Havelock Bowling Club : living the bowls and mussels dream

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From left : Colleen Robbins, Clem Mellish and Dick Jones check out the winter green maintenance, with the Havelock ‘grandstand’ in the background

Currently just three types of seafood are farmed in New Zealand for export : mussels, salmon and oysters.

You would’ve thought that with all the noise about ‘sustainability’ (and the concurrent noise about ‘overfishing’), that seafood aquaculture would be much broader than it is.  Maybe it’s too difficult to farm eels reputedly fixated on swimming to Tonga or crayfish intent on trekking around the seafloor of New Zealand.

But aquaculture is still big in New Zealand.  Over $500million worth is exported every year.  And over half those mussels and salmon (as well as some of the oysters) come from the Marlborough Sounds.  Much of them prepared for export in a small town called Havelock at the head of the Pelorus Sound.

Havelock may not boast the swanky schools of its northern Hawkes Bay namesake, but it is regarded as ‘the Mussel Capital of the World’.

And it’s also home to the Havelock Bowling Club: a club that may not boast the bowls names of its northern neighbours, but nonetheless has plenty of National honours adorning its walls.

Ali Forsyth won the National Singles in 2014.

Ali Forsyth, Graham Hood, Bob Dowling and Andre Smith have won the National Fours.  Lloyd Gallop, Andre Smith, Kevin Greenwood and Bob Dowling have together also won a National title

Andre Smith and Denis Mills have won the Pathway Pairs.

It’s a club that may have a small membership, but has some very competitive bowlers with some very competitive juniors coming through the ranks.

The Havelock Bowling Club was set up in 1933, although it wasn’t affiliated with the Marlborough Bowls Society and therefore a ‘recognised’ club until 1936.

“It was built on reclaimed land,” says Clem Mellish, Club Life Member and pioneer in the mussel farming industry. “The tide used to come right up to the edge of the green, and for years afterwards – even up to today – the green was always sinking in a couple of places.”

These days greenkeeper Andre Smith keeps the maniototo green looking sharp, with occasional encouragement from Maurice Symes in Blenheim and Don Carter in Nelson.  Andre is another local ‘mussel identity’.  In fact it’s probably fair to say that almost everyone in the club has at some time had something to do with mussels.  And not just eating them.

“Sanfords is the big employer in town,” says club member Dick Jones. “If it wasn’t for them, there wouldn’t be too much here at Havelock … other than support for the local forestry and dairy industries, and a service centre for residents and holidaymakers in the Pelorus.”

Sanfords enjoys the use of the Havelock Bowling Club much like the rest of the Havelock community.  “They like to use the pavilion for off-site planning meetings … their offices are only down the road,” says Clem.  “The RSA uses the clubrooms, the local garden club … it’s used for darts, pool, and exercise classes … as well as big birthdays, weddings and funeral wakes.  In December, it’s a popular choice for local businesses’ Christmas parties.”

The existing clubhouse is not the original.  “A new one was built in the 1970’s,” says Clem, “and was extended in the 1990s.  Unfortunately, it was substantially built with club volunteer labour whose hearts were in the right places, but who didn’t necessarily have the skills.  We were fixing leaky this and that for years afterwards!”

At one point, members thought it would also be a wonderful enhancement to put a ‘grandstand’ on the roof of the club so they could sip their beer while watching the bowls.  “We all thought it was a great idea in theory,” says Dick. “But it never really gets used.  Too far from the bar probably!”

Building the grandstand was understandable - there’s always lots of bowls to watch at the club.

Not just club bowls and roll-ups, but business house bowls over summer (most local businesses compete), Bowls3Five on Tuesday evenings, and Centre events as well.  Havelock may be the westernmost club in the Marlborough Centre, but the club attracts its share of the Centre programme.

“That may be because we’re known for our food,” chuckles Club President Colleen Robbins.  “Often there’s venison, all sorts of fish, and of course mussels : on the shell; marinated; grilled; wrapped in bacon; patties and any which way you like your mussels.”

The big tournament is the Rana Kingi Tournament (dedicated to all passed members).  It’s a Men’s Fours tournament held over two days in the first weekend of January.  Every year the 8 rinks are filled, and there’s a waiting list.  They come for the bowls … the food … and the camaraderie. “It could even be the longest-running tournament in Marlborough,” Dick speculates.

The big women’s tournament is the Havelock Ladies Triples at the start of the season in September.  “That has attracted some big names,” says Colleen, “Val Smith, Jo Edwards and others have played … we have no problem filling it.”

But what’s really special about Havelock is that they never had to ‘integrate’.

“We’ve always been one club,” says Clem. “There’s never been the women over there and the men over here.  We’ve always played together.  And always socialised together.  The club’s always had a great feeling.  And the members have always been prepared to pitch in and help.”

“We play some great bowls here too,” says Dick.  “I can recall one year, four of us went to the National 7’s Play-off in Auckland.  ‘Dad’s Army’ from Havelock was a lot more competitive than many teams reckoned on!”

“That’s not a mistake other clubs in the Centre make.  They know we’ll always be there or thereabouts.”

~Rob Davis