Owaka Bowling Club : Playing bowls in the deep, deep south

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Tom Dallas from Owaka

Owaka is the ‘capital’ of the Catlins, the hidden gem that is the southeastern corner of New Zealand.

Having said that, Owaka’s not to be compared with capitals of the likes of London. Paris or Rome.  Or even Wellington.  But for the locals in the tiny Catlins settlements of Papatowai (where you’ll find the surfies playing in the big waves) or Waikawa (where you’ll find Hectors dolphins playing in much smaller waves), Owaka is indeed ‘the big smoke’.

Going to the REAL big smoke is a trip to Balclutha.  And going to Dunedin, is frankly just crazy smoke!!

Owaka has all those things that make ‘capitals’ capitals.  A superette, a museum, a school, a cemetery, a unique visitor experience (‘Teapotland’), and of course a bowling club – the Owaka Bowling Club.

It’s been here since 1924, from back in the day when the Catlins was one of the last parts of New Zealand to be clear-felled for farming.  Owaka was an important ‘timber town’.  But it was the beautiful native flora that was sacrificed rather than the plantationed pinus radiata that is milled in today’s timber towns.

Fast-forward to 2020 and Owaka is now a much quieter place.  The bowling club has just 11 full-playing members.  That’s not bad for a town of less than 500 people, but it makes it difficult to keep the club running from year to year.

Tom Dallas is the Greenkeeper, is the Bar Manager, and if the truth be known, is whatever else is required from time to time.

“That’s not saying that the others don’t do a lot as well,” says Tom.  “They do.  But when there’s only 11 of you, there’s always a lot for everyone to do at a bowling club.”

The critical thing, as it is at any club, is the bowling green.

It’s an old adage in the sport : you haven’t got a club, unless you’ve got a bowling green.  And Tom knows that … loving and tending the cotula green with the help of more than willing volunteers from the club’s ranks.  “There’s always something to be done … mowing, rolling, spraying, watering, top-dressing, fertilizing … even general maintenance.  Our plinth boards need replacing, but they passed muster enough with the Centre to play the Championship Triples here the other weekend.”

Tom’s just let his spraying licence lapse, but Ken Stephens from Owaka’s sister club down the road at Kaka Point is more than happy to do the honours when there’s spraying to be done.

As a result the Owaka green looks as good as anything in the city.  “We’re particularly proud of our plastic bucket seats from the old Carisbrook Rugby Ground around the perimeter of the green.  They don’t need any maintenance like the old wooden bench seats did, and they’re a damn sight more comfortable!”

Owaka’s big tournament every year is the Owaka Invitation Fours, an open tournament held on the first Wednesday of November every year.  “We fill the green with 16 teams,” says Tom, “And for an $80 a team entry fee they get lunch and dinner put on by the club as well.”

“On a regular basis, the members enjoy the South Otago Centre 5’s.   That means bowls every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, when a team of singles, pairs or fours takes on the other 8 clubs in the Centre on a rotating round-robin.”

Being such a small club, they like to keep the playing programme simple.  And the administration of the club even simpler.  In fact, the club’s found that the role of a club committee has become pretty superfluous.

“Anyone’s invited to any meeting.  There’s not many formal, minuted meetings.  I think we’re still using an old Warwick Foolscap Ledger Book for minutes started in 1978!  If people want a decision, we just stand around, talk and decide!”

Drop by and join a ‘committee meeting’ next time you’re in the Catlins.  Owaka is the closest bowling club to the southernmost extremity of mainland New Zealand.  Google it!  And you’ll find that it’s not Bluff after all, but a promontory called Slope Point.