WHEN you hear the spit crew war cries, a tradition dating back more than 100 years on Lake Wendouree shores, it is pretty amazing to think how much Boat Race has evolved in the past decade.
More than a school event, Ballarat Associated Schools’ Head of the Lake regatta is about community pride.
Ten years ago, Loreto College was preparing to send its inaugural crew in to battle the Girls’ Head of the Lake title race on Geelong’s Barwon River.
Loreto will hit the water on Sunday as defending girls’ champion on Lake Wendouree.
The College also has official hosting duties for the first time in the much-celebrated BAS event.
Back then, that first race, was an incredibly huge deal.
Loreto had relaunched its rowing program and rejoined the regatta in 2007. Lake Wendouree was bone dry and Loreto, unlike any fellow BAS rowing contender, did not have its own sheds.
Rowing was tough for all schools. Ergos a primary training source in between travel across the state to test boat readiness.
You want a lesson in resilience? This was resilience from a community with such an incredibly proud rowing history and the site of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games rowing events.
And Loreto was just getting started.
Head of the Lake had been contested in Nagambie from 2004-06 before moving closer, to neighbouring city Geelong for the next five years.
Loreto helped pave the way for diversity and greater participation in what is the city’s biggest school sport event – an event that continues to tap in and reawaken long-held school pride among alumni.
Sure, a Lake Wendouree homecoming in time for the event’s 2012 centenary celebrations helped boost numbers.
But the Loreto crews’ spirit, particularly in those early days, showed what was possible. They were out there rapt to be racing, and quite competitively, against legacy schools.
Damascus relaunched its rowing program in 2014 for the first time since pre-drought years, and Phoenix College has also entered the mix since.
They all do so, like Loreto, with the help of grassroots community rowing clubs in sharing sheds and, at times, expertise.
Make no mistake: the marquee titles are fiercely coveted and contested.
The Head of the Lake regatta though, has evolved into an event with far greater reach to our school and sporting communities.
The event now allows us to celebrate something uniquely Ballarat in a festival-like fun, luring even the seemingly most impartial onlookers to pick their team.
Scenes on the spit are starting to get packed again.
Loreto stepping out this weekend as defending girls’ champion reinforces there is so much more history to be made in an event steeped in tradition.
Head of the Lake is bigger than ever, which makes the journey of the event even more special for Ballarat.
So, just like The Beach Boys sing, “be true to your school”. Or, at least pick a school, learn the cry and join the battle.
It’s Boat Race time.