Bowling joy for Caversham

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Caversham bowlers (from left to right); Tony Manley; Murdoch Mackenzie; Dave Feathers and Ken Harris have no trouble enjoying their bowls and camaraderie.

Few bowling clubs would have moved locations as much as Caversham.

But then few bowling clubs have been around for over one hundred years.

Not too far from the old Carisbrook rugby and cricket ground, the Caversham Bowling Club has existed in the southwest suburbs of Dunedin since 1904, when the Mayor of Caversham Borough, Sir Thomas Kay Sidey, facilitated the establishment of the club and became its first President.

Caversham started off life with a lease on the borough’s library reserve land (Presumably playing bowls was deemed a higher priority than reading books!). But a short time after, in 1906, New Zealand Railways took the land for an improved rail route out of Dunedin, and the club relocated to Tramway Reserve in David Street, leasing enough land to replace their former 4-rink green with a full-size 8-rink green.

“I understand they pulled down the old pavilion and wheelbarrowed it brick by brick to the new site!” laughs Club Life Member, Dave Feathers.

In the mid-1940s (for reasons unknown), the club shifted again to a lease of the Dunedin City Council’s Cohen Park at its present site in Hazel Avenue, where a new pavilion was eventually opened in 1951.

“A single 8-rink green was laid,” says Dave, “But they also laid a 2-rink practice green. We called it ‘the Pen’. We used to regularly practise on it. Frankly, it wasn’t good. It wasn’t well-maintained and it was always much heavier than the big green. We dreaded playing on it if they ever had to use it as an overflow in a tournament.”

The Pen’s been gone for 20 years now, taken over by the local petanque club and replaced by two petanque terrains.

Together, the Caversham Bowling Club and Caversham Petanque Club are overseen by an umbrella organisation called the Caversham Sports Club. “The sports club runs the whole property,” says Club Treasurer and Life Member, Ken Harris, “Including running and taking the profit from the bar. The bowling club and sports club members are then levied for any deficit the sports club has to make up in its income.”

Despite being down to 8 rinks, Caversham has a healthy membership for a single-green club.

“We’ve got 50 full-playing members,” says Club President, Tony Manley, “10 of those are women. On top of that we have 20 or so social-only members. To be honest, I don’t know how they used to cope with a single green in the 60’s and 70’s when there were 120 men and 40 women. We were quite a bowling powerhouse, winning both the National Singles (Kevin Darling) and National Pairs (Ernie Wilson and Ernie Grimman) in 1966 and Altha Triggs winning the National Singles in 1975 and National Pairs in 1978 with Maureen Fisher. The Club also contributed quite a number of Centre Presidents.”

It was a golden era. An era from which Caversham still retains a member.

“This year, Alec Sinclair’s been with the club for 65 years,” says Murdoch ‘with-a-small-k’ Mackenzie. “He used to live at Palmerston up the road when he was a kid, and watched the bowls over the fence. They would get him to fill in when they were short. He came to Dunedin with his folks and joined Caversham in 1955. I think he’s still only about 78 or 79 … he’s just been playing bowls longer than most of us.”

Alec’s only just given up bowls for health reasons, but remains a social member of the club.

And why not? These days Caversham is a very social club. The members enjoy get-togethers at the club, and often find themselves down the road enjoying lunch at Mitchells Tavern where club member Brian Morris is the Hotel Manager. “Brian is a fabulous supporter and sponsor of the club,” says Tony. ”and has been for the last 20 years or so.”

But members do also enjoy their bowls. One of their favourite tournaments is the Mercantile.

“It’s played throughout the season,” says Tony. “It’s a mixed fours tournament, where each team has two bowlers and two non-bowlers (people who don’t belong to a club). We get a full green every time.”

It’s a tournament which Tony can also play resident chef for, putting on a glazed ham or barbecue with all the trimmings. “We keep it pretty simple here,” he observes.

“We’re just ordinary people from ordinary backgrounds … trying to hopefully play a little more than ordinary bowls … and making sure we really enjoy each other’s extraordinary company!”

Nice approach Caversham, keep up the great work.

by Rob Davis