Unless you’re a Cantabrian, it’s unlikely you’ve heard of the small beach settlement of Woodend, 25km north of Christchurch. Yet the local bowling club is making a big name for itself, having scooped the North Canterbury Outstanding Sports Club of the Year a few months ago; a Bowls New Zealand ClubCheck Gold Award last year; and has recently been nominated by Bowls Canterbury for the Club of the Year in the Canterbury Sports Awards 2018.
It’s something which Club President, Rae Miller, is pretty proud of. Although Rae has only been a member of the Woodend Bowling Club since 2012, she and her partner John McKeown (who’s Treasurer of the club) have made Woodend their bowling home.
“We used to play out of Elmwood,” says Rae, “But the 2011 earthquake saw our home red-zoned because of ground instability and liquefaction. We both loved the sea, so took the opportunity to buy the last section in Woodend and build a new home there. It’s been a fabulous move.”
And a big move.
Rae started playing bowls back in 1975 at the Central (Petone) Bowling Club, where she became Secretary, Club Delegate, Caterer and President. She won three Centre titles and became an Umpire and a Coach.
But following a family tragedy in 1996, she moved back to her hometown of Christchurch. Rae read that Elmwood had just decided to accept women, become an amalgamated club and modernise their management structure. That appealed to Rae, so she joined Elmwood and was soon helping to coach and advise 30 new members.
Rae being Rae quickly got involved in the Elmwood Club’s affairs. She became an Administrator, Selector, Match Committee Member, Club Delegate – as well as playing bowls competitively. “Former New Zealand cricketer Noel McGregor and Bowls Canterbury President twisted my arm to also join the Bowls Canterbury Executive.” A few years later she became President.
It was at Elmwood that Rae met John McKeown. “We ended up living together,” laughs John. “I describe myself as the first casualty of mixed membership,”
Twenty years later their adventure together has continued at Woodend.
“The earthquake was pretty devastating,” says Rae. “But we’ve made a new start at Woodend. The locals made us most welcome. It feels like it’s always been home.”
Bowls is clearly in Rae and John’s blood. And in her grandson Ali Choukry’s blood who played school bowls, club bowls and even became a Development Officer for Bowls New Zealand. “I’d like to say he’s instead taken to the overarm game,” smiles Rae cheekily. “He now works for Cricket Australia!”