Island Bay Bowling Club celebrates its place in the community

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Residents of the Wellington suburb of Island Bay don’t tend to think of themselves as living in ‘Wellington’.

Sure, they probably work somewhere in the Wellington metropolis, and even enjoy the entertainment and sporting attractions of the city. But they belong to the Island Bay community. For many in the south coast suburb, it is simply a happy (or unhappy) accident that Island Bay is part of Wellington.

It wasn’t until the tram line was laid from the city centre in 1905 that Island Bay became “Wellingtonised”. Up until then it was it was an isolated coastal settlement enjoyed only by Italian and Shetlander fishermen, who were undaunted by the persistent cold southerly winds.

With the advent of the tram line, land was made available for housing. And to support a growing dormitory populace, the Island Bay Bowling Club opened in January 1918.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the first lawn bowls facility in Island Bay. Sometime before 1885, an ‘unofficial’ lawn bowling green was cultivated beside the hotel in Trent Street. In 1890, frustrated with the treatment of the green by hotel patrons, Charles Hill purchased land in Melbourne Street and set up the Te Hiwi Bowling Club – which became formally affiliated with the Wellington Bowling Centre.

But Te Hiwi was only a two-rink green. So Charles, with the backing of the Odlin brothers (of timber fame), purchased land for a full-size green and pavilion in the Parade. The Island Bay Bowling Club began life, And after the hotel social green fell into disrepair and the Te Hiwi Bowling Club was dissolved in 1924, the club became the centre of lawn bowls in Island Bay.

Today the Island Bay Bowling Club can quite rightly claim to be part of the Island Bay community heritage.

That heritage is celebrated annually with the Island Bay Festival in February, characterised by 5 feature events : the Blessing of the Boats; the Ribble Street Soapbox Derby; the Swim from the Island; the Festival Parade and the Teddy Bears Picnic.

The Blessing of the Boats (where in keeping with southern Italian tradition, the Catholic bishop blesses the local fishing fleet) honours Island Bay’s connection with the sea … a connection which was celebrated by one-time resident Rita Angus in her iconic work ‘The Boats of Island Bay’.

This year for the first time, the Island Bay Bowling Club became formally involved in the festival with an inaugural gardening competition.

“The perimeter of the club green is surrounded by planter boxes and spectacular murals of Island Bay, painted by Club Member Jenny Rattenbury,” says Club Historian, Chris Rabey. “So we decided to run a competition amongst the members of the club to see who could come up with the best planter box showcase.”

“Participating members have had since October to get their planter box looking the bee’s knees, and the Festival judges declared a winner.”

It may not sound like lawn bowls. But as many of the 500 bowling clubs are finding around the country, they are not only facilitating a fabulous sporting pastime, but providing social fellowship for the retired community. “I’ve played bowls for over 30 years,” observes Chris. “Mainly at Vogelmorn Bowling Club until it closed in 2014, and you cant underestimate the part bowling clubs play in our members’ lives.”

Capitalising on member’s pride in gardening, may well be another way that will see bowling clubs continue into the future as cornerstones of our communities.

Keep up the good work Island Bay.

by Rob Davis