Certainly the most famous lawn bowl in the illustrious history of the game was on July 18 1588 at Plymouth England when Sir Francis Drake, upon being notified the Spanish Armada were approaching uttered the immortalised words “we still have time to finish the game and to thrash the Spaniards, too.” And he was a man of his word.
Arguably the second most famous bowl to roll down a green was some 331 years later when the first bowl was rolled down the turf at the Tamworth City Bowling Club in 1919, the first bowling club in the district.
This year the club is celebrating 100 years of games, gamesmanship, friends, community and the sport itself, and it all kicked off on Friday with the official lunch, time capsule burial and unveiling of the plaque by Nevell McDonald, the only living member older than the club itself at a sprightly 103.
Mr McDonald joined the club in 1957, when himself and four or five fellow Loomberah farmers went looking for somewhere to both play sport and be social.
“It doesn’t matter when you come in here nothing is ever different, and it hasn’t been since 1957,” Mr McDonald said.
“The club might change a bit but it is always friendly faces and familiar people that I know would do anything for me – it is like a second home.”
The first inklings of the City Bowlo, as it has come to be known, were actually in 1914, when a group of local men with an interest in lawn bowls banded together to start a club.
Unfortunately the outbreak of WWI put a halt to those plans, although four years later in October 1918 the first official meeting was held to discuss the formation of a club, however the meeting closed without any action taken.
What followed was a period of “active soliciting among businessmen and sportsmen in the town” and a short time later a public meeting was called in the Oddfellows Hall with 36 locals in attendance according to club historian John Rouvray.
It was decided the first bowling club in the district would be formed, and negotiations commenced with the Municipal Council to find a piece of land under the first Club President E.P. Morris and Secretary/Treasurer A.E. Francis.
The council granted the club a portion of land on the edge of Britten Park, now known as ANZAC Park in East Tamworth.
At the time the land measured 240 ft by 114 ft, and was later increased to 240 ft by 200 ft.
It was at this time that the club first looked to the members, or prospective members, to help out with voluntary labour, and that culture of community remains the very backbone of the City Bowling Club to this day.
While the green was constructed by local operator Mr G Slater, the filling in of the lower side of the hill was carried out by the volunteers, who spent days loading stone in and out of trucks from the Wentworth Mounds above the club.
The green was in use by the end of 1919, and in 1920 the original clubhouse was constructed along Brisbane Street facing east, and the club was ready to roll.
In 1921 The Tamworth City Bowling Club officially opened with 60 members, and in 1935 the first Easter Carnival was played at the club and, while not as popular as it once was, remains a major fixture on the country bowls calendar.
The next chapter
The bowling club revelled in the popularity of the game in the early days, and by the early 1950’s it was decided that a new clubhouse was needed to deal with swelling member numbers, and an ever growing Easter Carnival that now incorporated other local clubs.
In 1960 President of the Royal NSW Bowling Association W Kay opened the third green to join the Gordon Bruderlin and Max Stewart greens.
Member Paul Hayes was an on site foreman during the construction of the new clubhouse and green, and despite never having played bowls or been involved with the club before never forgot the relationships that he formed during that time.
Just like the original clubhouse, plenty of volunteer labor was used, and just like the stones from the hill going under the original green, Mr Hayes remembers repeatedly carting tiles from the train station up Brisbane Street to the new clubhouse.
“I was in charge of the labourers at the club. It was long before I started playing bowls but after that I was always interested,” he said.
“I retired from work in 1991 and the first thing I did was go and join the club.
“It is just a great social club that is always satisfying to be a part of – play sport, enjoy the company and just have a good time with good people – that has never changed.”
While the old clubhouse was donated to the North Tamworth Bowling Club, the new clubhouse stands as it remains today, and while the culture of the club remains strong the next hundred years comes with many challenges.
Current President Ian ‘Chesty’ Bannister remembers a time where to get a game of social bowls a member would have to put their name down a fortnight out, unfortunately that is no longer the case, and it is not just the City Bowlo who are fighting for numbers.
Unfortunately in 1995 the third green was decommissioned due to a lack of use and funds, with each green costing upwards of $60,000 a year to maintain.
Meanwhile the City Bowling Club also struggles with the fact that the club does not own the land it sits on, rather the State Lands Office does, with years of negotiations unable to find an agreeable middle ground for sale, however the spirit of the club remains strong, and the future is looking up.
“Volunteering has always kept us going and will always keep us going,” Mr Bannister said.
“We have got a great committee and as long as the members keep getting behind us the City Bowlo will roll long into the future.”
Longtime member and committee man Keith Stevenson also has an optimistic view of the future, although admits that the times have changed.
“The number of members is going down, although socially we are still keeping on,” he said.
“We would love to see more young people come down and join up, whether it be to play or as a social member they are always welcome.
“Everyone is always welcome at Tamworth City Bowling Club, the first club in the district.”