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A Remarkable Journey to uncover the ANZAC Spirit through Coastal Rowing.

April 16 to 28 2023

During the Term 1 school holidays from April 16 to 28 Norwood International High School (NIHS) travelled to Malta, to represent Australia at the first Bi-Annual ANZAC Coastal Rowing Regatta. Our delegation of 12 Students, 3 staff and 10 supporters (parents & siblings) were incredibly excited to be able to take part in this unique experience, which proved to be a remarkable insight into the ANZAC spirit, coastal rowing and Malta’s culture and history.

Our Journey to Malta, started back in 2019 when John Calleja (Malta ANZAC’s) approached the Department for Education, and in turn contacted NIHS (then NMHS) around our support and future involvement in the first Malta ANZAC’s Sport Event. We embraced the concept, and despite the many challenges over the next 3 years continued to work with John towards seeing this experience and event come to fruition in 2023. The significance of this experienced was summarised early the Hon Blair Boyer MP – Minister for Education in South Australia [2020] “It certainly will be a wonderful experience for the students involved and be an opportunity to educate other young people in our schools about the role Malta played in supporting Australian service during World War 1 & 2 …and commend Malta ANZAC in aiming to develop student understanding and appreciation of the significance of the Australia – Malta relationship during those challenging times“.

Our student’s preparation for the experience began 9 months prior to leaving, there were significant challenges involved cost, COVID policies and the complexities of international coordination. To assist with this the students and staff arranged for varying fundraising activities which were heavily supported by our school community and particularly our school services officers (SSO’s) team. Through the different events and online mediums, they were able to fundraise over $6,000. This enabled the team to represent Australia and the school proudly in the Malta 2023 uniforms supplied by Nelson Teamwear and contributed to supporting the costs of staff attendance.

As Sunday April 16 finally rolled around the students arrived early (5:00 am) at the Adelaide Airport, ready for 40 hours of Travel to Malta. A 12-hour layover in Melbourne saw the students enjoying the sites of the Melbourne Zoo and the South Bank area before continuing to Dubai, and then Malta arriving in the early afternoon on Tuesday 18 April. The students from Australia and New Zealand (St Catherine’s College and Christchurch Boys High School) where welcomed to Malta by Her Excellency Ms Jenny Cartmill, Australian High Commissioner to Malta and New Zealand Diplomatic Representative Honorary Consul, Mr Kevin Bonnici.

Our first full day in Malta began with our travel to the coastal rowing training location at the University of Malta Boathouse at Bay Char Ahmar, near Marsaxlokk. The students got their first taste of coastal rowing, and quickly picked up the unique difference while adapting to the different craft and conditions. As training concluded we headed to the capital of Valletta, exploring the Archaeology Museum, witnessing the Saluting Battery in action with Cannon fire over the Grand Harbour and enjoying the narrow and step streets bustling with restaurants, shops, and tourist sites. Our day concluded with the formal welcome dinner at the local university campus.

We soon settled into the enjoyable daily routine of training at the stunning Marsaxlokk Bay and travelling to various cultural, tourist and heritage sites each afternoon. The following four days saw a range of weather conditions thrown at the students which enabled them to build upon their skill and control of a costal rowing boat. They focused on their ability to harness waves and manage the movement of the boat in the rolling swell, a substantial change from flat water rowing. A key element of the beach sprint format is run to/from the boat and the entry and exit, this was a strong focus over the coming days as combination and seat positions where slowly decided.

Our afternoon adventures allowed us to explore Malta on many diverse levels. A frequent stop after training was the adjacent Marsaxlokk Markets which stretch along the waterfront and provide a range of local crafts and food, the traditional pastries “pastizzi” became a favourite. The War Museum was a humbling highlight which involved an engaging tour of an original bunker used during the 1700+ bomb strikes during World War II. The journey between each location provided the students with a diverse outlook on the different areas from “rural” to the stunning and abundant Malta coastline. A key stop was Australia Hall, erected during World War I and funded by the Australian Branch of the British Red Cross, was a place of recuperation for injured Australian and NZ soldiers. Disappointingly, it is now in complete disrepair and requires substantial funding to proudly represent our history and its former glory. Understanding that this had been a place of respite for so many Australians connected strongly with the group and ignited a shared hope to be a part of the solution and future restoration works.

Malta’s deep history was constantly evident with examples of the different empires that have occupied the area. Some of the highlights at either end of this timescale where The Tarxien Temples dating back to 3500BC. Students were intrigued by the megalithic structures, the prehistoric art, and decorative carvings, as well as the rituals which once took place here. It was fascinating to here that these buildings had been used for more than 1000 years before the construction of the pyramids. Fort Rinella at Rinella Bay was built in 1884 by the British and housed the largest gun in the world. The gun was never used in any conflict and was only fired as part of practice drills up until 1905.

Our evenings saw us explore many of the different social hubs of Malta. Our favourites became the Strand along the waterfront of Sliema, and the Capital of Valletta. Both boasting fantastic views of the harbor and an abundance of restaurants, food, and shopping options. A highlight was seeing some of the International Fireworks Festival Displays over the Grand Harbour.

On Sunday 23 April we were blessed with calm water and stunning weather for our free day. With some students heading off to enjoy other countries with their respective families, the main group booked in for a coastal cruise. The country Malta has over 20 islands with 3 large islands. Malta, where we have been staying, is the largest of the three islands, and is considered the cultural, commercial, and administrative centre of the country. Our cruise visited the other two largest islands, Gozo (the second largest island) and Comino. We arrived at our first stop, Gozo, were we explored the Xlendi, the Capital Victoria (named after Queen Victoria) and the Citadelle, a recently restored ancient and walled city. This Citadelle really had a Game of Thrones vibe, and it was run by the Knights of St James. We headed across to Comino where our students swam in the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Despite being advised the water was cool and extremely salty, an exciting time was had by all, jumping off the boat into the water or taking the slide. Our return journey took us past some spectacular caves where the limestone cliffs has eroded away, and we enjoyed our vantage point on the bow of the boat with fresh air, breath-taking scenes and the sunsetting as we travelled back along the coastline.

We got our first look at the regatta location of Golden Bay on Monday 24 April. Golden Bay is a spectacular location with soft brown sand and a bay semi enclosed by towering limestone cliffs. Conditions were stunning and the students utilised the idyllic backdrop to continue their preparations. Mock races were held to ensure everyone understood the racing procedures and how the course will look on the following day. As Pippa and Patric (year 12s) explain “As a part of the coastal rowing training we needed to practice not only rowing in coastal areas but also using the waves to our advantage. This meant that we needed to learn how to ‘surf’ the waves in quads, doubles, and singles. This was tons of fun, despite being worried that we were going to sink because the boat was so full of water and sand. Another major highlight was that no one capsized!”.

The afternoon saw the group visit the Rotunda of Mosta. This basilica was built in the mid-1800s and is recognised as the third largest unsupported dome in world. In 1942, the church narrowly avoided destruction when a German aerial bomb pierced the dome and fell into the church during Mass, but failed to explode. The bomb is still present in this stunning church. Venturing onto the ancient walled city of Mdina, which is Malta’s former capital city from antiquity through to the medieval period. It has a diverse mix of medieval and baroque architecture and the group enjoyed being immersed in the narrow streets visiting special locations, souvenir shops and cafes. The whole city was magical.

As expected, Tuesday 25 April, ANZAC Day, was the highlight of our trip. Our students were up early and prepared for the ANZAC service and the ANZAC Regatta to follow. They looked fantastic in their formal school uniform, and we could not be prouder to see them wearing it with pride. The service was held at the Pieta Military Commonwealth Cemetery and was beautifully moving not only due to the peaceful, reflective setting but by the combination of formal protocol, the speeches, readings and stirring music (including a piper, bugle player and choir). Pippa (year 12) represented NIHS to lay the wreath at the memorial statue, alongside Ben (Captain of boats, Christchurch Boys High School) from the New Zealand Delegation. As the service ended the group took the time to reflect and wonder through the cemetery placing poppies on the Australian ANZAC graves. The service was followed by a formal morning tea at the home of the Australian High Commissioner. Her Excellency Ms Jenny Cartmill head the procession line in the foyer welcoming us among a gathering of many diplomats to her home. Ms Cartmill commented on how lovely it was to have the students attend and represent their school at the service and morning tea, with students taking up the opportunity to converse with diplomates from many countries, sharing our reason for being in Malta and enjoying the spread of Aussie Food (Mini Meat Pies, Sausage Rolls, Lamingtons, ANZAC Biscuits etc).

Students then shifted gear and changed from their formal attire into their sports gear and rowing uniforms before the journey to Golden Bay. The “Beach Sprint Format” was the perfect stage for the first Annual ANZAC Coastal Rowing Regatta. The teams from Australia, New Zealand and Malta competed strongly all day with a balance of friendly competitiveness and cooperation, reminiscent of the ANZAC Spirit. The Beach Sprint format saw head-to-head racing in singles, doubles, and quads. Each race involves a member of the crew running down the beach, jump in their boat (held by two assistants), sprint rowing out 250m slaloming through three buoys before turning around the top mark and heading for the shore, as the boat hits the beach a rower launches out and sprints for the flag 30 meters up the beach. It was an exciting and engaging format to compete in, we saw some strong progressions across the boys and girls single scull with Rohan (yr 12) and Arabella (yr 11) moving through to the finals and managing 2nd place in both events. Our mixed double of Daniel (yr 12) and Sophie (yr 11) pushed hard through the heats, semi and final to come away with a commanding win. Patric (yr 12) and Ricardo (yr 11) also had a smooth run through to the final, and with prime lane selection managed to hold onto the win in the boy's double. Through to the quads and some exciting racing sore the New Zealand/Malta entry beat us to the line in the girl’s quads, while the boys had a nail bitting finish which saw our team of Rohan (yr 12), Aaditya (yr 12), Ricardo (yr 11) and Daniel (yr 12) get edged out in the final 100 meters, coming home with 2nd place.

The experience concluded with a closing dinner at Two Bouys owned by an Australian restaurateur. This was a relaxing and fitting way to reflect upon the last week, present awards to the race winners, and an opportunity to express our thanks to all those involved in making the event and wider experience happen.

As Aaditya (year 12) explains “Going to Malta was once in a lifetime experience which came with many wonderful memories. One of the highlights of the trip had to be the tours we did after training in the mornings. Exploring Malta, we were able to experience the culture and history of Malta, with the museums, walking through the capital of Valletta. Even the exploration of Gozo was breathtaking, seeing crystal clear waters to swim in and our tour guide Mario telling us about the island. With saying that we were able to have a once in a lifetime opportunity to have brunch after the Anzac memorial in the Australian High Commissioners home, having conversations with a lot of people who had a lot of stories. Malta will defiantly be a destination I will never forget” .

We would like to thank the extensive work of John Calleja for creating the concept, enduring many challenges, and creating a once in a lifetime educational experience for our students to apart of. Without his vision, the concept of the Malta ANZAC Sports competitions would not have come to fruition, and we look forward to working together to make Norwood’s involvement a Bi-annual experience.

To Luke and Eman at the University of Malta it was brilliant to be able to work with you both, and we thank you for your extensive work and logistics to see each element of the trip come together on the ground.

On behalf of the students and travelling party we would like to extend our gratitude to the staff at Norwood who made our trip occur, with a special thanks to the many SSO’s in the front office, student services and finance. Our gratitude to Ms Laidin, Mrs Van Ruiten and Mr O’Connell for their work through the many months leading up to the trip, which went beyond their normal roles to ensure that each element of the trip could occur.

We look forward to working towards a return to Malta in 2025.

Check out the full gallery of images below.

Ben O’Connell, Emily Laidin, Jacqui Van Ruiten

Rowing Teachers & Principal

Full Gallery


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