Search the Collection
Advanced Search

John Harrison

Australian, born 1924

John Harrison was born in Sydney in 1924 and educated at The Shore School and University of Sydney. His early sporting successes were as a member of the Newport Surf Life Saving Club. He was twice Australian beach sprint champion and rowed surfboats. In 1946 he designed and built a surfboat. He took up still water rowing after meeting the nephew of Frank Cotton Professor of Physiology at Sydney University. Professor Cotton was developing an ergometer at the time; a machine he believed would identify sportspeople as runners, swimmers or rowers. Harrison was tested by Professor Cotton on his ergometer and the results were so startling that Cotton persuaded Harrison to take up still water rowing. Harrison and others tested by Professor Cotton were known in rowing circles as 'Prof Cotton's guinea pigs'. Harrison was so successful at his new sport he almost gained selection for the 1950 Empire Games in Auckland. Harrison was a member of the Leichhardt crew that won the 1950 NSW Eights title. A day later he won a beach sprint event at a northern beaches surf carnival in Sydney. Harrison returned to Australian in 1952 after working in England as an engineer. Ill health prevented Harrison from competing at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics but he reached the semi finals of the Men's Coxless Fours rowing as bow at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The following year Harrison took a position in the Dept of Mechanical Engineering at the University of New South Wales.

Harrison designed modifications to a rowing machine developed by Leichhardt rower Ted Curtain, a boilermaker and welder. Harrison designed a new piece of equipment comprising an oar, sliding seat, and foot stretcher attached to machinery. The oar connected to a fly wheel and adjustable scales so that those using the equipment could be tested against their own weight. The machine also contained a spring at the end of the oar which acted as a brake to which constant torque was applied. This reproduced the flexibility of the oar. A 'rev' counter and stroke rate monitor was also incorporated into the machine. This allowed a rower's power output to be measured. Another feature was that separate stoke and bow side machines were produced.

Harrison and Curtain began building the new machines which were used by Leichhardt, Sydney University, Glebe and Haberfield clubs. The size and expense of the machines meant that production was limited to about 12 pairs.