Back in the lamb-and-three-veg days of the 1960s and 1970s, trying to get on a lawn bowls green was mission impossible.
“They were the premium years in bowls, the ’60s and ’70s,” Balmain Bowling Club chairman Ross Craig told 9News.
“There were so many members in the clubs.”
And there were so many clubs, one for nearly every suburb. But as the ’70s disappeared into the ’80s, ’90s and the 21st century, the core constituency that had kept the clubs afloat sadly began to fade away, either through ill health or the inevitable battle with the mortal coil, which no one ever wins.
“Balmain Bowling Club is New South Wales’ oldest bowling club,” Mr Craig said.
“We’ve been here since 1880 in the community, supporting the community.”
And the community supported the club from 1880, when it was first perched on a bare peninsula, and then surrounded by a smattering of houses and wharfs that rapidly thickened.
The Tigers, too, soon found themselves being backed against a financial wall. They sold off the third green, which swiftly evolved into an apartment block.
The middle and original green was left fallow, the remaining surface given the roughly $80,000 dollar yearly manicure required.
Even the roofspace was sold off to support a cell tower, perfectly positioned thanks to the topography of the Balmain Peninsula. Still, the till was not empty, but emptying.
But bowls being bowls, teams travel from club to club for competition, and Ross soon found himself talking with other club officials dealing with similar financial problems.
Many had amalgamated with what had become a lawn bowls mega-club at St John’s Park, on the western rim of Sydney’s motorway orbital.
Driven by the growth of population and poker machine, St John’s Park Bowling Club is not a club, but a complex, complete with multi-storey parking lot. Its business model considers these amalgams with smaller clubs as a positive.
“There was no way we were going to let the history of this club go,” St John’s Park marketing director Debbie Hilder told 9News.
“Bowls is the core of our business … and the little guys need some help.”
“They’ve taken over Balmain Bowling Club, but we still trade — or play — under Balmain Bowling Club as the name,” Mr Craig said.
It’s a new corporate relationship that has evolved for 12 other NSW clubs over the past five years. A better fate than folding, as seven other clubs have experienced over the same period.
Today, there was one other partner needing assistance, that being me, as I sprayed bowls all over the joint as Ross’s partner in a few ends.
“It looks like Des and Neil have just towelled us up; I’m assuming that’s the case?” I asked.
Me: “Mate, get in there. Rescue us, from me.”