North Shore Rowing Club

Sydney, Australia

'Finest oarsman' ahead of his time'

When Ted Bromley, who has died at 91, retired from competitive rowing in 1950, the headline in the Herald read, "Australia's finest oarsman retires".

SMH, May 27, 2004

Edward (Ted) Robert Bromley, Rower, businessman, 1912-2004

When Ted Bromley, who has died at 91, retired from competitive rowing in 1950, the headline in the Herald read, "Australia's finest oarsman retires".

Bromley was born in Mosman, the second of five children. His father, John, was a contracting engineer, mainly with the Water Board. Bromley was sent to The King's School as a nine-year-old boarder where he claimed never to have learnt a thing. He played cricket, and enjoyed some success as a batsman.

Later, he attended Mosman High where he was astonished to find the school encouraged an interest in learning.

His working life began with the Perpetual Trustee Company where he learnt to keep the cash book and ledgers in the same way in which he continued to keep them until shortly before his death. After a short career in real estate, the major part of his working life was spent in the timber industry. He owned mills at Craven Plateau near Gloucester, Singleton, Putty, Woolooma near Scone and Muswellbrook. He did not believe in insurance - losing one mill to floods and another to fire did not change his attitude.

Bromley was a complex man. He could be kind as well as hard, was wise, generous, loving and courageous, but his strength also meant that he could be difficult. His knowledge and memory were amazing, as were his impeccable manners.

Bromley respected those who made their way in life with good results, particularly if this involved a balanced approach to work and play, and included financial prudence.

The men who worked for him held him in respect and affection, as he did them. He had a strong belief in the rights of the individual, particularly when these were threatened by government instru- mentalities or bullying companies. If he thought his cause was just he relished a legal battle, and his expertise in the mining and forestry acts was legendary.

Perhaps his most notable success was when an attempt was made to mine coal which had been discovered not far below the surface of his property, Bimba- deen, at Muswellbrook, without just compensation.

The dispute centred on an orchard on the property and whether it was a sham orchard for the purposes of circumventing the mining act. Bromley lost in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. When the matter came before the legendary Sir Garfield Barwick in the High Court, he asked what fruit the orchards produced. "Peaches and plums, your Honour."

"Ah," said Barwick, "if it was a sham orchard the trees would produce sham fruit." He won in the High Court and in 1974 the mining company appealed to the Privy Council and lost. It always amazed Bromley that no one from the mining company ever approached him to seek a settlement.

The rower Stephen Kiesling wrote in an introduction to a book by Benjamin Ivry, Regatta: A Celebration of Oarsmanship: "A lot of us do manage to retire, at least for a while. We move far enough from a boathouse or bury ourselves deeply enough into jobs or relationships so that we can't possibly spare the time to get back on the water. But the sport does not let go easily. For me, it was not just that my metaphors came from rowing, or that I size people up by where they might sit in a boat, or whether I'd want to be with them in the same boat. The sport was locked into my body." The sport of rowing was certainly locked into Bromley's body. In a stellar career as a competitive oarsman spanning three decades, Bromley won numerous state and Australian championships (including four consecutive King's Cup victories from 1933-36), and competed at the 1938 Empire Games and the 1948 London Olympics.

Bromley began rowing at Mosman Rowing Club in 1929 after seeing the reception afforded the 1928 winning King's Cup crew, who were all Mosman members, when they returned from Perth. He proved an adept oarsman from the start, winning through the novice and junior ranks during 1929 to be selected as a member of the senior eight for his first race at the St Joseph's Regatta on February 28, 1930. The date made an indelible impression on young Bromley - the temperature was 42.2C (108F), the hottest day for some decades.

He and other members of the crew had travelled up the Harbour in a launch, towing a sugar bag full of bottled beer for the post-race rehydration. As they arrived, one of the crew noticed Bobby Pearce in his scull, awaiting the handicap scull race. Pearce was perhaps the most famous sportsman in Australia at the time, having won the first of his two Olympic gold medals in 1928 (Australia's only gold at those Games).

Pearce sculled across, drank a whole bottle, then rowed straight to the start and duly won. The Mosman crew also won - "though we drank our beer after the race" - and Bromley was hooked. For the next decade he was an automatic selection for Mosman, NSW and Australia in eight-oared boats, including the Empire Games of 1938 and a NSW crew which travelled to the 1939 Henley Regatta after a public campaign raised the required funds, in much the same manner as the Australian cricket team of the same time.

The training at the time was Spartan by today's standards. Championship races were held over three miles (almost 5000 metres) as opposed to today's 2000 metres.

During the late 1930s Bromley became interested in pair-oar rowing, and planned to contest the 1940 Olympics in that boat. But during World War II competitive rowing ceased.

However, after watching the first postwar King's Cup Regatta, held in 1946 at Penrith, he resolved to contest the 1948 Olympics in the pairs with Spencer Grace (his former partner, John Burrell, had been injured during the defence of Tobruk and was unable to row). Bromley and Grace won selection and finished a creditable fourth, though Bromley was always disappointed with that result, Grace having been affected by appendicitis in the weeks leading up to the Games.

However, the experience of rowing pairs and the skill level required had convinced him that the future of Australian rowing lay in the widespread adoption of this class of boat, and in this he was almost 40 years ahead of his time.

Later in life he established several trust funds with the intention of fostering the development of young oarsmen and women. Today Bromley Trust grants have assisted many young rowers to travel away to represent NSW and Australia.

The Ted Bromley Training Centre at Killarney, on the former Killarney Picnic Grounds owned by Mosman Rowing Club, was entirely renovated in 1995, thanks to another Bromley Trust grant. Bromley and Grace continued to row together regularly until the late 1990s when Grace died. Bromley maintained an active interest in rowing and was involved, despite failing health, in planning further development of the Bromley Centre until his death. He was always reticent about discussing his success as a rower, preferring to plan for the present and future generations of rowers.

Bromley was married three times. Nancy, the mother of his children, died aged just 35. His second wife Vi died in 1990. The last 12 years of his life were spent at Palm Beach with his third wife Angela, who survives him, with his daughters Christine and Patsy, his stepchildren Denis, David, Tim, Gerry and Jonathan and their families, his brother Tom and sister Helen, eight grandchildren, 13 stepgrandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. His son, James, died 10 days before him.

Christine and Jim Pollitt, Mark Campbell.

from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Fun Rowing Fact
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, was a rower.