Mornington : Dunedin’s all-year round bowling club


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Les Robertson (left) and Noel Seal

Wend your way up into the western hills overlooking the city of Dunedin, and more than likely you’ll find yourself in the suburb of Mornington, where tucked away beside a narrow side road appropriately named Bowler Avenue, you’ll find the Mornington Bowling Club.

Like much of Dunedin, it’s a club that’s been around for years … since 1908 in fact.  But being a centenarian around this part of New Zealand is just par for the course … much of Dunedin is still as it was over 100 years ago.  Even the Cadbury factory is still there awaiting its destruction by the bulldozers to make way for the new mal-placed Dunedin Hospital.

The Mornington Bowling Club was one of those early civic trophy facilities, born in the days when Dunedin was made up of local body boroughs.  Like the Caversham Bowling Club a few suburbs over, the Mayor of Mornington Borough noted at a meeting in 1908 that other boroughs in Dunedin had bowling clubs, so it was time for Mornington to follow suit.

To fund the new green and pavilion, a limited liability company was set up, the Mornington Bowling Green Company Limited, with a capital of £1,000, an issued capital of £500 and shares of £1 each.  However, eventually the directors of the company and the bowling club members themselves came to blows, and the company was dissolved, and the assets transferred to a new incorporated club society in 1950.

Today, Mornington doesn’t look much like it did 112 years ago.  The pavilion, for instance, has been repeatedly renovated.  But the most notable difference, and the feature that makes Mornington stand out, is the artificial surface of the green.

“We’re the only outdoor artificial surface in Dunedin,” says Club President Les Robertson.  “Dunedin has an indoor stadium with its ‘famous’ blue surface, but we’re the only synthetic green outside.”

“It means that we are able to conduct a winter bowls programme.  The rinks are all full for the open triples game here every Tuesday afternoon in winter.  And this last winter season, we’ve also started playing a Hong Kong (2-4-2) pairs every Saturday afternoon.  We reckon that this winter we’ll see that full as well.”

But playing in winter can be a shock for players used to a more tropical outdoors.

“One of the corners of the green is quite shaded,” observes Club Secretary, Noel Seal. “The frost can form underneath the carpet, and it ‘crunches’ as you walk over it.  It doesn’t seem to have any effect on the bowls though!”

The other unusual aspect of the club’s only green is the blondish colour of the carpet.  “We didn’t quite get what we ordered when it was put down 10 years ago or so,” says Noel, “Something ‘greener’ was expected, but an ameliorating discount from the supplier made the blonder green more acceptable.”

“Some players complain about the ‘glare’ from the green, just as I imagine some players complain about the ‘blue’ at the indoor stadium.  It’s okay.  But we have been building up reserves to replace the carpet at the end of its life in 4 to 5 years.”

The Mornington club certainly has the wherewithal to do that.

“There’s nearly 80 members here,” says Les, “64 of whom are full-playing members.  We need our only green to be in top condition.  We’re renowned for our monthly open mixed fours tournament, and there’s teams come from all over Otago every month vying for one of the 16 spots on the green.”

They come each month to the club in anticipation of the same friendly welcome they’ve always received.  Mornington’s not a club of ‘named’ bowlers, but just a club of guys and guyettes enjoying some bowls and a laugh together.

However, those that do win club honours are accoladed in a quite unusual way.

Noel, a former architectural draughtsman, has created ‘double-skin’ honours boards on the wall of the club, which hinge back and reveal the historical archive of former honours recipients.  “I imagine other clubs are much like us – we just ran out of wall space for all our honours boards.  So rather than hide them away in a cupboard never to be seen again, we’ve created this ‘double-skin’ system.”

It’s brilliant.  And a great way to put up all the former champions’ names in lights.

That’s quite a challenge when you’re over 100 years of lights to hang!