As ‘The Merton’ forged a path up the River Thames in its first heat of the Prince Phillip Challenge at the 2022 Henley Royal Regatta, it was simultaneously breaking new ground in the history of Melbourne Girls Grammar and its rowing program.
It’s been a long journey since the School’s first rowing boat floated in 1985 with just five students and their coach as the program’s members.
From those humble beginnings, MGGS’s rowing program has grown to cater for over 100 Grammarians each season, with more than 30 coaching staff on hand to guide them and a fleet of 25 boats — a combination of single sculls, fours/quads and eights — at their disposal.
Along this 36-year journey, the program has claimed many crowning achievements, including winning the Head of School Girls Regatta twice (2011, 2012) and four National Championships (2011, 2012, 2013, 2021) at Senior level. But an international appearance was something no crew wearing the navy blue had achieved.
That was until the 2021-22 Merton crew of Georgie Gough, Amelie McComb, Eloise Faulks, Isabelle Balding, Olivia Nairn, Lola Dahan, Zoe McKernan, Hannah Glover, Alexandra Williams (cox) and Isabella Ross (emergency).
With the ‘Merton Army’ behind them, the 2021-22 First VIII became the first crew to row internationally and the first team to represent MGGS on the world stage in the School’s 130-year history when they competed at Henley in late June, early July.
The Merton’s Prince Phillip Challenge campaign ultimately ended in the quarterfinals. In this race, the crew created more history with course records for the event at the Barrier and Fawley checkpoints against Surbiton High.
As a new rowing season begins, Executive Director, Artemis, Sally Bailey, Head of Rowing, Angus Seller, and 2022 Captain of Boats, Georgie Gough, reflected on the historic Henley Campaign.
Angus looks back on the experience and what the crew achieved with pride.
“That final race against Surbiton High School encapsulates what it is to row in the navy blue of Melbourne Girls Grammar,” Angus said.
“To work in complete unison, disregarding the growing discomfort, to know you have given everything you could have, and to stand tall and proud for doing so.
“The Merton set two course records in their final race, highlighting both their athletic capabilities and the strength of the competition at HRR.
“But more impressive was the race debrief amongst The Merton. An immediate sense of pride and love for one another and what they had achieved was the clear theme. To then head straight to congratulate and wish Surbiton the best of luck, with genuine smiles and praise, while the pain of defeat was so raw, exemplifies the MGGS values.”
For Georgie, racing at Henley is an experience she “will cherish long into the future”.
“I feel so incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to row at this prestigious event. It is a regatta all rowers dream of competing at, and unfortunately, most never are granted the opportunity,” she said.
“Travelling across the other side of the world with nine of my best friends was an experience unlike any other. To my surprise, I fell in love with a lot of the English culture, and it has prompted me to consider visiting again in the future, whether that be for travel or study.
“The regatta itself taught me so many life lessons. As it was my final regatta at a schoolgirl level competing for MGGS, it taught me to enjoy the journey rather than basing my worth solely on the results, something I admittedly get caught up in during the normal schoolgirl season.
“Throughout the campaign, I found myself satisfied with our results as I look back on the amazing bonds I made, the memories I have kept and the lessons it taught me. It is an opportunity I would take up again in a heartbeat, and I still feel so grateful that I had the experience.”
Sally said the 2021-22 First VIII were the perfect role models for the generations following them in the School’s rowing program.
“Competing is an expression of us at our best, and our rowers who competed at the Henley Royal Regatta are testament to this,” she said.
“When I listen to members of the crew share their reflections of the campaign, I hear a richness in their journey. They have embraced the ups, downs, and in-betweens that come with striving to achieve an audacious goal.
“Our rowing program at MGGS fosters a culture and a learning environment that focuses on the process, not the outcome. Our senior rowers, and particularly our Merton crew who rowed at Henley — are the lived expression of this culture. They have embraced it, role-modelled it, and passed it on to the next generation of rowers coming through.”