Tributes to two outstanding people who have contributed much to INCC:
Ross Chenoweth 1931 - 1998
Ross Chenoweth was a kayaking pioneer. A champion paddler and well-respected administrator, he founded the Ivanhoe Northcote Canoe Club in 1956 (originally known as Ivanhoe Canoe Club) after the closure of the ‘Rudder Grange Canoe Club’. He held the position of INCC Secretary for over 25 years and achieved much within and for kayaking in Australia. He was:
- One of Australia’s first kayak champions
- Member of Olympic Council, Melbourne Olympic Games, 1956
- Competition Secretary, Melbourne Olympic Games, 1956.
- Co-founder Victorian Amateur Canoe Association (VACA), now Canoeing Victoria
- Co-founder Australian Canoe Federation (ACF), now Australian Canoeing
- 1st Australian appointed to the ICF (International Canoe Federation)
- Chairman of the race committee for first Murray Marathon and for several years thereafter
- Manager of the Kayak Team for Tokyo Olympics, 1964
- Life Member of ACF, VACA, INCC
Adrian Powell, 5 time Olympian and long time INCC member, described Ross as ‘Mr Canoeing’ and said:
if it had not been for your insight and strength I may not have become an ‘Olympian’. For everything there is a beginning and you were that beginning of what we now have. Every past present and future canoeist owes you a debt. The man who gave so much to this sport and asked so little.
Pioneer of kayaking in Australia
By the time Ross established Ivanhoe Canoe Club he had already had a long involvement in canoeing, from his membership of Rudder Grange Canoe Club to his involvement at an organisational level, not only in Victoria, but nationally and internationally.
Until then the preferred activity was canoeing and then mostly for pleasure rather than racing, which explains why most clubs are known as canoe clubs today. In 1948 Ross imported two ‘Max Andersson’ kayaks from Sweden, a K1 and a K2. These had a wooden hull and cockpit with a stiff canvas deck at the front and back..
Ross recruited an international paddler, Emil Smatlak to come to Australia, giving him a job in his timber yard. Emil helped kickstart kayaking in Australia by teaching the finer points of kayaking to the canoeing fraternity. At the first Australian Championships in 1951, Ross won the K1 10,000m and paired with Emil to win the K2 1000m.
Ross was a foundation member of the Australian Canoeing Federation and the Victorian Amateur Canoe Association. He was also one of the first two Australian members of the International Canoe Federation. He was instrumental in having canoeing included in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, drumming up initial support and then acting as location manager at Lake Wendouree, Ballarat for the Olympics. In 1964 Ross was appointed Canoe Manager for the Australian team for the Tokyo Olympics.
Motivating force at INCC
Ross forged his group of juniors into a formidable competitive squad. INCC dominated the ‘Pemiership Cup’ during the late 60’s and early seventies. In 1975, when the first junior team was selected to go to the World Championships in Rome, seven of the eight members were from INCC.
In 1969 Mark Thornwaite had an idea for an ultra marathon down the Murray River but got little support from official bodies. Ross got behind the idea, and with his organisational experience was instrumental in the event getting off the ground. He continued in various roles, but mainly as Chairman of the Race Committee until 1985 when a heart attack forced him to retire.
Ross was a true gentleman, an all round nice guy, with a great sense of humour. He devoted a large part of his life to canoeing and its development. Ross passed away on 26 February 1999. We all at INCC owe a great deal to Ross and those who knew him greatly miss his agreeable presence around the club.
The following is adapted from an article written for The Age, by Fiona Rutkay in 2008 entitled ‘Jumping through the hoops’
Several mornings a week, two-time Olympian Cecilia Burke can be found on the banks of the Yarra River sharing a lifetime of kayaking experience with her friends and ‘students’. At 81 she still trains on the river, attends her local gym and inspires many with her zest for life.
Burke first sat in a kayak on the Danube in Budapest when she was a high school student. “I loved it straight away,” she says in a Hungarian accent. By the time she was 21, she competed in the K1 for Hungary in Helsinki (1952) and at the 1956 games here in Melbourne.
Politics and sport collide
In October 1956, Hungarian citizens started a revolution against the communist government and occupying Soviet forces. Cecilia Hartmann, as she was then, and her teammates watched the revolution from Budapest’s Red Star Hotel. “Even athletes from the Olympic team went to the police stations, got guns and fought.”
The Russians withdrew just before the Olympic team departed for Melbourne. “We left Budapest by bus,” says Burke. “We were carrying the Olympic flag, but people spat at us, they spat on the Olympic bus. They were angry. They said the Olympians had everything, but they didn’t know how hard we were working for the sport. Other people wished us good luck.”
On a stopover to Melbourne, the athletes found out what had happened back home — the Russians had returned. “We could hear it on the radio. Our prime minister was saying: ‘We are dying, please help us.’ At that time, the West said, ‘We are going to help you,’ but of course nobody did.”
In Australia, Cold War tensions were on display at the opening ceremony. “When we arrived we had the biggest cheer,” says Burke. “When the Russians came, the crowd booed. In Australia everyone was afraid of the communists. Of course I was upset about what the Russians did in Hungary, but I also knew that I didn’t have anything to do with it and neither did those Russian sports people.”
While preparing for her race, Burke tried to find out if her family was safe. Her two-year-old son was in Budapest and her husband was fighting with the revolutionaries. “It was very hard. To win a race you need all the energy and the enthusiasm just to do the one thing, but I was really worried. The race came and I did my very best, but of course the fire wasn’t there.” Burke finished fourth in the 500-metres singles.
Another story of endurance and strength
Two weeks after returning to Hungary, Burke escaped the country and joined her husband, who had fled to England. She thought that once she was with her husband she could get her son out of Hungary, but the Hungarian government rejected her applications for six years. “Almost every night I dreamed that I held his hand and we escaped, but when I looked down he wasn’t there.” When Burke’s eight-year-old son finally arrived in England, she convinced her husband they should migrate to Australia.
After raising her family, Burke took up kayaking again to become Australian champion at the age of 46. In 1977 she went with the Australian kayaking team to Budapest to train for the World Championships. “I sat down on the river bank. Some people say that the Danube smells terrible, but to me it smelt wonderful.”
A new home
Cecilia has coached scores of paddlers over the years, including several who have gone to compete at Olympic and world level. The completed the Murray Marathon each year for decades, achieving individual over-age records on several occasions.
In more recent years she has helped recreational paddlers learn the basics and then the finer points of kayaking, becoming a friend to so many members of the club.