If you were a women’s lawn bowler in the 80s and 90s, you probably came across ‘The Mouse’ making a nuisance of herself on the green.
Nicknamed ‘The Mouse’ by renowned bowls commentator Stu Scott, she was one of ‘the three musketeers’ (along with Marlene Castle and Adrienne Lambert) whose prowess at the game invited women’s bowls to be taken seriously in those pre-amalgamation days.
But Christchurch-born Marie was not always a lawn bowler. “As a youngster, I started off as a swimmer and a surfer at South Brighton,” she says, “before moving on to indoor bowls after I married Ken and had a family.”
Indoor bowls started as just a ‘night out from the kids’, but she quickly got noticed at the Linwood Avenue School indoor bowls club, becoming the first woman to win the Canterbury Singles in 1976. “I found myself playing for Canterbury,” says Marie, “and then for New Zealand.”
Marie represented New Zealand Indoor Bowls playing Australia in the Singles in 1979, and in the Pairs in 1987 with Wynette McLaughlin, winning against Australia. She represented the South Island in the Singles in the North-South Tournament in 1982 and 1984.
“Ken had started playing lawn bowls early in the piece,” she recalls “I used to sit and watch him. In those days’ women weren’t able to play in the weekends. But when the kids were able to look after themselves, I took up the outdoor game as well, and joined the Linwood Bowling Club.”
Like indoor bowls, Marie found herself becoming good at the new game. Very good.
In 1987, she won the Women’s National Pairs title with Denise Page. And in 1995, she teamed up with fellow Linwood bowlers Beverly Morel and Raelene Peters to play in a Denise Page-skipped team to win the Women’s National Fours.
She had already become a go-to selection in the New Zealand Women’s team, taking out a Gold medal in the Women’s Pairs with Judy Howat at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland. Two years later, in 1992, she was in the New Zealand Four that won a Silver medal at the World Outdoor Bowls Championship in Ayr, Scotland. In 1995, she teamed up with Betty Prattley (Skip), Marlene Castle and Millie Khan to win Gold in the Women’s Fours at the Asia Pacific Championships in Dunedin.
Before she and her husband moved to Nelson in 1996, she had accumulated 23 Canterbury Centre titles, and an uncountable number of Linwood Club titles, as well as being named 1996 Canterbury Sportswoman of the Year.
She and her husband joined the Stoke Bowling Club, but later relocated to the United Nelson Bowling Club which at the time, provided her better competition.
Marie continued to do more damage in Nelson, winning 16 Centre titles, including 7 Mixed titles, as well as 2 National Mixed Pairs titles with son Gary.
She also continued to compete at National level, winning the Women’s National Singles title 4 times - in 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2003 – the same as the great Millie Khan. No other person has won so many Women’s Singles titles. “It’s easy to think I had a dream run,” says Marie, “but I lost the final 4 times, all 21-20, before I won the title. It was shall we say, ‘character-building’. But I guess you have to first lose, to win.” (That character-building eventually earned her a Gold Star (6 National titles) and a Silver Star (9 Silver National titles).)
She retained her place at international level as well.
With Marlene Castle (Skip) and Sharon Sims, she won a Silver in the Triples at the Asia Pacific Championships at Warilla in New South Wales in 1997, as well as a Silver in the Fours with Patsy Jorgensen being added to the team.
But it had been the Gold at the Pakuranga Bowling Club at the Comm Games in 1990 that was her most exciting moment.
“After the final end, I remember running down the green towards Judy (Howat), jumping on her for a hug, and she fell over in the ditch. It’s probably on an old television archive somewhere!”
And the most disappointing?
“A couple come to mind. When we were beaten in the final 21-20 at the World Championships in Scotland in 1992. And funnily enough, the other was at the Asia Pacific Championships in Papua & New Guinea in 1987 when we went through the round-robin unbeaten – and ended up losing the final to Fiji.”
But none of those moments were the most memorable. Instead it was the day the Mouse called Marie met the Mouse called Mickey.
“After playing in a tournament in Britain, we came back through Los Angeles. Marlene (Castle) and Adrienne (Lambert) and I spent all day at Disneyland – we were there from when the gates opened until when it closed.”
“That night the 1994 Northridge Earthquake struck Los Angeles. Adrienne and I were rooming together and she slept right through it! I had to wake her up. The water in the hotel swimming pool was sloshing everywhere. There was huge damage … buildings, bridges and roads down everywhere.”
The earthquake was a 6.7. 57 people were killed. And the damage was over $50 billion. “We’re lucky to still be here,” says Marie, “and Marlene (Castle) and Millie (Khan) even luckier – they went down to the ground floor of the hotel in the lift!”
We’re lucky to have had ‘The Mouse’ around too. She’s made a marvellous contribution to the game.
For the moment, she and Ken have suspended playing bowls so they can play ‘grey nomad’ travelling the country in their new 7.5 metre motorhome.
Keep an eye out for them. They may be looking to ‘freedom camp’ at a bowling club near you!