George Edward Cook 1913 - 2004
1949 PROFESSIONAL WORLD CHAMPION SCULLER
In 1949 George Cook ended an era of great and famous Australians becoming the holder of the once much coverted World Professional Sculling Championship (http://www.rowinghistory-aus.info/world-pro-sculling/1948-1949.php). George passed away on Friday, 27th August, 2004 two weeks short of his 91st birthday. The following is the story of his life.
Birth of a Waterman
George Cook was born at Spencer on the Hawkesbury River on the 10th September 1913 to George and Catherine (nee Deas) the eldest of seven children Katherine (deceased), Randall (deceased), Wallace (deceased), Mervyn (deceased), Craig and Gary.
As a very young boy George contracted the deadly 'Spanish Flu' virus which ravaged the world after World War 1 and was rushed to Sydney where he made a slowly but complete recovery.
George was one of 36 pupils that attended Spencer Public School. He spent 7 years at Spencer between 1920 and 1927 with other notable students during that period including the boxer Vic Patrick; Australian Cricketer Bill Alley and bicycle champion Ian Cross. George rowed the 2 mile to and from school along Mangrove Creek with some of his brothers and sister in whatever boat was available. The five 5th Class boys each planted a pine tree in the school grounds in 1924 and in 1949 a plaque commemorating George's World Professional Sculling Championship win was attached to the tree he planted.
His childhood and teen years were spent fishing the Hawkesbury River in winter and working on the orchards and farms of Mangrove Mountain in summer.
Two years school followed at Laughtondale and then the great depression struck. George's memory of the depression is that they were very poor. Fishing in winter bare foot with ice in the bottom of the boat George toiled to keep food on the family dinner table.
George recalled fishing with 4 set lines each with 125 hooks 7 feet apart. The biggest fish he caught was an 84 pound Jew fish which he sold at the Sydney fish markets for 7 pence a pound. Prawns and fish usually sold for 4 pence a pound.
Ron Evans of Summersby gave George a job on his farm in 1929 to secure his services as an A Grade Cricketer for the Mangrove Mountain Club. George also represented Mangrove Mountain in Tennis in the Central Coast Competition.
At 16 years of age George was racing in 16 foot fishing boats at the monthly regattas on the Hawkesbury beating all the fishermen and farmers.
Alec MacKay, George Towns' pacemaker was impressed with George's ability as a sculler and suggested that he go to Sydney to try his hand against the state's leading scullers providing him with a letter of introduction to George Towns.
In 1934 George came to Sydney at the age of 20 and secured a job at Saxons (timber merchants) as the kiln supervisor on the site of what is now the Sydney Fish Markets, where he worked 18 years.
Months went by before George looked up George Towns who ran the Parramatta River Professional Sculling Club from his boat building business at Wharf Road, Gladesville. George Towns' son Hector started coaching George in 1935 and he soon displayed his proficiency by winning his first 17 races.
In 1937 Australian Olympic sculling legend Bobby Pearce, who had run out of opponents in North America, arranged for the Canadian National Exhibition to invite Evans Paddon (Australian Champion), Percy See, Jim Paddon (manager & Evan's father) and George (NSW Champion) to go to Toronto and scull in exhibitions. In 1938 J. B. Sharp drove George to the steamer "Niagara" and gave him 20 pounds (a considerable sum in those days) to help with out of pocket expenses; what a wonderful gesture.
George recalls one unpleasant aspect of his passage, it was the roughest crossing of the Tasman Sea in 18 years and no one was allowed on deck for two days and on the third day ropes were set up to hang on to.
Upon reaching Vancouver George boarded the famous Canadian Pacific Railway for the breathtaking trip through the Rockies, then across the prairies, past the Great Lakes and onward to Toronto.
As guests of the Argonaut Rowing Club, Bobby, Evans, Percy and George sculled in twelve exhibitions on Lake Ontario over distances of one quarter, one and three miles. The "Scullers from Down Under" were there "to show the northern hemisphere scullers how it was done." A match race between World Champion Pearce and Australian Champion Paddon was staged over three miles with Pearce retaining his World Title easily. Whilst in Toronto, as part of the promotion of their exhibitions the four scullers were introduced to the legendary Joe Louis the World Champion Boxer who had his softball team at the exhibition.
Utilizing a Greyhound bus pass which was provided by the Canadian National Exhibition as part of their sponsorship, George traveled to Niagara, Detroit, Chicago and New York and made many friends.
Stopping off in Vancouver on his return to Australia George was a guest of Vancouver Rowing Club and won two races (one quarter and one mile) on Cole Harbour.
Bobby Pearce wanted George to stay in Canada and offered him a job with his employer Seagram's Whiskey as a representative. Who knows what may have been had George taken up the offer.
By the time George was departing Vancouver just before Christmas 1938 on the "Niagara" sister ship the Quadruple Screw Motor Vessel "Aorangi", the clouds of war were forming in Europe. "It was on the 'Aorangi' where I learnt how to drink" George exclaimed.
Unexpectedly George was given a ten day touring holiday in the north island of New Zealand when the ship was held up in Auckland by a strike.
George tried to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force however as an expert in timber he was in an essential industry providing veneers and timber for aircraft propellers, airframes, torpedo boats and other war necessities.
In 1940 George married Eileen Toomey, his right hand constant companion till her passing in 1989. George and Eileen attended the Spencer Public School together and met up in Sydney when Eileen was working as a forelady at a women's undergarment company.
During the 6 years of the war George was Boat Captain and Senior crew stroke at North Narrabeen Surf Club where notables such as Reg Stride (bow) were rowing.
When Saxons went out of business after the war, George joined Vanderfield and Reid of Glebe Point.
In 1952 a friend he met on the steamer "Niagara" offered him a job with R. Bragg Pty Ltd. (commission agents) at Sydney Markets knowing that George knew the fruit growers of Mangrove Mountain . After 5 years he became a partner in the business. George retired from Braggs after 28 years in the fruit business.
Another passion with George was greyhound racing and he had two successful dogs "Bush Student and "Little Smudge."
In his sculling career which spanned over 18 years George won 54 open events in distances ranging from one and one half to three miles. The championship races were mostly over 3 miles and sometimes around buoys. These victories included NSW and Australian Professional Championships, leading to the ultimate, the World Professional Championship in 1949. In 1952 he won his last race over 2 miles on the Parramatta River and retired.
George was a Life Member of Glebe Rowing Club and has coached many a champion sculler/rower.
A Champion makes Champions
In 1967 George drove to Brushgrove on the Clarence River to watch Islay Lee defend his NSW Junior Sculling Championship. After the race George offered to coach Islay at Glebe Rowing Club if he was accepted into Sydney University the following year.
Islay did come to Sydney and under George went on to win more Junior Single Sculling Championships and the Australian Junior Singles title in 1970 before winning three consecutive NSW Senior Singles titles from 1971. Victory in the 1972 President's Cup was their greatest achievement. Along the way with Dr. Richard Reddel they won a state and an Australian Double Sculls Championship as well.
George purchased all of the boats that Islay raced in but often they needed to borrow the boat back for a final after George had accepted a good price for the boat before the race. Once an entrepreneur always an entrepreneur!
Islay attributes his later successes as a stroke of sweep boats to the lessons about racing that George passed on to him.
Other notables to benefit from George's wealth of knowledge include Phil and Graham Gardiner, Kirk Olsen, Paul Rowe, Phil Lineham, David Emmett and Jack McGee.
At Glebe Rowing Club George won the "Rugby Referee's Coach of the Year Trophy" 5 times.
In 1968 George bought a 50 acre property at Mangrove Mountain and Eileen and George built a house and ran some cattle and grew oranges. In his earlier retirement Eileen and George split their time two weeks at the farm and 2 weeks in their unit in St. Georges Crescent.
In December, 1999 George had a double by-pass operation and was fitted with a pacemaker. George bounced back in great shape to enjoy the spectacle of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Regatta.
Bobby Pearce was rated by George as by far the best sculler he has seen. Herb Turner he regarded as the best sculling coach and ranked Rusty Robertson and Michael Morgan as great sweep coaches. George was always available to give anyone who asks, the benefit of his experience.
George suffered a debilitating stroke in late 2003. Unfortunately George was paralyzed on his right side and was unable to walk.
After hospitalization and treatment at Balmain he was moved to a nursing home at Hornsby and later to the Matthew John Nursing Home at Terrigal.
George passed away at 11.40am on Friday, 27th August, 2004. He was cremated at Northern Suburbs Crematorium on Wednesday, 1st September, 2004.
May this great Australian rest in peace.