The Legend of Bill Fisher

Bill Fisher earned the sobriquet “Ol’ Man” as a mark of respect for his years of service to Drummoyne Sailing Club as well as his amazing feats of endurance and athleticism. For sailors, the term “old man” refers to a ship’s captain- used in deference to the Master’s experience and authority. This was particularly appropriate in the case of Bill Fisher, who achieved legendary status among rowing, sailing, swimming and boating fraternities along the Parramatta River.

William Frederick Sainsbury (Bill) Fisher was born at Galatea Cottage, Ocean Street, Woollahra in 1874. At the age of 11 he left school to serve as a cabin boy on one of his grandfather’s ships.

Fisher’s Boatshed

In 1899 Fisher moved to Moore Street, Drummoyne where he established a boatshed in Five Dock Bay. There he hired and built boats, supplementing his income by fishing.

In 1909 he bought and then towed a floating swimming pool from Farm Cove to Drummoyne and attached it to the end of a long wharf. This established Fisher’s Public Baths, which remained in operation until 1919.

Standards of public decency needed to be maintained at the baths. Mixed bathing was not allowed and Fisher implemented a strict regime of discipline, employing his own interesting methods to ensure the rules were followed. In an interview with a reporter from the The Sun in January 1952 “Oarsman’s Last Laugh” p29, Fisher stated:  “ [I] Kept men up one end and ladies at the other.  Nothing went on that shouldn’t have. Any boy that looked as if he was getting a bit funny, I’d jump in the water and hold him under till I thought he’d had enough.”

It was best not to argue with Fisher since he was a more than proficient boxer and declared, even at the age of 80, “I used to box, you know. I’d like a fight now, just to see how I’d go.”

Fisher’s Floating Baths

The same philosophy underpinned Fisher’ method of persuading bathers to leave the pool at the end of the day. Panels on the side of the pool could be opened for cleaning. It also allowed sharks to enter. This soon cleared the pool!

During his long career, Fisher assisted such world champion scullers as George Towns and was on friendly terms with Henry Ernest Searle (who died in 1888 as reigning world champion at the age of 23), Dick Arnst, Major Goodsell and others. He remained a dedicated and champion sculler in his own rite throughout his life. His birthday was usually celebrated by a marathon row.

In 1948 at the age of 74, he won a silver cup and £100 in side wager defeating Albert Hayden of Manly for the world veteran professional sculling championship. At age 78 he rowed 50 kilometres from Drummoyne to Bondi and back in 8 hours to defeat fellow veteran Tom Hall and collect a wager of £25. Returning through the heads, Fishers ’s two sons were trailing him in a motor launch. It broke down and Fisher rowed across to Watsons Bay to summon assistance from a naval patrol boat.

On his 80th birthday, Fisher rowed from Drummoyne to Parramatta and return. At 88, he had his last row of five miles, but his sons had to lift him into and out of the boat.

At the end of his career, Fisher attributed his active life and good health to his diet of fish, blancmange, jellies, toast, tea and orange juice.

Andrew West

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