Late last year the (mostly) beloved and somewhat controversial former Ladies’ President of Darwin Bowls Club passed. At the time of her death she had been serving a temporary ban from the club for flashing her boobs on the green … not long after her funeral a bicycle stand was installed at the front of the clubhouse. Fittingly, it has been affectionately referred to as ‘Tonia’s Rack’ ever since. This little anecdote is a) absolutely true and b) demonstrates that suburban lawn bowls clubs are no longer a quiet social space reserved exclusively for cucumber sandwiches and blue-haired retirees in full whites.
These days clubs have more in common with a much-loved local pub, and are a place of community where people of all ages, genders, social or physical prowess and incomes are welcome to kick off their shoes and have a crack. Once you’re hooked (and trust me, you will be the second you figure out which way the bowl curves as you roll it down the green), clubs will enthusiastically encourage you to sign up for social or full membership. Membership offers the sort of instant family which is so important when living in or visiting the Territory. It also comes with nifty perks depending on the club, from free green time, raffle prizes, badge draws, inclusion in local tournaments and most importantly, cheaper food and drink.
Unfortunately for suburban bowls clubs, the real estate upon which they sit is often worth a lot more than their sometimes meagre membership allows. This means community participation is paramount in their survival. This is where you come in. What follows is a quick overview of the lawn bowls clubs currently operating in the NT, in the hope that you, my dear friend, will get down to your local with your mates, kick off your shoes and help support one of these awesome organisations.
THE SEVEN DEADLY CLUBS
There are seven clubs currently operating in the Northern Territory, each offering its own barefoot nights, social games, club competitions and (if you ask them nicely) the opportunity to host functions. Each club has a unique history, passionate members and tales from on and off the green that, at $5 for a schooner, might just have you staying for another round. If you’re also looking for a feed, the bigger the venue, the bigger the menu, particularly when the green is part of a larger sports club like Nightcliff or Alice Springs. Smaller clubs often don’t have the kitchen space or catering staff, but if you call ahead are usually happy for you to bring some local takeaway or set up your own esky and picnic lunch.
1. Darwin Bowls and Social Club
Let’s start in Darwin and the big white, waterproof, shade-bearing roof that rises like a deity afore the Ski Club in Fannie Bay. Darwin is the biggest club in the Territory, but while it’s only got a few hundred members its covered green and clubhouse book months in advance for functions. In 2015 the club was awarded a grant to resurface both of its greens and erect a fancy-pants roof over one of them. This meant that Darwin (with the support of Nightcliff Bowls Club) won the opportunity to host the 2018 National State Sides competition, a comp so significant that it warranted an official welcome to the visiting teams at Parliament House. To this day it remains one of the premier greens in the country, with the added advantage of the best mother/daughter team behind the clubhouse bar that the Territory has ever seen.
2. Nightcliff Bowls Club
The Nightcliff Bowls Clubs offers two synthetic greens that back onto the oval and social games throughout the week. Part of the rather spiffy sports club, these greens have been used as training grounds for the State Side squads. Visit towards the end of July to see the spectacular Nightcliff Carnival, where the best players from around Australia compete.
3. Humpty Doo Bowls Club
Every year the club hosts the Australia Day Classic, or at least they try to. The last two years has seen the event rained out (in 2018, the players could have brought canoes) and had to shift the event to the all-weather surface in Darwin. Clubs like Humpty Doo rely on big bar takings when hosting events like this to inject a bit of cash into the venue. Not as serious as actual competition, styles on the green as varied as tutus with rainbow socks, boiler suits and one team who rocked up dressed as Queen. (For the record, they came second.) Despite their rotten luck with the weather, the ladies of Humpty Doo club stayed true to their spread and simply shifted it to whichever backup venue was available, along with all the roast meat, rolls, salads and trifles they can carry.
4. Rum Jungle Bowls Club
Another hour down the road, and you’ll hit the leafy town of Batchelor which, along with being named the Territory’s Tidiest Town in 1999, prides itself on having the Territory’s first ever bowling green. Today, it still stands as the only grass green in the NT Top End – and with it comes the challenges of maintaining grass and fighting weeds in the tropical climate. Just last weekend the club hosted the annual Rum Jungle Classic, an event which attracted six rag-tag teams of four apiece to play on a grass green with more divots, tufts and pebbles than a British nursery rhyme. It was more like ten pin bowling than lawn bowls, but you really do get used to it. Despite the surface, everyone had a blast. Shirl’s Mob from Rum Jungle collected the gold medal, and players enjoyed a lunch of cold meat sandwiches bought by the club and a platter of scrumptious fish ‘n’ chips generously donated by the Batchelor General Store.
5. Katherine Bowls Club
The Country Club in Katherine offers an award winning restaurant, two bars, a golf course and – most importantly, a synthetic outdoor green. The club hosts the esteemed lightning pairs in June, where players travel to be a part of one of the friendliest comps in the Top End.
6. The Arnhem Club, Nhulunbuy
Not many people drive to Nhulunbuy, but if you happen to be in the area, why not try what must be the most remote bowling green on the planet? The Arnhem Club offers a bar, the Macassans Restaurant, live music and a bowling green within rolling distance of the Arafura Sea. I can’t imagine there’d be anything more spectacular on a Wednesday evening in Nhulunbuy than to head to social bowls at the Arnhem Club.
7. Alice Springs Golf Club
The Alice Springs Bowling Club is part of the highly rated golf club just out of town. A grass green, it offers a stunning view particularly on dusk as the light hits the craggy rocks on the mountains. Rumour has it that the golf club offers some of the best meals in Central Australia (and beyond!).
So what’s next? There are rumours afoot that Tennant Creek’s greens have received an injection of funds and may be in a position to reopen soon. This is great news for the town and an opportunity to build an eighth little epicentre of community spirit and good will. If this goes ahead and you find yourself driving up the guts of the country, make sure you drop in for a roll up. As for the other venues, to support your local club drop in for a beer and ask for an application form. On a final note, a couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to secure a permanent locker in the ladies change room at Darwin Bowls Club. It’s number 7, and used to belong
to the aforementioned Former Ladies’ President. Naturally, I christened it “Tonia’s Box”