Class of 1967

Brian Tonkin is the product of the glory years of Aquinian rowing. Brian learned about strategy from the stern seat of the First Eight. The cox is the “coach in the boat” and there has been none better than Brian, or “Tonks” as he is more affectionately known. He has been a force for tight teamwork and leadership in rowing at the school for decades. He coxed the First Eight at the Head of the River for four consecutive years ending in his last at Aquinas College.

Brian and his older brother went to Aquinas courtesy of hard-working parents. His father drove a school bus for the government and his mother worked in the dining room at the Christian Brothers, St George’s Terrace as a young woman before she married Brian’s father. It was a real challenge to earn enough between them to send both boys to Aquinas but grit and determination won through and they provided Brian with an education from the Christian Brothers that he treasures to this day.

He arrived at Aquinas at the age of ten in grade five and began to cox “because I was skinny” he says, the following year. Besides loving the sport he was helped along by the promise of a toasted bacon sarny every Wednesday morning from his mum. Brian recalls he was a “shy student” who learned so much from the huge responsibility he had as cox. “You’re in charge of a boat and you can’t see where you are going, yet you have to see the path, you got to know the river”. It helped him navigate his way through life and taught him how to sail through difficult waters strategically. For him, it was a metaphor for life.

Brian worked hard at school and left with honours in rowing before studying for a teaching degree, at Claremont Teachers’ College where he met Shirley his wife, who he married at Aquinas. He returned to the school to teach there and then ran Nunan House with Shirley and his two girls. In total, Brian served 43 years at Aquinas and did 54 years in rowing. His commentary at Champions Lake in later years is legendary and when he finally hung up his microphone many paid tribute to the impact his dulcet tones had on the occasion. But mostly he remembers the Christian Brothers who taught him, “some of the best people I have ever met”.