Christchurch Bowling Club : Looking forward to another 144 years

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President Malcolm Pennack is proud of their lawn bowling city oasis

If the players on television’s ‘The Chase’ are ever asked where the centre of lawn bowls excellence is in Christchurch, it’s unlikely that the Christchurch Bowling Club would ever be offered as an option.

The club sits in a quiet oasis in the east of the inner city, proudly serving a catchment of social bowlers from around the remaining eastern suburbs of the earthquake-ravaged city.  Mark Labbett, Shaun Wallace, Anne Hegerty, Paul Sinha or Jenny Ryan might have heard of the club… and one of these 5 trivia mavens may even have happened across one of the bowling club’s persistent reputes.

Firstly, the Christchurch Bowling Club is the second oldest still-existing bowling club in New Zealand.  It was founded way back in 1875.  It was still 14 years after New Zealand’s oldest club, the Auckland Bowling Club, established as part in the Domain in 1861.

Secondly, until recently, the Christchurch Bowling Club was believed to be a men-only club – a relic from the pre-amalgamation years of 1996, which had somehow surviving into the #metoo years.  “Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Club President Malcolm Pennack. “We’ve always had a constitution allowing women, and we used to have women members.  Unfortunately, there was a period there for a while where the women’s membership got so low, the remainder left to play with women at other clubs.  That’s changed.  This year we’ve attracted 9 women in our full-playing membership of 47.”

The women have come because they enjoy the relaxing, friendly pre-bowls, bowls and post-bowls environment at the Worcester Street green and pavilion.  “We’re relaxed for a reason,” laughs Malcolm, “Much wiser people than me made the decision to purchase the adjoining land years ago and today we get an income from leasing 50 carparks – we’re just a short walk to the city.”

It’s not the only clever decision made in the past.  The grounds of the club also house a cellphone tower.  “The income from the tower and the carpark take care of a lot of the needs of the club.”

However, back in 2011 when the earthquake destroyed the city, business as usual for the club became quite different for a while.

“Although we’re in the eastern suburbs which were badly hit by the quake, we had little damage.  There was no liquefaction on the green.  In fact, it didn’t even need re-levelling.  The damage to the pavilion was minimal.”

“But the concrete block shelters around the green totally collapsed … we were lucky members weren’t taking cover at the time.”

The most unusual issue was that for 6 weeks they couldn’t get to the club.  “The cordon went up at Fitzgerald Avenue … no one was allowed inside the city boundaries.  We couldn’t get to the club to play any bowls!”

“When the cordon was eventually moved to the cityside of the club and we were allowed back in, the club became the hospitality centre for volunteers from the Australian Federal Police.  We fed and watered them every day while they were helping with the earthquake recovery.”

It must have been some feed and water.  A plaque commemorating the club’s catering and hospitality today hangs proudly on the wall amongst the memorabilia.

Memorabilia which also includes some of the club’s greatest sons.  Like Mick Boon who not only represented New Zealand in cricket in 1923-1924, but represented New Zealand in lawn bowls at the 1962 Empire Games in Perth.  And like Brian Barker who was part of the composite winning Four at the Nationals in 1989.

“The future looks positive,” says Malcolm.  “One incidental effect of the earthquake is that we’re getting a lot of urban renewal in the area … new townhouses and new apartments … and therefore a whole new population.  In the past we’ve always had to ‘borrow’ members from other suburbs, but a catchment is growing right here in the inner city around the club.”

With its finances secure, and membership potential growing, the Christchurch Bowling Club looks set for another 144 years!