The Russell Bowling Club in the Bay of Islands is one of the oldest, if not the oldest bowling club in the Far North of New Zealand.
They’ll be celebrating their centenary in 2023, and the club’s already formed a Centenary Committee to raise funds and plan a big bash for the occasion.
Of course, 100 is not old by bowling club standards. Over one hundred clubs throughout New Zealand have celebrated the milestone. But when you appreciate that Russell (or Kororareka) was known as ‘the hell hole of the Pacific’ a couple of centuries ago, indulging in the genteel game may not have been a priority pastime for the original settlers.
But today the Russell Bowling Club is thriving.
“We’ve got 48 playing members, and over 50 social members,” says Club Secretary & Treasurer, Pania Sigley. “That’s not bad when you realise that the permanent population of Russell is only 800 … 10% of residents are enjoying the club. 30% of those are women.”
“What’s more, unlike a lot of bowling clubs, most of our members are working age … in their 40’s and 50’s. And most of them think of us as a community club that offers bowls, rather than a bowling club that happens to be in the community.”
That doesn’t mean that the Russell Bowling Club doesn’t take its bowls seriously. “Our members are developing into strong competitors,” says Pania. “Two of our members are heading away to play in the upcoming New Zealand Championship Men’s Singles and Women’s Triples.”
And with the widespread acceptance of bowls in the Russell community, the club is expecting to become even more competitive.
Even the local sole-charge Senior Constable, Mike Gorrie, is a member - and plays bowls when his job allows.
“I came to Russell about 8 years ago,” says Mike. “And one of the things my wife and I did to get to know the community was to join the club, and play bowls. I even won the Champion of Champions at the club, and the centre, the first year!”
“Pania is the ringleader at the club,” he laughs. “She gets things going, and is always organising some sort of working bee. They put a new roof on the pavilion recently, and they’re now doing up this and that inside the clubrooms.”
“The club committee does a great job. Particularly when it comes to hospitality at tournaments. The boys will go out and get the seafood, and everyone will be in the kitchen making sure the players get a good feed : crayfish, oysters, smoked mullet … you name it.”
But with the club being seen more and more as a centre of the Russell community, it’s not just bowlers that are using the facility.
“We are fortunate to attract a range of local businesses, groups and families who use the club for their functions,” says Pania. “Sharing our resources enables us to promote our sport as well as generating sufficient funds to keep the club going.”
“St John’s uses the club ... the local gardening club uses the club …the carpark was used for parking the other day so people could get the COVID vaccine at a pop-up around the corner. It’s there to use for any group in Russell. We run the club like a business ... the whole community is our customer base, rather than just those who can pick up a bowl.”
“But we’re still keen on getting more bowlers. Our President, Gary Hooson, has even been getting the secondary school kids to try their hand at the game.”
“Gary’s also planning a bowl-a-thon for next season as a fundraiser for our centenary celebrations.,” adds Pania. “They’re planning to play for 24 hours, perhaps even 36 hours. However long they last! They’ll get well-supported. Even if it’s just by spectators holding their mobiles to shed a bit of light on the green!”
With the enthusiasm with which Russell supports its bowling club, it may well be a centenary well worth attending.