Bowls History

Summerset Retirement Villages

Some historical records provided by players of the game.

1. Short History of the New Zealand Indoor Bowls Federation (Inc.)
Written by Reg Motion (March 1984). Go there

2. History of the New Zealand National Championships. Go there

3. History of the Auckland Indoor Bowls Centre
Written by Ian & Marilyn Wheeler and presented at the Centre's 60th Jubilee Prizegiving (October 2002). Go there

4. History of Southland Indoor Bowls
Presented on the occasion of their 50th Jubilee celebrations in 2002 by Graham Low, Chairman Southland Indoor Bowls Centre. Go there

1. Short History of the New Zealand Indoor Bowls Federation (Inc.)

The New Zealand Indoor Bowls Federation was formed on 18th September 1948. It's history is one of favourable circumstances leading to meteoric growth in the first years of its existence followed by a period of consolidation and then a period when the glitter of other attractions required continuing promotion of the sport to retain its place in the sun.

Early Development (pre-Federation)

Indoor Bowls started in New Zealand around 1908. Its start is attributed to a Mr John Jenkins of the Hope of Auckland Rechabite Tent - one of the then very active friendly societies. Mr Jenkins saw indoor bowls played at the Franco-British Exhibition in London in 1908 and brought a set of bowls back to his society for their use. These bowls were much smaller than those in use here today, being only 2.5 inches in diameter and a 12 foot long mat was used.

Following some experiments with 4-inch diameter bowls turned from ti-tree and lignum vitae but biased with lead weights there was a move to wooden bowls biased by shaping them in a similar manner to the lawn bowls of the day. Play was almost completely confined to the various friendly society groups at that time.

By 1925 the game had developed to a considerable extent among the friendly societies but there was a good deal of dissatisfaction with the variability of their bowls and the answer was found when an English firm (Taylor Rolph) produced a four inch lignum vitae bowls in sets of 16 having a guaranteed draw. These sets which it is believed were produced solely for the New Zealand market became very popular and their use contributed greatly to the expansion of the game. Various mats had been used including an imported woollen carpet but none found general favour. Eventually the problem was solved when Mr W Miller, manager of the Onehunga Woollen Mills designed a special carpet which had sufficient nap to make play seem like that on an outdoor green in miniature. Everything was worked out in proportion and the size decided on was 22ft long by 6ft wide. It is a tribute to the designer that these same proportions and texture find general favour among bowlers of today.

With standardised playing conditions the game spread rapidly. Commercial organisations took it on as a form of staff recreation. Principally through the friendly societies it spread outside Auckland into other towns and cities throughout New Zealand.

By 1938 there were an estimated 10,000 indoor bowlers in the Auckland area. Leading names among the organisers include Mr F Harris, Mr G F Day, Mr S George and Mrs L Boles.

With play in other areas expanding rapidly the time was ripe for the formation of a national body but the clouds of war were approaching and indoor bowls had to take a back seat while the urgent business of winning the war was undertaken.

Following the war indoor bowls enjoyed a mushroom growth as returned services personnel and others sought to continue the social pattern developed over the war years. Clubs sprung up everywhere. In those days there were no taverns open after 6pm or television and the clubs provided community-gathering points after work. Indoor Bowls is relatively easy to learn and is played by all ages of both sexes thus it was an ideal reason for the clubs' existence. Interclub play showed the competitive possibilities of the game but this development needed organising. Auckland, Wellington and a few other centres had Associations - a National body was required.

Formation of the Federation

In 1948 Mr George Welch of Wellington, with some assistance from the Physical Welfare Department, sought opinions on the formation of a National body. He then convened a meeting which took place in the Harbour Board Social Club rooms in Wellington on the 18th September 1948. Representatives from Indoor Bowls Organisations of Auckland, Palmerston North, Wanganui, Hawera, Hutt and Wellington attended and the New Zealand Indoor Bowls Federation was born with George Welch its first secretary and Cliff Wearne of Wellington as President.

Canterbury, Hawkes Bay, Horowhenua, Hutt Valley, Palmerston North, Central Taranaki, South Taranaki, Wanganui and Wellington were the inaugural member districts of the Federation. Waikato and Taranaki North joined in the second year of operation but it was not until the sixth year that the large Auckland Association affiliated. Their entry brought the total affiliated membership to 21,000 spread among the 21 member districts from Auckland through to Southland. Membership continued to climb rapidly reaching a peak in 1963 with 73,100 members affiliated through 35 member districts covering the total area of North and South Islands. Since 1963 there has been a slow decline in membership but in 1984 there were 50,300.

The first efforts of the Federation were directed at providing a common set of rules for playing the game and at organising national championships.

Laws of the Game

One of the first steps taken was to arrange production of a two inch diameter jack. Up until 1950 a two and a half inch outdoor jack had been in general use. The new jack completed the work of harmonising the equipment used for the indoor game. As might be expected in a game which originated in New Zealand and is unique to this country many changes to the rules of play have taken place over the years. The Federation has guided these changes and facilitated them by arranging a complete rules review every five years, authorising desirable changes then reprinting the book of rules known as the Laws of the Game.

Administrators Federation executive members recognised for their services to the game by being made Life Members included C. G. Welch, R.J.A Pinhey, K. L. Woolston, G. A. Oliver, E. G. F. Smith.

1984 - 2002

Administrators recognised for their services with Life Memberships during this time were Reg Motion (Wellington), Kevin Eddy (Wellington), Horace Warnes (Nelson), John MacKay (Manawatu).

Bay of Plenty's Delwyn Hughes from Rotorua, who made indoor bowls history in 1985 by being the first woman to be elected to the Federation executive is one of the stand-out administrators. She was president from 1995 to 1997 and has been the sport's publicity officer since 1987.


2004 saw Delwyn Hughes from Rotorua, Bay of Plenty and Ivon Pash, North Harbour recognized for their services with Life Membership of NZIB.

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2. History of the New Zealand National Championships

The first National Championships were held in Wellington in June 1950. Entries were open to any affiliated player and there were 120 in the singles, 75 teams in the pairs and 45 in the fours events. The organisers of 1950 could not have dreamt of the size that these championships would reach.

At their peak in 1977 at Tauranga there were 3050 in the singles, 1700 pairs and 835 fours.

Triples were introduced in 1993 and today's nationals take eight days of intensive play to complete.

Over the years the Federation executive has developed an organisation and methods to cope with this programme with the result that hitches of any type are so rare as to be almost unknown.
A notable success in 1984 was the first use of a computer to carry out the National Championship draw. The smooth introduction to this operation was largely due to the efforts of Kevin Eddy, who not only briefed the programmers but also carefully watched over the whole proceedings.

Winning a National Championship title is the dream of every aspiring indoor bowler. Only three players have won a National Championship gold star for five titles. The first was the late Sen Smith from Auckland in 1989 the second was Grant l'Ami from Otago in 2002 and the third was Paul Psaila, Auckland in 2006.

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3. History of the Auckland Indoor Bowls Centre

Before we concentrate on the 60 year reign of the Auckland Indoor Bowling Centre, let's just go back a little further and see how our game of Indoor Bowls was formed, - what it's origin was in New Zealand, - and mention some of the people who got this game 'on the map'.

As far back as 1908, a Mr John Jenkin saw a version of Indoor Bowls whilst on a visit to London. He was so intrigued he decided to bring a set back.
Since those 2 ¼" diameter bowls that he brought back, they have progressed through many stages. There have been several different sizes. The early ones were made of hard wood - ti tree and puriri. Some have been biased and others weighted on one side. After several years trying to find the perfect one, it was felt this had been achieved when the Taylor Rolph, modernite composite bowl was first introduced in the 1920's.

The first mat used was a 12' green baize, but with the introduction of those perfect bowls, every one guaranteed to draw equally, the Onehunga Woollen Mills were approached to find the perfect mat and they came up with one 22' long and 6' wide, the same as we are using today.

Just a little aside, in our research, the earliest cost of 16 bowls and 2 kitties was $1/8/- and the mat was $1/1/2 - a far different cry from today, I would suggest.
They played the first game of Indoor Bowls under present day conditions in the old Orange Hall, Karangahape Road on 15 March 1912.
At this stage, the mat was placed on a raised platform and the corners were secured to the floor by a leather strap in each corner.
Henselite bowls, that everybody uses today, didn't come in till about the 1950's.

It is interesting to note that in 1968 at Marilyn's first Nationals in Wanganui, she had 4 different types of bowls in her Singles section play.

Now just 2 years after Mr Jenkin brought the game into NZ, Brother Skinner, from the same Lodge, saw a different version of Indoor Bowls in Melbourne.
Such was his enthusiasm about the progress of the game over there, he made an all out effort to promote the game in the Lodges back in NZ. They were skeptical at first, but then saw its potential.

It wasn't long before the game really took hold. Besides the Lodges, the game spread into the Friendly Societies, the Business Houses, the Ex-Servicemen's Clubs, the Church Halls, the Band Halls as well as Clubs opening up, such was its popularity.

It would be a few years before women entered the arena, though. You have to realise the Lodges were "men only" domain. It is quite interesting how the introduction of ladies came about. One Club decided to be brave and change its policy and encourage the family concept.

Another Club was called the Friday Night Club. The men would go and have a 'roll-up' whilst the women folk bought the weekly groceries - Friday night shopping, as it was in those days. Upon their return, the ladies would pop in and join in with the men and hence the introduction of the lady-folk.

At this point we would like to mention a couple of people who made a terrific contribution to the game and were very much responsible for it's growth ? Frank Harris and Lavinia Boles ? spelt B O L E S ? the Mother of Bowls.
We owe a great debt to these two people for the contribution they both made in getting our game on the map.
They were responsible in part in helping to form the:
United Friendly Society Bowling Assn., the Auckland Interhouse Assn., the RSA Association, the Orange Bowling Club and both were on several other committees including the Lodges.
Mrs Boles was still in office of the Auckland Indoor Bowling Centre until the late 60's.
In 1968, she even marked Marilyn's Umpires exam. paper.
They were also instrumental in getting a uniform set of Rules throughout NZ. - This was probably one of the most important achievements for after this, and with the introduction of those 'perfect bowls and mats', and along with the introduction of the women bowlers, the game spread rapidly throughout NZ.

Just by the way, the rules set down then are just about the same as the ones we use today - only a few minor adjustments.

Here are a couple that might tickle your fancy though:-
1. Don't drop your pipe tobacco, or 'knock out' your pipe on the carpet - a very common fault.
2. That if you are a spectator you're not allowed to show other than strict neutrality.

Now, we have been going back into olden times and a few other notable differences or things that we discovered are:-
1. If a game was drawn, the game was replayed - not an extra head played.
2. If the jack was misbowled it was sent back to be rebowled by the opposing lead.
3. The points away for a killed end were different for each position.
4. It was a game for 'little old ladies' for there was always a knitting club!!! We had to wait until the ladies picked up their dropped stitches!!
5. Smoking was allowed. You wouldn't be able to see the other end of the Hall, especially at the Nationals. There was a blue haze and the clothes would smell terrible.
6. A lot of men wore ties. The ladies wore pleated skirts, but never trousers.
7. Big events like Nationals were played in Agriculture Halls or Wool sheds.


A Good Year. I was born that year. The Auckland Deaf Society was formed, and the most important, the Auckland Indoor Bowling Centre was born.
How lucky we were that it was in the hands of the aforementioned people, Frank Harris and Lavinia Boles, for, as previously mentioned, they had years of experience setting up new bodies and Associations and getting this game established.

Some of the other well known personnel of these earlier years included Margaret Davenport, Jas Lochead, Jos Lyes, Mac MacGregor, Colin Campbell, Bunny Burrows, Bob Tilby and Keith Osborne.
Then sometime later, it was Wes Wyman, Bob Moore, Allan and Vi Kilduff, Maurie and Jean Graves, Harold Brewer and even more recently, Bruce Ardern, Ken Gash and Greg Baxter. I hesitate to mention these people for fear of leaving somebody important out, but thought it nice to mention just some of those who really made this Centre work.

The game spread like topsy during those early years for it was wartime. Indoor Bowls provided an escape from the heavy issues of the day. It was a cheap pastime, one that could be played by all ages, both men and women, handicapped, blind, deaf etc.

Such was the popularity of the Championships, that many clubs could see the potential of having Open Championships as a money spinner. We can remember the monthly Deaf Welfare Centre's Open Fours always being a full house with a large waiting list.

Auckland started with 7 Associations, including Franklin,which was to break away eventually, and later became known as Counties.
But for the most part, Auckland consisted of 8 Associations, Western, North Western, Manukau, South Auckand, Central, Eastern, Combined Northern and North Shore.
Membership in total around the country peaked in the 1960's with between 70,000 - 80,000 affiliated bowlers from 35 districts. Auckland had a membership of over 12,000 at this stage.

The NZ Indoor Bowls Federation was formed by George Welch, amongst others, on 18 September 1948. It comprised 9 districts but Auckland did not affiliate until the 6(superscript: th) year.
The first National Champs began in 1950 with 120 entries in the singles, 75 pairs and 45 fours. Just as a comparison to the peak years, in 1977, when the Nationals were in Tauranga, there were 3050 in the singles, 1700 in the pairs and 835 in the fours.

The Auckland Competitions were very keenly fought. They used to have big numbers then. When I won the Auckland singles in 1972, there were 435 entries.
When we used to play in the singles, the section play used to be on Friday nights, 3 sessions on the Saturday, with post section on the Sunday. They often used to use Eden Roskill as well for the section play. It used to be our job, as we were one of the closest to the DWC to go and look in the foyer on the Saturday evening and find out the draw for the Sunday, - to see who could have a 'sleep in'. We then had to go home and get on the 'grape vine' to give this info to all our friends.
There were always big crowds and people would stay, even if they had gone out, to watch their fellow club mates.
It was always a perk of the time, a bit like the Nationals, that the Auckland President could mark the final if he wished. The last few rounds all had appointed umpires and markers. There was a lot of friendly rivalry to 'get one of these games'!!

There hasn't been a lot of change really with the Auckland Champs though. A few events, The Interclub, the Mixed Pairs, Aggregate and the Nominated Fours have been added. The Nominated Fours has also been taken away again. There used to be two Mixed Fours events, the Rothmans - this used to decide on who would represent Auckland at the National event, and the AJS Brown Mixed Fours. The Rothmans didn't count as an Auckland Title.

In the 1970's it was decided that Auckland was getting too big. It was felt that more people would get more opportunity of playing reps, would be seen by the National selectors etc., if we were to be split up and so in 1979 North Shore and Combined Northern pulled away and formed the North Shore Centre.
In 1982 Manukau went it alone and formed the Manukau Centre later to be renamed Roskill and Districts.
Unfortunately, the Auckland Indoor Bowling Centre has never had it's own home. In about the 1950's, the Council offered it a site off May Road, Mt Roskill. Mac MacGregor even drew up plans for a 32 mat Hall with the provision of it being able to be extended to 64 mats, but the committee of the day declined this generous offer because it's financial position was such that it couldn't afford to build the Hall. What a great shame!! What would it be worth today???

The first tournaments were played way back in the Orange Hall, Karangahape Road, but for a long long time, the Champs were played at the Deaf Welfare Centre, Balmoral along with Eden Roskill Hall just opposite and St Therese. DWC became sort of Auckland's home.
The deaf people also used to play their bowls there and it was also their social rooms. One night, whilst a final was being played, somebody dropped a whole drawer of cutlery on to the floor. It made a huge noise. Talk about the 'Silent Society'!


Auckland has won it's fair share of rep fixtures over the years. It could be said that if it weren't for it's old foe, Waikato, it would have won heaps more!! Auckland managed to win the coveted Welch Trophy, the pinnacle of rep bowls, 5 times during this era. This was not a particularly high percentage considering the number of opportunities it has had.
Anyway, nothing can quite compare with the golden record breaking run, which spanned 11 years from 1974 - 1985. Auckland first took the Paterson Trophy from Hawkes Bay in 1974 and then withstood over 50 defences to create a new record. Canterbury lost theirs on the 46th defence. Auckland achieved the 50th win on 14 August 1983 by defeating Manukau 31-25 in a tense encounter after being 24-24.
Manukau was to get it's revenge a couple of years later, though, for it turned the scores around to beat Auckland 31-25 at the Blind Institute in June 1985. Surely 'D' Day!!

I can remember one incident on this day. Terry O'Connor used to push his bowl backwards and forwards humpteen times. Marilyn was counting on this day, and she got to 33, 34. Terry must have heard her, stopped, looked her straight in the eyes and then proceeded to go through the whole motion yet again.

During this record time Auckland used over 50 different rep players, including 5 women.

The Federation also made some format changes of these challenges over the years including changing the number of points for each event, and the order of play.
In 1977, the Welch Trophy, which had always been a 2 way Inter-Island contest changed to a 3 way event and then again in 1991 it became a 6 way play off.
After Auckland's record breaking run came to an end, the Federation changed the Paterson format from the Ranfurly Shield type of challenge to the present 6 way play off.


Auckland has done very well in all spheres outside the Centre. In administration, it has reached the top having had a National President and others on the National Committee and had NZ umpires on it's National Committee. Auckland has also had many NZ and North Island reps. We have won many NZ events, including the Mixed Fours, NZ Champ of Champs Singles, the NZ Junior Singles - on more than one occasion. We have had many winners of the National Singles, Pairs and Fours but the Triples still eludes us.


We shouldn't really single out individuals, but we would just like to mention a couple of very successful Auckland Indoor Bowlers. Undoubtedly, our most successful bowler would have to be Sen Smith. He was the only bowler to have won the coveted Gold Star for 5 National Championship wins until this year. His wife, Kathy, was with him on 4 of those occasions. Sen has won numerous Auckland, Association, Deaf and Club Championships. Sen and Kathy were not only very competitive bowlers but did an enormous amount of administrative work. They helped to form both the Auckland and NZ Deaf Associations. They were also Manager and Chaperone of the Deaf team to the British Empire games.

Our next most successful bowler was Rod Fleming. He had won his 4 (superscript: th) National Championship way back in 1982 and looked set to be the first Gold Star holder but such is the competition these days, Rod is still waiting for that elusive 5(superscript: th). Perhaps, he should join forces with Aucklanders as all of his other titles were with people from North of the Bombay!!


Unfortunately, in recent times, there has been a decline in numbers and this has resulted in many Clubs and even Centres having to fold.
There are probably several reasons for this - TV, other sporting activities, finance, computers, the Internet, apathy, the overlapping of the 2 bowling codes, but the biggest cause has probably been the introduction of the 7 day working week. It has affected just about every Club who got used to having a 5 day working week and then a full family weekend. Because of the finance situation, women have gone back out to work, when, in the past, as soon as they had got their children off their hands, they would put their heart and soul into voluntary work. Hence the clubs have lost a lot of Committee power.

What can we do to remedy this situation is the burning question. It is good to see that this year the Federation has selected teams to represent Maoris, Cook Islands and the Academy team - what about us oldies???

We hear that something positive is in the pipeline re targeting the children in the Schools. This must surely be a wonderful thing. A couple of stalwarts did that very thing about 25 years ago in Palmerston North and look at the Manawatu rep team now. Those 'boys' from way back then have formed the backbone of their team and they have gone on to win 4 Welch Trophy medals.
Just as an aside - has anybody considered tapping into the Asian fraternity??

Now, we were going to mention a few funny incidents involving Aucklanders at this stage but I have waffled long enough so I will give you just one.
A car load of young bowlers were cruising the streets of Timaru when a mufti cop pulled them up. When the driver was asked where he came from, he quickly decided not to admit he was from Auckland because he would be sure to get a ticket, so decided to say he was from up Hamilton way. He got away with a warning!!

We could go on and on. This is just but a very brief summary - just the tip of the iceberg!! How could you get more than 60 years in just a few minutes? Anyway, we hope you have enjoyed what we have said.
Now, finally, we would like to thank all the people, the volunteers, the workers, who have put their whole heart and passion into the sport we love. We can't mention them all here, for there have been so many, but all the Committee people over the years, many of whom the Centre has recognised as Life Members, the Umpires, the Publicity people, the supporters, but mainly those pioneers, for without their foresight, their enthusiasm and their dedication, the game wouldn't have grown to the heights it has.

Marilyn and I have many happy memories of all the wonderful times we have had bowling, we have been on many trips, had the camaraderie of fellow reps, and made many lifelong friends. Thank you to all those people who have made this all possible. Long may it continue.

Ian and Marilyn Wheeler

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4. Biased Heritage - 50 years of Indoor Bowls in Southland


Late August 2002, and a special welcome is extended to a group of past and present members who have gathered at the home of the Southland Centre in Invercargill, to celebrate 50 years of competition in their chosen sport - Indoor Bowls.

This will be an opportunity to talk about the ‘good old days’, to reminisce about those days gone by, to regale stories about those shots that turned the game to your advantage or disadvantage depending on how you fared in the final result, and more importantly to remember all those bowlers who are unable to be with us today.

Unfortunately for the Southland Centre our original minutes and records were lost some time ago. This loss has meant that today’s executive has had some difficulty in tracing our early history and some conflicting information remains unverified. In particular, the missing years between 1952 and 1956 will require assistance of any of those original club members able to authenticate some of the early history.

Inaugural Meeting

The sport of indoor bowls was being played in Invercargill in the Georgetown Hall in 1950 but it was not until late 1952 that a meeting was held to establish a provincial association and ensure that games were played on an organised footing. The Southland Indoor Bowls Centre as we know it today was originally known as an Association and it was not until 1957 that the Centre title was adopted. The inaugural officers were:

President - George Frampton (Georgetown)
Secretary - Laurie Smith (Police)
Treasurer - Jim Clarke (North Invercargill)

Mr Frampton was President for only one year but Mr Smith continued as secretary until 1957. The Southland Centre was elected as an affiliate to the New Zealand Indoor Bowls Federation in 1954.

Clubs and Membership

Awarua, St Johns, Hawthorndale, Kew, Georgetown, State Hydro, Police, Aparima, Wyndham, North Invercargill and St Marys were the original clubs affiliated to form the Centre in 1952. Invercargill RSA first affiliated in 1953 but decided to backdate their affiliations to include the previous year so they could join the original group.

The number of clubs continued to grow and membership increased considerably in the years following the inception of the Centre. Otatara and St Andrews joined the original 12 in 1954 while Wyndham Ladies, Tussock Creek, Waikiwi and St Patricks joined in 1955; a total 18 clubs and 448 members. There was further growth the following year with Greenhills, Winton, Lumsden, 2NZEF, UFS, Waverley, Ohai Buffs, Southland and St Marys (Gore) joining to give the Centre 27 clubs with a geographic spread right around the province.

In 1958 the number of clubs had tripled to 54 with 1,402 affiliated players and by 1962 this had increased again to 130 clubs and a total membership of 3,600. In 1967 there were still 130 clubs in operation but the membership levels had reduced to around 3,028. Regrettably, this was about the time that the Centre started to experience a gradual decline in the numbers of players participating in our sport and by 1972 affiliation levels had dropped to 2,401 representing 110 clubs. Despite all the efforts of Centre executives to arrest the trend in the ensuing years, the decline in playing numbers continued (until our Jubilee year that is). It is pleasing to note that this long-time downturn in numbers has been reversed with a small but significant increase (2%) in affiliation levels. In 2002 there is now a total of 51 clubs with a total membership of 825. The challenge for the current Centre executive is to preserve this upward movement in future years.

Centre Executive and Sub-Centres

Limited knowledge is available about the number of delegates, which constituted the Centre executive in those early days. In 1962, however, the large number of clubs and the vast area they covered made life very difficult for the Centre Secretary and a decision was taken to establish six sub-centres who would in turn elect their own governing body, run their own championships, inter sub-centre events and liaise with the Southland Centre as the controlling authority. In the early 1990’s the Centre executive consisted of as many as 27 delegates and a meeting was convened to review the way the sport was governed locally. In 1998, as a result of that meeting, the Centre was restructured with the formation of a management team, elected from a greatly reduced number of representatives from the respective sub-centres, and the appointment of an Executive Officer.

Life Members

Our sport, like many others, has received an immense benefit from the enormous levels of volunteer assistance in organising and running the various tournaments over the 50 years. Some of these volunteers have given what can only be described as extraordinary service to the Centre and this is properly recognised by the granting of a Life Membership. The first recipients of this prestigious award were declared in 1967, namely, George Frampton and Mrs Eileen Parsons. Henry Williams (1979), Jack Boniface (1981), Len Clearwater (1985), Mrs Nola Sinclair (1988), Jim Boniface (1989), Walter Jack (1991), Mervyn Ryder (1992), Brian Wilson (1997) and Alister Dawson (1998) have subsequently joined this elite group.

Championships and Representative Fixtures

A perusal of the championship records shows that in 1954 Pairs and Fours were contested with a combination from the Hawthorndale club winning the Fours and a team from the Police winning the Pairs. The first Singles were conducted in 1955 with a member of the St Marys club taking out the title. A Police club team again won the Pairs and a Georgetown team the Fours. In 1960, when the number of players enjoying indoor bowls was at an all time high, the Singles championship attracted a field of 365 bowlers and two venues, the YMCA Stadium and RSA Hall, were used with three sessions of qualifying at each location – 8:30, 11:30, and 2:15. 126 players qualified for post section and applauded by a crowd of over 200 the winner was decided after 18 ends in the final. Check it out on our history boards to see who was the eventual winner! Did you know that back then, if the result at the completion of 18 ends in a final was a drawn game, that a further game of 18 ends was required to decide the winner?

In 2002 championship titles were awarded for competition in Singles, Pairs, Triples, Fours and Champion of Champions Singles events. Gold stars are awarded to bowlers who have been successful in achieving five Southland, South Island or New Zealand titles. Sixteen players have accomplished this feat – Stan Johnstone, Norman Le Lievre, Alan Georgel, Bill Kane, Rema Georgel, Stan Withington, Mark Keen, Brian Hotton, Graham Low, Grant Fortune, Bill Pascoe, Elaine Carnie, Peter Carnie, Gary Low, Jan Low and Clare Stronach. Two of these players, Mark Keen and Graham Low, have gone further, and been presented with gold bars to their gold stars, for winning ten titles.

The first representative fixture was contested in 1955 when Otago travelled to Invercargill, to challenge the locals. Southland was the winner on this occasion. In 1957 the first representative game against South Otago was played and Southland was again victorious in this encounter. Representative fixtures are now held annually against Otago (A and B divisions) on a home and away basis, South Otago and a Triangular competition against Central Otago and South Otago.

In 1992 an invitation was extended to Southland to send a team of juniors (under 18) to compete for the Publicity Trophy. This contest was an existing event for other associations within the Southern Zone, and since joining this competition Southland Juniors have established an outstanding record by winning the trophy every year since, bar one. In 1998 the combined Southern Zone districts (South Canterbury, North Otago, Otago, Central Otago, South Otago and Southland) introduced a competition exclusively for ladies to be played along similar lines to the Paterson Trophy event. Although this is an extremely popular event, the overall title has eluded, albeit narrowly, Southland teams since its inclusion on the bowling calendar.

The ultimate in team competitions is undoubtedly the AS Paterson Trophy event. The format for this event has been subject to numerous changes over the years, including challenge systems within the South Island, a four-team round-robin competition (one game a month), to the present round-robin series between the six Southern Zone districts played over one weekend. Remember the year Southland travelled to Hinds to challenge Canterbury and the opposition was so confident they would win they left the trophy in Christchurch? Canterbury lost! Southland teams have remained competitive and been successful in going forward to compete in the Welch Trophy (on display this weekend) competition on six previous occasions – 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970 and 1983. It is appropriate that our seventh such attendance at this event will occur this year, our 50th Jubilee year, after defeating the current titleholders Otago, in July.


In the early days the Southland Centre used several venues for championship and representative fixtures including the YMCA Stadium, RSA Hall, Kew Bowl and Georgetown Hall. Depending on its availability the Council owned Centennial Hall was to be the predominant facility in use during later years.

In a bold move, the bowlers of Southland decided in 1980 to buy their own headquarters. With a membership of 1,700 bowlers Southland wide, the costs of funding and purchasing a suitable building were high. The building eventually purchased was the former Glace Ice Rink in Onslow Street at a cost of $194,000. The expenses did not stop here however, as a concrete floor was laid at a further cost of $24,000 and a kitchen established with the skilled labour from within the constituent clubs, thus saving valuable financial resources.

Bowls started on schedule in the new facility in April 1980 with makeshift heating arrangements and many who remember those early days in the present Centre will recall the first season of cold nights where everyone froze – some bowlers even resorting to playing in overcoats. In 1981 however, the bowlers ungrudgingly parted with a further $18,000 to install a new heating system, which incidentally, is still in use today. Since then there have been many upgrades to the facility, which caters for around 64 mats, including toilet facilities, upstairs kitchen and social area, upgrading the foyer and entrance, new enlarged storage facility for mats and bowls and most recently a major upgrade of the external walls and roof. A large number of bowlers contributed directly in the purchase of this complex by taking out debentures at the time. It is pleasing to note that the Centre Hall is now totally debt free with the final mortgage payments made in 2000. While all of the sub-centres have contributed significantly to the enduring financial commitments with the purchase of our own hall the on-going efforts of the Invercargill Sub-Centre conducting weekly housie nights cannot be ignored and warrants special recognition.

In 1993 the floor had deteriorated to such an extent that funding was sourced, and thanks to the Lotteries Commission and Invercargill Licencing Trust, work started on a $71,000 resurfacing to fix undulations, which were long overdue for correcting, and in preparation for the 1994 New Zealand Championships. The total floor area was laid in slabs that provided variations across the whole area of not more than 1.5 mm. A normal concrete floor would vary by as much as two or three times this allowance.

The Southland Centre facility is the envy of indoor bowling associations New Zealand wide and is commonly regarded as the best playing surface available in the country.

New Zealand Championships and Representatives

Southland has conducted many national events over the 50-year history and produced a number of champions at this level. New Zealand Championships have been conducted in Invercargill in 1957, 1966, 1972, and 1994. In 2002 for the first time ever we will be holding the New Zealand Henselite Champion of Champions Singles final.

Southlanders who have been honoured by winning a New Zealand championship title include – Stan Johnstone (Singles, 1966); Bill Kane (Singles, 1985); Norman Le Lievre and John Campion (Pairs, 1972); Eric Blackmore, M Harvey, EE Boyd and Mrs L Harvey (Fours, 1961); and Mark Keen, Louis Spencer, Janet Spencer and Myrtle Kelly (Mixed Fours, 1998). Others to achieve notable performances include Pearl Thompson (1969) and Mavis Jackson (1972) who were awarded the Truth Cup for the lady going furthest in the New Zealand Singles championship and Gary Low (1994) the Cliff Thompson Trophy for the Junior (under 18) bowler going furthest in the same event. Southland has also won the Patrons Trophy for the best-performed province at the New Zealand Championships in 1984.

The first New Zealand representative team was chosen in 1975 and Norman Le Lievre was selected as a member of that team. This inaugural international event was significant for Southland in that the first ever tour game was held in Invercargill. In 1983 Bill Kane and Shirley Gray followed in Le Lievre’s footsteps as Southland representatives in the New Zealand team. Gray and Kane both represented New Zealand on more than one occasion. Bill Kane was named as Southland’s Sportsman of the year in 1985.

South Island Championships and Representatives

South Island Championships have been a regular fixture in Invercargill – 1962, 1968, 1971, 1979, 1983, 1990, 1998 and 2001. There have been numerous titleholders to wear the Southland uniform on the victory dais at these events including seven Pairs, four Fours and one Triple. On the representative scene a number of Southland bowlers have played for the South Island in the annual Henry-Eddy inter-island test matches. Those players include – Bill Kane, Mark Keen, Suzanne Mackie, Daphne Murray, Norman Le Lievre, Bill Pascoe, Shane Hamilton, Grant Fortune, Gary Low, Graham Low, Jan Low, Janet Spencer, Louis Spencer and Ann Mackie.

Weather Disruptions

As ‘indoor’ bowlers you would not expect our sport to be disrupted too often even with regard to the vagaries of the weather here in the south! There will be many other stories told this weekend we feel sure, but were you there in 1972 when the New Zealand Fours final was being played in the Centennial Hall and play was interrupted when hail began falling through the roof and on to the finals mat? What about the occasion when mats had been laid in that same venue for a competition the next day but play was abandoned when the combination of heavy rain and a blocked drain resulted in floodwaters inundating the area and many of the mats were found floating? Do you remember the sight of the Rugby Park grandstand covered in a myriad of shades of green mats in a futile (many of them shrunk and had to be replaced) attempt to dry them? And how often have you heard, where ice-covered roads have delayed bowlers or prevented them from making their destination due to snow conditions?

The Future

In 2000 the Centre with the support of WestpacTrust launched a new event for competition among intermediate and secondary schools. As a direct result of the introduction of this tournament a new club, the Young Spirits, was formed in 2002 with the aim of encouraging and fostering players under the age of 20. The momentum gained from this, and other factors such as the increase in affiliations and the return of a regular column on the main sports page of the Southland Times, are all encouraging indications for a renaissance of indoor bowls in the south. While we cannot realistically expect to achieve the levels of playing numbers of the early 1960’s, it is important that the Centre does not become complacent, and continues to build on these factors and promote and market our sport for the next 50 years.


A special thank-you to all of you, bowlers both past and present, that have contributed to the history of our sport through your participation during the last 50 years. We must also thank most sincerely the large number of sponsors who have supported our sport financially over this period. Without their contribution the Centre would not be enjoying the benefits we share today. In particular, we must honour the support and dedication of the Invercargill Licensing Trust, our major sponsor.

Thank you to the Jubilee Organising Committee who have made this weekend possible and to all those bowlers who have provided photographs, media clippings, scrapbooks and other material that is on display. We trust you will take away many fond memories and relive some of those forgotten experiences from the vast array of stories, as recalled from our proud history.

Congratulations Southland Indoor Bowls Centre on your 50th Jubilee!

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