When news broke that a fisherman was missing in the Waitaki River near Blacks Point late last month, few could have expected the man they were looking for was Russell “Rusty” McDonald – a lawn bowler of the finest standard remembered and missed by many that had the pleasure to go up against his wiley ways, and in the most memorable of circumstances, be a part of his team.
It was a tragedy of mass proportion, a freak accident that saw even the most experienced of fisherman fall victim to the outcome.
Though, despite the horrific circumstances, many who knew him best say the river has caught its greatest catch.
And not a truer word could be spoken for a North Otago bloke who lived for his fishing and wore his heart on his sleeve.
If there wasn’t a rod in his hand through the decades, Rusty Mac would be terrorising the crease, sinking snooker and pool balls with uncanny accuracy, working on his single digit golf handicap and of course, notching up another title or three on the bowling green.
He loved his sport and in every sense of the concept of competition, he was bloody good at it.
A born natural with a sporting prowess envied by opposition throughout several codes, Rusty has been a proud player, supporter and representative of the Old Golds country, pulling on the provincial uniform in several sports for multiple decades.
A retiree and keen angler, only in the last few seasons coming back to bowls after a 10-year hiatus, Rusty will be remembered fondly as one of the good guys – in fact, one of the best.
With the waders still hanging up at his family home on the Waitaki Kaik Reserve, both his son Craig and beloved wife Annie, both top bowlers in their own right, recently travelled south to compete in the annual Bowls Southland Charity Pairs – their performance dedicated to Rusty, who himself has been a winner of the event in years gone by (1995) and in his heyday, a strong supporter of the competition.
A fitting tribute to Rusty was carried out at the North East Valley club over the Labour Weekend, with players from the coveted 10,000 Singles observing a moment of silence in his honour and tucking into a freshly cooked salmon – something Rusty would always supply to the event which this year celebrated its 29th edition.
First starting out at the Pukeuri Club as a 26-year-old, Rusty played bowls on and off for 40 years.
Most memorably, Rusty had a hand in the early success of New Zealand representative Andrew Kelly, who started his playing days in the North Otago region, with Rusty then going on to play for the Phoenix club and most recently, Awamoa.
During his time on the green, Rusty amassed more club titles than anyone can remember, 31 North Otago titles, one New Zealand title in the Super 8s, runner-up in the NZ Champion of Champion Singles, represented the South Island team and put on a stellar performance in last year’s National Champion of Champion Singles in Wellington, bowing out in the quarter-finals to eventual winner Tony Grantham, 21-15 and showing shades of his champion prowess that has overcome many top players in years gone by.
A gifted all-round sportsman, Rusty was able to return to the green, turn back the clock and play like he had never left – his left handed ways bringing about plenty of success.
Survived by Annie, Craig, Rachael, Melanie, Jackie, his beloved Grandies and his best wee mate George the dog, Rusty Mac’s legacy will live on for generations to follow and forever cherished.
No stranger to a fine dram of whisky or three and always up for a yarn, Rusty will be widely remembered both within and outside the province as someone who has touched the lives of so many, leaving an unforgettable mark and a widely felt absence on the green.
Here’s to you Rusty . . . good on ya mate.