken part in nearby races on the Murray River (see summary) many races organised by interstate and Melbourne clubs have been attended throughout the years. Some of these events have included: The Australian Slalom and White Water Championships; The Marathon and Sprint National Championships; The Echuca Mini and Cobram Murray 40 – as lead up races to the Murray Marathon at Christmas each year; The Deniliquin and Yarrawonga races in January; The Goulburn, Hawkesbury and Nepean Classics; The races of Essendon, Footscray, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo canoe clubs; as well as the Lake Burley Griffin Bash in Canberra and the Tumut down river race
- The Club Today
With some 800 or so members belonging to the Mitta Mitta Canoe Club over 30 years, for most a membership has been a valuable experience learning boat skills and gaining fitness. Whether it be the fun and excitement of a white water adventure or the grueling slog of a marathon session the rewards are plenty; namely the appreciation of outdoor life on the river and the camaraderie with other club members.
In 2004 the club welcomed another decade of canoeing with a brand new clubhouse able to accommodate 130 boats; these clubrooms proudly sit right on the bank of our river. An exciting time ahead awaits the club with yet untold history in the making.
The Mitta Mitta Canoe club Albury Wodonga Incorporated was formed in the 1970’s and has produced many great paddlers. The club was incorporated 2nd December 1986 in NSW. In 2003 the Mitta Mitta Canoe Club (MMCC) celebrated 30 years of paddling.
From early embarkings, chasing white water rapids up and down the valleys, to a place of strength in Australian and International Flatwater Racing, it may be truly said: not even a dam rock wall could block the club’s progress.