Sadly, this week we heard the news that Don Wright, our legendary Hale boatman for 22 years from 1973-1994 passed away.
Don Wright was the boatman at Cygnet Hall for 22 years from 1973, in an era when the fleet and oars were mostly made of wood. He was a good carpenter and mechanic, and made quick and effective repairs to all boats and oars and kept boats and motors beautifully maintained. His strict rules of conduct inside the shed were legendary: how to carry boats and oars, listening to the coxswain, demanding that spanners, screwdrivers, riggers and gates be put back, clean, in their places, Year 8s being handed brooms to sweep the shed floors so not a grain of sand was to be seen. He instilled a respect for a clean, well-organised boatshed into generations of young Hale rowers. In his era, interhouse rowing races in fours were held each Wednesday in Term 1. Breakages and collisions were not infrequent and the same boats were needed for training the next morning; Don began the repair work at 3.30pm and worked until the repairs were glued and clamped, each Wednesday night.
Don began at Hale in the era of marine ply, araldite, varnish and paint and many boys received an education in boat repairs by looking on. Plastic and carbon fibre were starting to dominate boat and oar manufacture by the late 1980s, a factor in his retirement at the age of 72. He had a gruff exterior and was sometimes terrifying to Year 8s, to the younger coaches and even to teaching staff who ventured from Wembley Downs to Cygnet Hall, but his love for Hale rowing and its traditions was clear for all to see. He knew every crew, watched their progress astutely, predicted race results and gave tips to coaches. At every Cygnet Dinner he was honoured by grateful senior rowers with a speech and a gift; in return, Don presented hand carved miniature oars to the Captain and Vice Captain of Boats. Fittingly, a beautiful wooden eight ‘The Don Wright” sits on the top rack at Cygnet Hall.
All Hale rowers of Don’s era will remember his voice, will certainly recall sometimes keeping well out of Don’s way but will all appreciate how much Don lived for Hale School rowing. In his retirement he still came to every Head of the River that he could.
Don Wright died on 26 January, 2021, six weeks short of his 100th birthday.
Don's funeral will be held at Pinnaroo East Chapel on Thursday 11 February @ 10.30am.