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Beyond the law: Lakeside drive

Every Issue

Cite as: May 2015 89 (5) LIJ, p.96

Hitting the water at dawn is part of the fun for two Head of the Yarra rowers and lawyers.

At daybreak, three mornings a week, William Stark and Michael Cahill can be found rowing on Albert Park Lake. The two Melbourne barristers are in training for the Head of the Yarra, the regatta entered by more than 200 eights of all ages from around Australia and overseas.

This will be their fifth time in the annual classic. To date, the two lawyers who are in the 55-60 Masters group, have finished “in the back end of the field”, taking more than 30 minutes (25-30 strokes per minute) to row 8.6km, from Birrarung Marr upstream to Hawthorn Rowing Club.

“I would describe us as proficient rowers. We’re competitive, we came second in our group one year, fifth out of 20 in our group in another year,” Mr Cahill said.

“It’s a handicap race. The appeal for us is that you can row in a race but you won’t be swamped by 21-year olds or schoolboys.” Mr Stark said.

While they are hoping for a respectable finish on the day, it’s more for (low-impact) fitness and camaraderie that they row and compete. Both have been rowing for about 10 years, getting involved through their children’s interest in the sport. Mr Stark is also motivated by the link to his late son Kieran who rowed and coached. He died six years ago aged 21 from a brain tumour. The PNET Cancer Foundation was established by the Stark family in his memory and to date $50,000 has been raised for research into brain cancer.

“We row for enjoyment. We both enjoy team sports. But it’s also to maintain a level of fitness. Each week, we will do three sessions on the water, two sessions on the ergo and some gym work. It’s all in the legs,” Mr Cahill said.

“Fitness is important but so is technique. Putting the oar in the water is quite a process. When the oar blades are going in and out of the water at the same moment, you hear a single noise . . . that’s a sweet sound.”

Mr Stark said: “It’s the ultimate team sport because everybody has to perform the manoeuvres at the same time.”

Both men say rowing is good for their mental health, too. They don’t think about the court martial or murder trial in the boat.
“You are in the boat at 6am, the endorphins are going. It’s a great way to start the day. You need something outside work,” Mr Stark said.

Mr Stark appears in a range of commercial disputes in property, contracts, corporations law and insolvency. As well, he appears before tribunals, including defence force commissions of inquiry. He is also a Navy reservist.
Mr Cahill is a criminal barrister and vice-chair of the Criminal Bar Association. He also plays bass guitar in the band of legal professionals, the Lex Pistols, all of which adds up to a very full week. “I sleep in on Saturdays,” he said.

“It’s very stressful work we do. It’s important to have circuit breakers. For me the rowing is a physical thing and the music is creative. It’s good to have both.”

Closer to the regatta, the two rowers will cross town for dawn training sessions with their crew and other eights on the winding Yarra River course, familiarising themselves with its currents and tidal flow.

But for now they are enjoying the idyllic surrounds of Albert Park Lake, where at dawn giant palms are silhouetted against gas-blue skies, people are out running and walking their dogs on the promenade, and the only water traffic is ducks.

Law's rowing elite

  • Solicitor Margot Foster rowed (stroke) for Australia at the 1984 LA Olympics and won bronze. She won a gold medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
  • Former Family Court judge Paul Guest QC rowed for Australia in the 1960, 1964 and 1968 Olympics, was a Commonwealth Games gold medallist in 1962 and still competes in Masters events.
  • Supreme Court judge Elizabeth Hollingworth rowed for WA in 1981 and for the Oxford University Blue Boat in 1985, as well as for UWA.
  • County Court judge Frank Saccardo won the lightweight four division in the Australian Universities Rowing Championship in 1975 and 1977.
  • Solicitor David Schier was awarded an OAM for services to rowing in administration and leadership. Senior 8s and coxless pair state champion.
  • Victorian Bar president Jim Peters QC was national champion 1981, lightweight four, University of Melbourne.
  • Barrister Andrew Cassidy won Australian titles in single, double and quad sculls in the 1980s. He rowed in the President’s Cup in 1982.
  • Barrister Mark Hebblewhite rowed in SA’s King’s Cup crews in the 1970s, including the crew that won the national coxed four title in 1975.
  • Late Australian barrister-Prime Ministers Edmund Barton KC, Stanley Bruce and Gough Whitlam QC rowed at university.

Carolyn Ford

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