Life story of Illawarra's first world champ

Proud relatives: Bill Beach's great-granddaughter Yvonne Downes and great-great-great-nephew Mark Matthews visit his grave in St Lukes cemetery, Brownsville.Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Proud relatives: Bill Beach's great-granddaughter Yvonne Downes and great-great-great-nephew Mark Matthews visit his grave in St Lukes cemetery, Brownsville.Picture: ADAM McLEAN

World champion sculler William Beach.

World champion sculler William Beach.

A book profiling the life of the Illawarra's first world champion, William "Bill" Beach, will be launched at Dapto Leagues Club on Saturday.

The Brownsville Blacksmith has been written by the champion sculler's great-granddaughter Yvonne Downes.

In 1884, Beach "astonished the world" by defeating Canadian Edward Hanlan in the World Professional Sculling Championships on the Parramatta River. He became an instant Australian sporting hero and retained his title on six occasions in Australia and overseas before retiring.

Beach lived most of his life at Dapto, learnt to row on Lake Illawarra and was active at a time when professional sculling was a prominent international sport. His name lives on in the Illawarra through a park at Brownsville, IRT's William Beach Gardens and the William Beach Brasserie at Dapto Leagues Club.

Ms Downes, who lives in Tasmania, expects about 120 people at the launch, which is being held 130 years to the day since Beach won his first world title.

Beach and his wife, Sarah, had 12 children and their descendants are scattered far and wide, but many will be making the effort to attend the launch, which will take place in the Sinclair Room at Dapto Leagues Club at 10.30am. Historical society representatives and rowing organisations will also attend.

Ms Downes said compiling the book had been "enlightening".

"He excelled in a time when there there was little in the way of organised sport and before the modern Olympics," Ms Downes said.

Beach was generous with his time and went on to contribute greatly to the Illawarra when his sculling days were over, she said.

He was a trustee of the Dapto Showground and Gooseberry and Hooka Islands, and became an alderman on the Central Illawarra Council.

He died at Brownsville on January 28, 1935.

Funds raised from the book will go towards restoring Beach's heritage-listed grave in St Luke's Church of England cemetery, Brownsville.

People wanting to buy a book may attend Saturday's launch or email ennovyar@gmail.com.

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