Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

With Albert Park Lake considered too small and shallow and the Yarra unsuitable because a planned widening of the bridge at Swan Street thought likely, a decision was taken in 1950 to hold rowing and canoeing events held at Lake Wendouree at Ballarat, some 70 miles north-west of Melbourne after a brief suggestion (quickly squashed by the Board of Works) of Maroondah Dam or the O’Shannassy Reservoir south-east of Melbourne as a possible site.

Given it was apparent from the start that the events could not be hald in Melbourne itself, many country municipalities raised their hands - Geelong with its Barwon River for rowing and Corio Bay for yachting; Mildura on the Murray, Colac (Lake Corangamite), Camperdown (Lake Bullen Merri, “wonderful sheet of water”, but no accommodation), Wodonga (Hume Weir), even Eildon Weir where housing was likely to be left after workmen completed raising the height of the retaining wall.

Subsequent inspection by an international rowing official however revealed that Wendouree was also too shallow, and the O.O.C. turned to Lake Learmonth about ten miles north-west of Ballarat, but the site was undeveloped with no shore facilities, and said to prone to roughness due to prevailing winds.  

Faced with a huge expenditure required at Learmonth, the O.O.C. requested the International Rowing Federation to reduce the permissible depth to allow the original suggestion of Wendouree to be used, this granted provided some conditions were met.

Although probably the only viable location, Wendouree in fact met most of the perceived requirements - still water, the availability of a 2,000 by 75 metre straight course, and tall weed growth around the edge to give protection from winds (although some of one day's repechage heats did have to be postponed with permission given to complete them on following day, a Sunday, the only time competition took place on the Sabbath).

For 10,000 metre canoeing and kayaking events, a parallel course was laid out which when rounded out at either end resulted in two laps of 5,000 metres.  Jetties, a judge's box and spectator stands accommodating 2,300 were erected, the natural banks of the lake allowing about another 12,000 to view the racing.

Some additional work was required - both ends of the course were deepened to restrict choppy waters during the event and parts of the shore required excavation for the starting and finishing bays.   Volunteers from local organizations in conjunction with Ballarat Council cleared an estimated 50,000 cubic yards of weeds.

One unforeseen problem arose - prior to the Games, one of the three boat houses at the lake was destroyed by fire and was unable to be re-built in time, requiring in some temporary shed accommodation being erected for canoes.

Given the distance from Melbourne, a separate Olympic Village to house about 480 was required - given most of the competitors were only at Ballarat for two or three days before returning to the main Village at Heidelberg, the organisers opted for temporary accommodation already in use as a migrant camp using ex-Army Nissen huts of six or twelve rooms along with usual facilities. (below right).

Some 25 nations utilising about 75 boats competed at Lake Wendouree from Friday, 23 November to Saturday, 1 December

Victorian Railways established a number of special trains between Ballarat and Melbourne – on the day of the Opening Ceremony for competitors housed at Lake Wendouree, returning late that night, and then to transport spectators on a daily basis.

Post-Games, the attendances at rowing events was considere more that satisfactory, but the canoeing and kayaking (optional sports) failed to attract the imagination of public and ticket sales disappointing.


Playgrounds : Lake Wendouree

Lake Wendouree

The main course ran from top left with the finish lower right as indicated above and below, the latter also showing the 10,000 metre course (2 laps)

Bottom : The specially-constructed starting bay and jetties before the start of the eights final, the crews from top being : U.S.A., Australia, Sweden, Canada

Bottom : The Ballarat Olympic Village prior to occupation