In the 80s and 90s, the Cockburn Bowling Club located to the south of Perth at Spearwood, had been a powerhouse in Australian lawn bowls.
The club, founded over 50 years ago in 1964, boasted members of the likes of Smiljana Jakovich, Peter Sardelic and Steve Srhoy … who had all represented Australia and got amongst the medals at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games.
But the club fell on hard times in the last decade. So much so that it was nearly all over.
But a group of club stalwarts, lead by President and ex-Glaswegian Pat McBride, were determined to create a new future for the club. And with a lot of cajoling of the federal government and the local council, were able oversee the creation of a fabulous new bowls facility down the road at Visko Park in the neighbouring suburb of Yangebup.
The new Cockburn Recreational & Bowling Club opened in August 2018.
“It took a decade to get there,” says McBride. “We applied to the federal government for $4.5 million of funding, but they turned us down. They didn’t like dedicated funding of bowling clubs.”
But when the club mooted sharing the new facility with the Area 5 Mini-Football League and Volleyball Western Australia, the federal government suddenly looked kindly on the new ‘multi-sport’ facility, and with a matching grant from the City of Cockburn, the new $9 million Cockburn Bowls and Recreation Centre was born.
It is an impressive facility. Along the lines of Naenae Bowling Club in Wellington.
“The two greens are the largest greens in Australia,” says McBride proudly. “They’re both 44.6 metres x 44.6 metres, which means we can have 10 rinks on each. We can have 40 teams playing on Legends’ Day.”
One of the greens is rooved. We’re talking a very serious roof. It’s there for the little rain (by New Zealand standards) in winter and the 40º+ sun in summer. Both greens have lights for night play.
The ‘clubhouse’ is like the RSLs and Cossie Clubs in the east. An outside caterer puts the commercial kitchen to work every Friday night serving Aussie favourites for $15+. There’s a wall of dartboards. Plus the odd pool table, and an ever-present TAB.
The pulling power of all these new facilities are nothing short of astounding.
“We had 350 members at the old club,” says McBride. “The new club has 120 full-playing members, 180 recreational playing members and 50 registered junior bowlers. But the total membership is now 2,800!”
No bowls club in New Zealand has anywhere near 2,800 members. And possibly no club of any sort in New Zealand has 2,800 members.
Needless to say the club finances are no longer problematic. “The club still runs substantially with volunteers,” says McBride, “but there are 3 paid full-time and 2 casual bar staff. Plus the groundsman is paid.” (both greens are artificial). “The council only charges a $1 a year peppercorn rental. Yet we’re able to charge a modest rental to Area 5 Mini-Football League and Volleyball Western Australia. It’s a win-win.”
The Cockburn Bowling Club has now become a go-to facility for Bowls Western Australia. The club has recently hosted the State Singles Finals with 4 games of section play on the Saturday, and the finals on the Sunday.
“The draw only required 16 rinks,” adds McBride, “so it meant we could reconfigure each of the greens with just 8 rinks. So there were effectively no ‘end’ rinks.”
Next time you’re in Perth, take the 20-minute drive down the freeway to Cockburn. You’ll find the development very inspiring. Particularly if you’re contemplating covering a green, Pat McBride will be more than happy to show you the cover that only cost $500,000 of the build budget.
Maybe he’ll also show you how to get $9 million out of government and council as well!