Dragon boat apprentices learn the fine art of the support crew

BALLARAT’S dragon ladies have some young apprentices.

About 60 year 8 girls from Ballarat Grammar put down their pens and iPads in favour of oars yesterday to crew the city’s Dragons Abreast dragon boat.

In the choppy waters of Lake Wendouree, they had to rely on each other rather than technology. In the process they learned about teamwork and listening to instruction as the Dragons Abreast veterans introduced them, a dozen a time, to the oriental watercraft.

Dragons Abreast Ballarat co-ordinator Helen Dorning, who acted as “sweep” (steerer) for the dragon boat, said there were things that were easier to teach on the water than in the classroom.

“One of the philosophies of the school is to experience different things. Well you can’t be an individual in a dragon boat,” Mrs Dorning said.

“A few of us at Dragons Abreast have had children at Ballarat Grammar and we had a group of girls from Ballarat Grammar School here last year. They saw us on the water and asked us about what we do. We are always happy for people to be interested in what we do.”

Dragons Abreast is coming up to 10 years in Ballarat next year. It was established as a support group for survivors of breast cancer, their family and other supporters. 

When the Ballarat group was formed there was no water in Lake Wendouree and members joined other Dragons Abreast groups in Geelong to crew their boats. During that period the son of a breast cancer survivor hand-built the Ballarat group’s first dragon boat, the Intrepid.

In 2010 Dragons Abreast received its second boat, the Howard T. 

“The ‘c’ word is an ugly word. What Dragons Abreast gives is a perspective where the girls can see women who have had breast cancer doing well,” Mrs Dorning said.

“Not everyone who paddles has had breast cancer but all are supporters of those who have had breast cancer.”

Eliza, Laura and Caitlin were among the first dozen Ballarat Grammar School girls to hit the water yesterday. 

They agreed it took a little bit of time to come together as a team but, once they found their rhythm, they were able to get up a fair head of steam.