Garry Watson: Jockey, Blacksmith, Farrier, Restorer, Carver … and non-Bowler


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Gary Watson

Garry Watson doesn’t play bowls. He gave it a go once, but the result was less than impressive.

However, he still plays out of the Terrace End Bowling Club in Palmerston North. Not bowls. But pool. It’s where the Razza Social Pool Club made its home after the old Palmerston North RSA closed.

But that’s not the only link Garry has to bowls. In preparation for the Summerset National Fours Tournament next year in March, he’s found himself carving the backboard for the newly refurbished Dominion Shield.
Garry is pretty chuffed with the commission. “When Tamara at Bowls New Zealand contacted me about a design for the shield,” he says, “I never really expected to get the job. But she gave it the go-ahead. Not just one shield, but two. One for the women and one for the men. Sweet as!”

Garry’s studio is the garage of his home in suburban Palmerston North.
But he started life far differently – as an apprentice jockey. “Even though I’m a small fella, I became too heavy, so I started working for my dad as a blacksmith/farrier. And down the line, I also started repairing antique and period furniture on the side. I found I was pretty good at it.”

The interest into carving didn’t come until his mate dragged him along to look at Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Palmerston North. “I was blown away by the beautiful whakairo rakau (carvings) that covered every inch of the place. It’s where I met my kaiako (teachers), Frank McNally and Craig Kawana, who started me on this amazing journey of carving.”

“About 20 years ago, I also found out that my whakapapa was Te Ati Haunui-a-Papa-Rangi (Whanganui Pipiriki) through my great-grandmother. At first I didn’t believe it. But after confirming it at the Alexander Library in Whanganui, so began my hikoi towards my Bachelor of Arts Certificate.”

Carving isn’t a ‘job’ for Garry. “It’s a passion … a calling. I don’t carve with dollar signs in my eyes. I carve with my heart. I need to know the whakapapa of the subject before I will make the first cut. The long history of the Dominion Shield is hugely important to me.”

That sentiment has lead Garry to work only on commissions that have special significance. He is for instance, just completing a trophy for the Redcliffe Rugby Club in Brisbane – in remembrance of player, coach and mentor Rua Ara Baker.

Yet Garry doesn’t come across as one of those wizened practitioners that appear on Sunday evening TV documentaries. “I’m no master carver,” he laughs, “but I have refurbished a trophy carved by the late master carver Ralph Flavell.”

The timber for the new Dominion Shields is currently being created at a Feilding joinery. “The shields are pretty big, so we have to laminate together several pieces of totara. It’s 50mm thick, so it’s going to be heavy … Tamara’s got me to make stands as well.”

On Monday 2nd March 2020, a women’s and men’s four will be presented with the new Dominion Shields in recognition of winning the Summerset National Fours.

We’re looking forward to the unveiling of Garry’s masterpieces.

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-Rob Davis