Cromwell bowling club in the limelight

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When Prime Minister Rob Muldoon was ‘thinking big’ in the 1970’s, his brobdingnagian ruminations  included the construction of the Clyde Dam and the consequent creation of Lake Dunstan.

The construction of the dam would mean the flooding of the historic town of Cromwell.  And at various stages during the bulldozed consenting process, the township would be flooded either more or less (depending on the height of the dam), and the Cromwell Bowling Club would either need to be shifted (‘the high dam’) or remain where it was in Cromwell (‘the low dam’) or something in between.

The high dam did not eventuate and as a result, the Cromwell Bowling Club continues to sit on prime real estate overlooking the new Lake Dunstan.

It’s a club that like many throughout New Zealand is a centenarian.

Created in 1911 when the gold below the ground was waning, while the gold above the ground (apricots) was flourishing, the club has had a rich and chequered history.  But today the club is thriving … rebooted by the determined implementation of a strategic plan formulated by the club just two years ago.

That plan recognised that reaching out and engaging with the community of Cromwell would be the determinant of the success of the club.  The members realised they could no longer afford to act as a private club hiding from the public behind a 6-foot fence.

“To that end,” explains Club President John Thorn, “We started to actively pursue partnerships with other community groups … for the bowling club to support them … and for them to support the bowling club.”

One of those partnerships has been with the Fine Thyme Theatre Company, a local amateur performing arts company, which recently used the club’s 3-rink indoor bowls stadium to stage its annual theatre production.

“We transformed the indoor bowling stadium into a 1920’s Chicago ‘Speakeasy’”, says Fine Thyme Theatre Company President Katie Lindsay, “Complete with a main performance stage, two side stages and table seating for the ‘patrons’.  We wanted to create an authentic environment for the production ... where the performers could wander among, and interact with the patrons.”

 ‘Scandal at the Speakeasy – Murder Mysteries’ only ran for 4 nights.  But this short season proved a huge hit for Cromwellians, for the theatre group and for the bowling club … all 4 nights were sold out.”

“We mobilised 35 performers for ‘Scandal at the Speakeasy’ from across Central Otago and Queenstown.  Plus we had an outstanding crew looking after their costumes, make-up and hair, as well as a team looking after front of house : food, beverages, etc.  With participation from all over the region, it’s no wonder we sold out – everyone knew someone involved in the production!”

“That’s the advantage of being in a small town of 5,000 or so, everyone bands together to bring something magical to the stage,” Katie continues. “I’m from Melbourne originally and I’m proud to call Cromwell home.  I love it.  You couldn’t have done this in Melbourne.”

John Thorn is equally effusive.

“I was gobsmacked with how they dressed up our old indoor facility,” says John.  “It was like movie magic from ‘The Great Gatsby’ or ‘Some Like it Hot’.  It’s inspired us to think how the community can capitalise more on our club facilities.”

Since the club ‘opened up their gates’, it’s already being used by other community groups … albeit in a more modest way than as a speakeasy set!

“That includes a local car club, an early childhood centre which uses the facility as a mini, the Ladies Lions Club, a pilates class and more.  We figure that as many people as possible coming to our bowling club, and incidentally being exposed to bowls, can only facilitate entry into the sport and our club.  As well as exposing our members to other community groups.”

There’s no doubt that Cromwell’s a great example of how clubs in the community can help each other.