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Graceville Bowls hits a century

After a newspaper advertisement calling for expressions of interest to form a bowls club in the western suburbs in 1918, to celebrating 100 years of trade, Graceville Bowls Club celebrated its centenary last month.

While some clubs may be struggling to keep afloat, Graceville has expanded, mainly due to the management of the club and strong community support. Governor Paul de Jersey rolled the first bowl (a traditional wooden bowl called a ‘wood’) at the celebration on February, 8 to the delight of the crowd.

When the club was first formed, membership was capped at 80 members (even though only 48 people joined at the time), and while the club has seen many variations over the years, today it is thriving with 99 formal members and 61 social members.

Richard Cooper, a member of the club, said that there were no other bowls clubs in the surrounding areas, from Chelmer to Corinda, when the Graceville club was first established.

That, plus an active community and some prominent people being members have added to the club’s success. In 1920, the membership was a healthy 75 and when compared to Graceville’s population in 1921, 10 per cent of the suburb’s population were members. Just imagine if we could have those percentages today?

“The club’s logo, featuring the redbill that was common in wetlands at Chelmer then and the sulphur-crested cockatoo that was common in Corinda, is a reference both to the birds and the shared past of bowls players from the two suburbs,” Richard said.

To celebrate the centenary, historian Val Donovan has published From Fields to Greens. In her book, Ms Donovan says that the club’s status was enhanced by Sir Matthew Nathan, Governor of Queensland 1920 to 1925 after he became an honorary member of the club.

On a visit to the club in 1925, Sir Nathan said: “I have come to the conclusion that one can’t play bowls with any satisfaction to oneself … or to one’s partner without bias. So, after making an honest attempt to eliminate bias from my bowls, and finding they took to wandering over neighbouring greens, as well as in parts of my own, I have come to the conclusion that, not only is it not a Governor’s duty to play bowls, but it is this Governor’s duty not to play them.”

The club changed direction after 36 years as a men’s club, after members at a sub-committee meeting on April 27, 1955, considered amending the rules regarding a controversial admission of a Ladies Club. The inaugural meeting of the Ladies Bowling Club was held on July 6, 1955. Over the years, membership increased to almost 200. Changes in the 1980s saw the need for costly repairs and maintenance to the clubhouse and greens. Unfortunately, this coincided with rising costs and a decline in membership and counting due to there now being 11 clubs in the surrounding areas.

While the finances appeared to have improved by 1989, even though the membership had further declined to 123, the club was ‘running on a shoe-string’. The declining membership and the gradual ageing of club members led to a reluctant decision to install “pokies” in early 1993. However, the onerous reporting and compliance requirements became too much and the club removed the machines three years later.

Since 2012, the club has been recovering from the lean years due to increases in membership, income from community functions and investments. As with many bowls clubs, Graceville Bowls Club had a thriving membership in the early years, but has experienced some tough times. The club’s success is due to the assistance of many loyal members over the years who have given their time voluntarily and selflessly. Today, the club is a small and friendly club with active event participation and a flourishing membership.

Happy birthday Graceville!

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