SCHOOLGIRLS in Ballarat had been ready for this historic moment well before their call up to one of the town's biggest sporting events.
Ballarat Grammar's Jill Coote (née Douglass) said girls had been rowing regattas for a couple of years in Melbourne. Ms Coote, who was stroke for the inaugural race said all girls were thrilled to finally have an opportunity to compete in the 1980 Ballarat Associated Schools' Head of the Lake.
Girls had been close to hitting the water a year earlier only to be kept from the water at Lake Wendouree in a regatta steeped in tradition.
When history was about to be made, Ms Coote said there were nerves but those only similar to what girls competing this year would feel with school pride on the line.
This was probably no more terrifying than the start of any other race.Jill Coote (née Douglass)
"We'd rowed a number of regattas before. This was probably no more terrifying than the start of any other race," Ms Coote said.
"It was very exciting to finally row down in front of everyone representing your school."
Grammar won the inaugural Girls' Head of the Lake and, 40 years on, will defend the girls' firsts title. But history was equally set by Ballarat Clarendon College and Ballarat High School girls on this day.
The then-Grammar girls' seconds coach Priscilla Herington said girls had been kept from the BAS regatta because it was felt not to be "physically appropriate" for them to compete.
Ms Herington said Grammar's then-rowing director Erik Vahl Meyer and firsts coach Alan Patterson were instrumental in lobbying for change, arguing it was perfectly fine for girls and that they should be treated the same.
Schoolgirl crews had been training with the boys, often racing against - sometimes beating - the boys in training.
Ms Coote said there was a sense of respect among all rowers out on the water and girls, apart from having the heavier 'tub' boats, were treated the same.
BAS allowed girls on the water, open firsts and seconds crews only, in a 500-metre race - half the distance of the boys' firsts. They raced in the program about when the open fifths and sixths now race.
It took until the late 1980s for Girls' Head of the Lake to be elevated to equal billing with the boys.
Girls' evolution in Boat Race top billing
APRIL 12, 1980
Six girls' crews are given a starting berth in Ballarat Associated Schools' Head of the Lake for the first-time in the regatta's 70-year history.
Ballarat Grammar, Ballarat Clarendon College and Ballarat High School girls were represented on Lake Wendouree.
Girls' firsts and seconds were raced over 500 metres.
Grammar won the inaugural Girls' Head of the Lake from the north lane.
FEBRUARY 17, 2007
For the first time in Ballarat Clarendon College history, and touted as the first time in Boat Race history, a girl steps up as coxswain in the Boys' Head of the Lake. College promotes Sarah Shepherd from the girls' thirds.
FEBRUARY 17, 2008
Loreto makes its Girls Head of the Lake debut on the Barwon River in Geelong. This comes one year to the day Loreto College created its official splash back into Boat Race after a 25-year hiatus. Racing was then in Nagambie for a fourth year due to low water levels and a dry lake.
Loreto claimed its first Girls' Head of the Lake title in 2017.
FEBRUARY 26, 2017
Damascus girls' firsts join the history books by joining in the marquee race for the first time.
This came three years after the re-launch of Damascus College's rowing program. Damascus has withdrawn from the title race this year.
Ballarat Grammar has been the Girls' Head of Lake powerhouse in the race's 40-year history, winning the Patterson Trophy 26 times. This includes a dominant 10-year reign from 1992 to 2001, broken by College edging out Grammar in 2002.
College has captured the girls' crown 11 times. Ballarat High School claimed honours twice (1986 and 1991). Loreto nabbed its maiden title in 2017.
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