Book honours ‘The Oamaru Four’

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For Moana Smedley, putting pen to paper has been a labour of love.

Last year, the former Oamaru woman sat down to write about her husband Bill’s rowing achievements.

Mr Smedley, alongside Win Stephens, Keith Heselwood and George Paterson, was part of the 1962 Commonwealth Games gold-medal-winning rowing four.

What began as a book for Mr Smedley and family became more than Mrs Smedley dreamed. A second run of The Oamaru Four has been printed, with copies for sale at Paper Plus Oamaru and available at the Oamaru Public Library.

Mrs Smedley said the idea came to her after she read The Boys in the Boat, about the American 1936 Olympic gold medal-winning rowers, to her husband. Mr Smedley lives at Dunedin’s Radius Fulton rest-home, in the Alzheimer’s ward.

“As I was reading it to him you could see him getting ready for the race,” she said.

“When I finished reading him the book, my son said ‘Mum, why don’t you write about the boys and dad?’.”

It took her about a year to write and was not always easy.

Both Mr Heselwood and Mr Paterson had died, so she delved through her husband’s three scrapbooks for information.

She read her husband the chapters as they were completed.

The Oamaru Four focused on her husband’s life and the Oamaru Four rowing team’s achievements, as well as the hardships they faced trying to gain selected for the Commonwealth Games.

Mrs Smedley, who met her husband after the Games, said the team went through a lot to make their dream a reality.

“It’s realising what hoops they had to jump through. They were a four, and [national bodies] didn’t want to take them to the games because they wanted to take an eight from Auckland.”

The four were given targets to complete in extraordinary races to prove themselves. Twice winning the Boss Rooster trophy, one of New Zealand rowing’s most prestigious prizes, was not enough.

Heated competition between the four was a major advantage, as they were not originally a team.

“Bill and Keith, they were a pair and they used to race against Win and George. There was a rivalry and that’s what made them such a dynamic four – they fact they were both trying to be, shall we say, top dog in rowing.”

The Oamaru community helped raise money to send coach Rusty Robertson to the games and he helped them gel as a team and was the mastermind behind their success.

“It’s not easy to get them up to standard where they could beat Australia,” she said.

Oamaru rowers (from left) George Paterson, Win Stephens, Keith Heselwood and Bill Smedley, who won gold in the coxed four at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The book details their journey to the top and features the last photo taken of the four together.

Mrs Smedley also wrote two poems herself – one about the Oamaru Four and another about Red Coats, which are awarded to the winners of the New Zealand Rowing Championships.

Writing the book has been an “absolutely” wonderful experience, she said.

“I feel .. people knew about them in Oamaru, and the rowing club has gone in leaps and bounds, but it was as if, I felt like, they needed to be recognised before any more died.”

Originally, 25 copies of the book were printed – the first given to Mr Smedley.

Carers at Radius Fulton read the book to residents and at the end Mr Smedley, a naturally quiet man, stood up and gave a speech.

Following interest outside the family, another 25 had been printed. Four were at the Oamaru library, and others sold at Paper Plus Oamaru.

“If there’s an interest shown I’ll get another lot printed,” she said.