Affectionately known as Dad’s Army, Peter Mears, Nick Reeve, John Higham, and Ken Maughan, are a familiar sight on the Clarence River each week.
With their oars securely in their hands, years of knowledge, skill, precision, familiarity, and mateship combine effectively and efficiently to help manoeuvre them safely and accurately up and down one of the most famous watercourses in the country.
And while they will tell you rowing is physically demanding for any athlete, regardless of their age, it’s also one of the reasons why this enthusiastic group of Clarence Valley octogenarians so readily participate in the sport.
“Rowing allows you to enjoy the benefits of a full body workout while you’re seated, and I quite like that part,” Mr Higham said.
“Another thing I like about rowing is the friendships you form through your participation in the sport.
“Peter, Ken, Nick and I, we’re all very good friends, and we all enjoy coming to the river to train together each week.
“It allows us an opportunity to socialise, and to participate in some physical exercise.
“And afterwards, we all head off together and have a coffee.”
The most experienced, and also one of the youngest members of the group, Mr Maughan, 88, became involved with the sport several years ago after realising he “was too small to continue playing footy.”
An active member of the Grafton Rowing Club, former Club Captain, and a keen competitor on the water, he has participated in countless regattas through the years and enjoys heading out onto the Clarence River alongside his close friends every week.
Born and raised in South Africa, Mr Mears, 89, relocated to Australia and worked as an Agronomist for the NSW Department of Agriculture, and recalls falling in love with rowing after accompanying his granddaughter to rowing lessons.
He subsequently decided to give the sport a try while waiting for his granddaughter’s lesson to finish, and frequently trains on the Clarence River while enjoying the early morning peace, which he calls “one of the best times of the day.”
Born in England, it was Mr Reeve’s passion for sailing which brought him to Australia after he and his family sailed across the world in their own vessel.
While sailing along the Clarence River, the famed Grafton Bridge proved too big a barrier for his sailing boat, and he chose to drop anchor and settle into life in the Clarence Valley.
Mr Reeve, 88, was introduced to rowing 10 years ago by his close friend Mr Mears, who rows with and alongside him in single, double, and quad sculls.
Growing up in Eatonsville, Mr Higham, 89, recalls witnessing the beauty of the Clarence River during its still moments, and its aggression and power when in flood.
A member of the local Grafton’s Men Shed, Mr Higham was inspired to take up rowing 12 years ago following a visit by a member of the Grafton Rowing Club who was recruiting rowers.
And he has loved rowing ever since.
“We all do,” he said proudly.
“None of us really think about our ages that much, we just keep rowing on the Clarence River because that’s what we want to do.
“And I don’t think we’ll be stopping anytime soon.
“It helps us to stay young.”
This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 22 February 2023.