Ron Mackintosh : Enjoying bowls in the Antipodes

July 7, 2022

Ron Mackintosh is a member of three bowling clubs in Dunedin.

He’s a full-playing member at Mornington, the club he originally joined when he started to play bowls 5 years ago. He’s a social member at Anderson’s Bay, the bowling club just around the corner from where he lives in the suburb of Musselburgh. And he’s a social member at the Dunedin Bowls Stadium, an under cover club where he can still have a roll-up during the off-season when the Dunedin weather is less than clement.

He loves bowls, and he loves being socially immersed in the Dunedin bowls community. But most importantly, it has done wonders for his mental health … Ron has clawed his way back from the precipice of acute depression , and he attributes this recovery to three things.

Firstly, the care and concern that his best mate, bowls legend Ken Walker and his wife Bridget have shown him, and continue to show him over the years. Secondly, the welcoming and supportive camaraderie he has discovered amongst the Dunedin bowls community. And thirdly, the support from his partner and fellow bowler, Sue.

“I was born in Glasgow just after the war in 1948,” says Ron. “We were a poor family. Clydebank, just down the river from Glasgow, had been bombed terribly during the war. Dad had served, but like many veterans, he didn’t talk about the war. It wasn’t until after he died that I learnt that amongst other things he had been a radio operator at Dunkirk.”

“My sister migrated to New Zealand, and after an initial holiday with her and her Kiwi family, I followed her out here permanently in the mid-seventies … first to Auckland, then down to Wellington.”

Ron became a Rothmans rep. In those days, Rothmans sponsored seemingly everything in sport that involved a ball, and lawn bowls was just another of its many interests.

“That’s how I met Ken Walker,” recalls Ron. “Not as a bowler, but as the Rothmans representative presenting him with a brick of cigarettes for winning a bowling tournament. He shouted me a beer, and invited me to his home for dinner, and to meet his wife Bridget.”

It was the start of a friendship that has lasted well over 40 years.

“I moved to Dunedin in 1980, and started a career in radio advertising sales : firstly with 4XO, then with Radio Dunedin and MORE FM. Anyone who knows the business, knows that it’s tough. Very tough. You get far more people saying ‘no’ than you do ‘yes’. You have to be persistent and resilient.”

“I did it for 20-30 years. Radio’s a wonderful industry to be in … radio stations run on the smell of an oil rag, and everyone pitches in to do everything. I was very good at selling, but even that meant you still put up with far more rejection. I think it eventually took its toll, despite the fact I had by now a wife and two grown-up kids.”

Fortunately, Ken and Bridget Walker realised that Ron was struggling, and took him in to his home. And one of the actions they took to get Ron back to his old self, was to take him along to the Mornington Bowling Club ... a club currently laying a new artificial.

“I had never played bowls,” says Ron, “But the people were very welcoming. So much so that I came back again. And again.”

It was the start of Ron’s recovery. And 5 years later, Ron has gratefully regained his life … thanks to Ken and Bridget, Sue, and bowls and bowlers.

“Depression is an insidious condition,” says Ron. “You never really get rid of it, but just learn to love with it, and manage it. But I’m now feeling good enough to contribute back to a society that has spent so much effort contributing to me.”

Ken Walker invited him to become involved with the charity he founded : Kittyhawk Kids Living with Cancer.

“We raise money for kids with cancer to attend Camp Quality in Queenstown every year,” Ron explains. “We run two bowls events a year … an under 30’s tournament at the Dunedin Bowls Stadium in May, and another Fours tournament in November which fills two or three greens. It’s a real fun day. We get businesses who are happy to give whatever for auctions, raffles and prizes … without worrying whether they are getting bang for their buck!”

“I’m also back working as a bus driver ferrying special needs kids back and forth to school.”

But Dunedinites will more likely know Ron for his stints on radio. He is the voice of Scotland, hosting a Scottish music show every Sunday evening on Radion Dunedin (8:00pm to 9:00pm) and every second Sunday on Oar FM.

“I’m also involved in the St Andrew’s Day celebrations in the Octagan every year.” (30th November).

And rest home residents will also know Ron for the visits he makes, telling tales of the life of Robbie Burns. “I don’t recite his poems,” he says. “I just tell them about his life. He was a bit of a naughty boy. He spent many times in the ‘fornication chair’ at church.”

“They love that story!