Rowing is in his blood

Howard Croker OAM at the factory at Oxley Island he established in 1977.
Howard Croker OAM at the factory at Oxley Island he established in 1977.

ROWING is in Howard Croker's blood.

From a youngster watching his father and grandfather enjoy the sport, he went on to compete himself at a national level, coach and mentor competitors as well as establish and build-up a world-class oar manufacturing business, which is based at Oxley Island.

On Australia Day Howard was honoured for his service to the sport of rowing with a Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division.

The news came as a "great surprise" to the 73-year-old who admits there were some tears in his excitement for recognition that he never expected.

"I'm just a tradesman and you don't ever expect that."

Howard has been fielding congratulatory phone calls from around the globe over the past few days from customers and people he knows some for 50 years.

The recognition came on top of being the Greater Taree Australia Day ambassador for this year.

His OAM citation is detailed, with a long list of achievements to Howard's name.

Along with being the founder and proprietor of Corker Oars since 1962, he also developed computerised technology in 2010 which allowed the assessment of power and technique with rowing strokes.

Since 1962 he has donated rowing equipment to local, State, national and international teams, individuals and training programs and has supplied oars to some crew members of Australian Olympic and international teams since 1964.

He has given advice and support for teams and individuals on oar-related issues and was announced an Australian Export Hero (sports manufacturing) by the Export Council of Australia for 2011/12.

Howard coordinated the sponsorship of the International Federation of Rowing Associations; Rowing Australia, Rowing New South Wales, US Rowing and numerous other international teams.

Howard has also been instrumental in passing on his rowing knowledge to others.

He has facilitated rowing camps at the Croker Oars property since 1992, was the rowing coach at Scots College between 1975 and 1976 and he coached various teams from the mid 1960s to '70s.

For more than 50 years he has mentored local, State and national rowing competitors.

As a competitor he rowed for the Haberfield club, from the early 1960s to 1971, competing for New South Wales in pairs, fours and eights for national championships.

He won a number of state and national titles in the 1960s and was a member of the NSW Kings Cup team in 1965.

Howard helped establish the Ryde Rowing Club in the early 1960s.

On reflection, Howard said rowing was "one of those things" that he got into because his parents were into it just like many young people do.

"It's been in my blood, basically."

He didn't enjoy school and decided at the age of 15 to take on a boat building apprenticeship.

"I just wanted to work."

His father was a rowing coach at the private boys school, Newington College and he asked if he could come and work during the school holidays.

For the first two years of his apprenticeship, part of Howard's work involved oar making.

But he had a problem.

The young man had a lot of ideas and thought what everyone else was doing was wrong so decided to go into business himself.

Once he completed his apprenticeship he made the decision to establish Croker Oars.

The year was 1962 and Howard, at 21, started working from his parents' backyard in Sydney.

Through sheer hard work, Croker Oars is now the largest oar manufacturer in Australia, and exports to almost every country in the world.

His big break came in the early days of Croker Oars, when Howard approached rower Terry Davies and convinced him to let him supply the Victorian crew with oars for the 1964 Olympics.

Howard had supplied oars to Terry for the Rome Olympics in 1960 and Terry had liked his work, and decided to give him a chance.

The Victorian team went on to do very well.

And Howard hasn't had a spare minute since.

In 1976 the rowing industry was decentralised and Howard was offered $3000 and a seven per cent reduced loan for a house.

The keen rower had visited the Manning Valley before for holidays and loved the area and saw a great opportunity in bringing Croker Oars here.

"We chose the Manning Valley in 1977 as a great place to relocate our business, which had been running in Sydney since 1962," said Howard.

"It was a natural choice for us, as we had been up here holidaying for years and we fell in love with the river and the valley."

He bought property on Oxley Island and brought his wife and four children to the area.

He said the area was chosen for the easy access to the river.

"It's lovely to trial the oars here."

They rented for two years while they built their own home and the factory.

The original factory has since been replaced with a modern, fully insulated facility.

Today Croker Oars manufactures quality carbon composite sculling, rowing, surf, ocean rowing and timber sweep oars for surf boats as well as other quality products for the rowing world.

In 1992 they started hosting rowing camps for training and they still have one college that comes up to train.

Howard said the river is ideal for training.

Croker Oars has a staff of about 17 including his four children and daughter-in-law and is owned and run by his son, Darren.

Howard loves that his family is nearby and adores spending time with his grandchildren.

"It is wonderful."

Howard said if he had written a script about how his life would turn out, it couldn't have turned out any better.

These days he goes out on the river in the morning to row regularly, although, he said, he can't row as hard as he used to.

"When I'm out there doing it, it just feels wonderful, it really does."


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