A great international sportsman and community minded citizen remembered in an historic ceremony at Dapto

Dapto Leagues Club remembers history: Yvonne Downes and Pam Chie with the restored William Beach Memorial at St Luke’s Brownsville. Picture: Robert Peet
Dapto Leagues Club remembers history: Yvonne Downes and Pam Chie with the restored William Beach Memorial at St Luke’s Brownsville. Picture: Robert Peet

The only surviving grandchild of an Illawarra sporting legend was among those who gathered at St Luke’s Church at Brownsville on Wednesday for a civic dedication service at the William Beach Memorial.

Pam Chie and two of the former undefeated world sculling champion’s great granddaughters Lynette Baer and Yvonne Downes were present for the unveiling of the restored memorial.

Local pioneer: Some of the crowd gathered for the unveiling of the restored William Beach Memorial at St Luke’s Brownsville. Picture: Robert Peet.

Local pioneer: Some of the crowd gathered for the unveiling of the restored William Beach Memorial at St Luke’s Brownsville. Picture: Robert Peet.

William Beach’s grave had been impacted by the elements over many decades and the site’s historical significance has been preserved after Dapto Leagues Club was awarded ongoing guardianship of the memorial.

It worked with Rotarians and a team of experts on vital maintenance work to preserve the important site that remembers a man who was also a very active member of the community.

William “Bill” Beach was a professional Australian sculler who was unbeaten as World Sculling Champion from 1884 to 1887.

He lived in Dapto for most of his life, learning to row on Lake Illawarra. 

ILLAWARRA MERCURY William Beach's great granddaughter Yvonne Downes speaks. Video: Greg Ellis

ILLAWARRA MERCURY William Beach's great granddaughter Yvonne Downes speaks. Video: Greg Ellis

A small committee headed by Dapto Leagues Club president Gary Tozer, Rotarian Noel Field and Julie Geraedts worked with family descendants of William Beach in supervising the preservation works carried out by the skilled team of the Rookwood Cemeteries Reserve Trust.

With the help of funding from Dapto Leagues Club original techniques were used to keep the memorial true to its age while not compromising on its traditional style.

A short commemorative video was made to highlight the scope of the work to date and that was played during the service at St Luke’s Church.

On behalf of the family Ms Baer acknowledged all involved including Dapto Anglican Church, Lakeside Memorial Park, H.Parsons Funeral Directors and Dapto Rotary for their contributions.

Mr Tozer said the club got involved to preserve such an important piece of history for a man who was one of if not the best sportsman to ever come out of the Dapto area.

“He was an undefeated world champion and we named our bistro after him. After reading Yvonne Downes’s book and how she was wanted to restore the grave with the proceeds from that book we thought we would take the restoration of the grave on as a community project,” Mr Tozer said.

“Later on I put to my board that we should take ownership of the grave. Which we did. We want to maintain the grave site forever so it doesn’t get back to the state that it was in. We are doing it with Rotary and many other people. It has been a really good community effort by the church here, by Rotary and Datpo Leagues Club.”

Mr Tozer said William Beach was the only world champion rower in his era who retired undefeated.

But he was not just a great sportsman there was a long list of contributions he made to the Illawarra and Dapto community.

“He was president of the rugby union club, vice president of the cricket club, he was a councillor on the local council, he was a justice of the peace and he also acted as a Magistrate in the local Police Court. So the man was really involved in the community,” he said.

Julie Geraedts speaking at the William Beach ceremony. Video: Greg Ellis

Julie Geraedts speaking at the William Beach ceremony. Video: Greg Ellis

Mrs Chie said she had not seen the memorial for a couple of years because she has been living overseas.

She said the work of so many people had resulted in an incredible incredible transformation.

“It is a wonderful tribute to grandfather,” she said. 

“I have been living over in Israel for the last seven or eight years and my daughter and I flew out from Israel two days ago. It is nice to know that so many people have been so helpful in achieving this. Dapto Leagues Club needs a big thank you. The first Dapto football colours were black and gold which were grandfather’s colours and the tiles around his grave used to be black and gold. But the weather changes things.”

Mrs Chie said the other great thing about the service was getting to see so many family and friends again. 

Present at the unveiling ceremony were Dapto Chamber of Commerce president Ian Fitzgibbon, Rowing Australia chief executive Michael Scott, NSW Rowing president Stephen Donnelly and Balmain Rowing Club president Joe Grech.

William Beach was born on September 6, 1850 and died on January 28, 1935.

Gary Tozer and Pam Chie at the William Beach Memorial unveiling. Video: Greg Ellis

Gary Tozer and Pam Chie at the William Beach Memorial unveiling. Video: Greg Ellis