In 1939 a small group of motivated Norfolk Island locals met together to plan how they might launch the game of lawn bowls on the Island. Today, eighty one years later they would have good reason to be proud of the outcome of that meeting as the Norfolk Island Bowling Club is considered to be one of the most vibrant, prosperous and downright friendliest Clubs on the Island.
Not only do they enjoy a strong membership, well attended weekly competitions and excellent Club facilities, but every year the Club also welcomes visiting Australian and Kiwi bowlers to their three major annual tournaments. Add to this, on-going year round visits by groups and individual bowlers who travel to enjoy a bowling holiday and the picture emerges of a very busy membership strongly involved in the life of their Club.
And all that activity hasn’t slowed down the performance of the local bowlers; a fact quickly realised when you meet on the greens and in the Club House numerous nationally and internationally awarded bowlers. In fact part of the experience for visiting bowlers is to find themselves playing with and enjoying a drink with local players whose uniform down-to-earth-attitude mean you may not even be aware of their achievements. Without a doubt, bowlers of all skill levels feel genuinely welcomed to play alongside, comfortably pull up a seat with and have a chat with awarded local players.
In fact there must be some sort of bowling record that Norfolk holds ‘batting’ way above its size to produce so many top players. Carmen Anderson is perhaps the most well-known as a former World Indoor Bowls Women’s Champion. Others have proudly raised the Norfolk Island flag to represent their island home at World Bowls, Champion of Champions, World Cup Indoor, Commonwealth Games and Asia Pacific Championships. They have achieved many honourable results including a World Championship win in 1996, the World Cup in 2016, Bronze medals in 2010 and 2013 in the Champion of Champions Event, a Bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and Gold medals at 2019’s South Pacific Games. Throughout all this, adult members have consistently supported their junior and young adult bowlers to also successfully compete at National and International level (keep your eye out for the name of Shae Wilson in upcoming competitions, a very successful young player already).
The greens played on by today’s members would have been the envy of that very first group back in 1939. They leased the land where the present greens are situated and maintained their enthusiasm despite playing on a green described as being ‘rough’. A second green was laid fifteen years later and a small building was acquired from the Military at the conclusion of World War II that served as a pavilion. Sadly after all that effort the pavilion was destroyed by fire in the1950’s together with its contents, including most of the members’ bowls. Undeterred, its replacement was quickly built with mostly donated materials and it is this building that has evolved into today’s clubhouse. In 2019 the club house underwent a significant internal upgrade, with the bar, bistro and outside areas easily able to support the larger numbers of bowlers arriving for annual competitions.
Established in 1962 the Club’s premier and most long standing tournament is the Bounty Bowling Tournament. With typical Club enthusiasm and foresight, President Danny Lusk and his committee envisaged establishing an annual competition on an International or Commonwealth level that would attract overseas teams. The first Bounty Tournament welcomed a contingent of New Zealand bowlers as well as a team from Sydney skipped by Ted Downie, President of the Royal NSW Bowling Association. A silver replica of the ship ‘Bounty’ was made in Sydney for a trophy and this stunning trophy can still be seen in the Bowling Club today, together with the engraved names of the past 57 year’s winners. In 2020 the 58th Annual ‘Bounty Fours Bowling Tournament’ will be held from the 3rd to 14th May 2020.
While the competition can be fierce on the greens at the Bounty Bowls or any other of their tournaments, the atmosphere in the club house is nearly always laid back. In the final days of last August’s NIO Triples Tournament, the mid-afternoon atmosphere was pretty relaxed. On the greens outside the women were battling it out for the last spots in the Ladies final, but even they weren’t showing too much stress. Indeed, the words most visitors use to sum up a bowling week on Norfolk Island are: ‘relaxed, friendly and easy’.
Robert McNamee, a previous NIO Classic Triples competitor and National coach travelling with around 35 Bundaberg QLD based bowlers commented that as a bowling destination “Norfolk Island is different to any other place”. He reckons the small size of the Island makes it the perfect holiday as, aside from being genuinely welcoming and social you spend minimal time in your car. “It’s a real holiday where the bowls are good and the Club makes you welcome”. The next NIO Classic Triples tournament will be held from 16 to 21 August 2020.
For some bowlers there are additional incentives for deciding to compete in the Club’s third and newest annual tournament, such as winning up to AU$1500 first prize money! The South Pacific Pairs Tournament is held each February as a three bowl pairs competition and unsurprisingly, always attracts a good number of entrants, particularly for couples who like to combine playing and holidaying together. Teams can be men’s or women’s as well as mixed. In 2020 the event runs from 17 to 21 February.
Perhaps back in 1939 that group of local men gathering to start up the club knew of the benefits that playing lawn bowls would offer them. At a time when women didn’t particularly play, they would have likely ascribed to this description found in the Bowls Encyclopedia, titled ‘The Psychology of Bowling’.
“Bowls is a science, the study of a lifetime, in which you may exhaust yourself, but never your subject. It’s a contest, a melee calling for courage, skill, strategy and self-control. It is a test of temper, a trial of honour, a revealer of character. Bowls affords the chance to play the man and act the gentleman. It means going into God’s out-of-doors, getting close to nature, fresh air, exercise! A sweeping away of mental cobwebs. It is a cure for care, an antidote to worry. It includes companionship with friends, social intercourse, opportunities for courtesy, kindliness and generosity to an opponent. It promotes not only physical health but moral force”.
Judging by the growth and on-going commitment of the sport and the club’s membership over the past 81 years, there is good reason to believe that on Norfolk Island at least, the psychology of bowls is well understood, particularly in reference to its capacity for social connection. There’s a sign above the bar in the club house that reads: “There are no strangers in this club, just friends you haven’t met.” Whether taking part in one of the club’s scheduled competitions, bringing a group from your club at another time, or coming for a casual bowl while on holiday, a friendly bowling time on Norfolk Island is surely guaranteed.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in Discover Norfolk, Volume 04 Issue 01, 2020. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.