Thirroul bowlo: A short history

The original Thirroul Bowling Club and members just prior to demolition in 2003. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

By MICK ROBERTS ©

NOW simply known as ‘Club Thirroul’, the Thirroul Bowling Club is the last of three registered clubs that once operated in the seaside suburb.

For over 80 years Thirroul lawn bowlers have enjoyed a few beers and each other’s company after and during a roll-up at their Gibson Park site. The Station Street property has supported four different clubhouses since the club was established in the early 1930s.

A drink and lawn bowls traditionally have gone hand in hand, and the Thirroul bowlers are no different, following that protocol, by first adjourning to a tin shed to sink a few with mates, until their new weatherboard clubhouse, comprising of an unlicensed bar, greenkeepers residence, change rooms and office, was completed in 1933.

The bowlers have a new watering hole to quench their time-honoured thirsts after a new $3.4 million clubhouse was built on the original greens in 2004.

The Thirroul Bowling and Recreation Club was established on June 23 1933 after Jack Fish supplied a horse and scoop to build what was known as the Norm Sorrell Green. The Illawarra Mercury reported on November 24 1933:

BOWLING CLUB

THE THIRROUL PROPOSAL

Just prior to the termination of the meeting of Bulli Shire Council a letter was read from the newly-formed Bowling Club at Thirroul, notifying Council of formation of the club and re-questing Council to lay down a six rinks green in the recreation reserve at Thirroul, to connect water, and to erect a club room with electric light, installed in latter; also, that Council supply a lawn mower, roller and sprinklers and necessary fittings. Attach-ed to the letter was a list of signatures of about one dozen citizens who were prepared to act as guarantors to the extent of 10/- per week to cover rental for the water rates, insurance, etc. Cr. McNaughton at once moved that Council apply to the Loan Council for a loan of £500 for the purpose of giving effect to the request presented by the Bowling Club. This, however, did not find a seconder; and Cr. McNaughton then moved, and it was seconded by Cr. Clowes, and carried, that the proposal be deferred until next meeting, and in the meantime Council’s Engineer inspect-the plans and specifications and report-thereon to Council.

The following month, the Bulli Shire Council’s engineer’s report estimated that the necessary materials for the construction of the Thirroul bowling green would cost £220. This figure included fencing, gates, timber, manures, seed, turf, and lorry hire for the preparation of the area, water service and electric light. The cost of the club house would be additional, as would also be the cost of such items as lawn mower, roller and hose.

The Council agreed to commit £500 for the construction of a bowling green and club house at Thirroul in August 1934, with members to repay the money.

The green and clubhouse were still not constructed by 1935, with the Illawarra Mercury reporting on May 24 1935:

THIRROUL BOWLING GREEN

The Engineer reported the green had been top-dressed and it would be advisable to hand over future maintenance of green to club as it needs close cutting and skilled care and attention, the mower used by Council be-ing a borrowed machine, and not now suitable for the work. — Councillors were at variance as to whether the club should be under the obligation to take over until the green was finalised and ready for play, but finally, the re-port was received and a decision reached that intentions of the club in regard to the matter be ascertained. For the erection of a club house at the green five tenders were received — W. R. Jackson, £380; W. F. Jackson, £481/10/0; Marsh and Hay, £535; D. M. Lett (two tenders) £383/14/0 and £372 (without lining). In submitting the tenders the Shire Clerk pointed out that no reply had yet been received from the Department regarding the Council’s power to do the work by contract. — Council decided to defer consideration of the tenders, pending further information, the specifications to be forwarded to the club for scrutiny.

The clubhouse and greens were eventually opened in the latter part of 1936. The South Coast Times reporting on Friday December 4 1936:

THIRROUL’S new clubhouse.

thirroul_bowlers_1933 Larger
The Thirroul bowlers and their new clubhouse 1936. Picture: Supplied

Last Saturday marked yet an-other step forward on the part of Thirroul Bowling Club, for on that day, the new and commodious club rooms were officially opened by the Shire President Cr. A. Morrison. Many prominent townspeople were present, while bowlers from every club in the northern section were well represented. Mr. W. Graham, of Nowra, was the sole representative from the southern clubs. Bulli Shire Councillors and Shire officials were also present and a telegram of congratulations was received from Kiama Club. The new building, which cost approximately £700 consists of a residence and club rooms. Provision is made for dressing rooms for members and visitors and there is an assembly hall 30ft x 16ft which will seat about 60 persons. Shortly after 2 o’clock, the club president, Mr. S. Wearne, called the members and visitors to the front of the building and welcomed the Shire President. He said it was as a result of the splendid help on the part of the council that the club now had this fine building, one which every member was proud of. Cr Morrison considered it a great privilege to have the honor of opening the new building. The building and the surroundings were something the councillors, the club and the public of Thirroul should be proud of. He then declared the building open and unlocked the door amidst great applause. An inspection of the building then followed, after which Mr. Wearne, presented Cr. Morrison with a pipe on behalf of the members. All then adjourned to the bowling green, where a spider was held. All bowled to the kitty which was placed in the centre of the green and the prize, a box of chocolates, was won by Cr Clowes. A social game of bowls followed, fifty-six players taking part. Several were making their first appearance including Crs Morrison, Kelly and McCarter, the electrical engineer (Mr. Freeman) and the Shire Clerk (Mr. Mitchell). Later, afternoon tea was served in the club rooms. Mr. S. Wearne presided, and he proposed the usual Loyal Toast. Cr. Morrison, in proposing the health of Thirroul Bowling Club, said that day had been an eye-opener to him. It was some considerable time since he was on the ground, and the transformation was quite amazing. The club was something which was really needed at Thirroul. There were two ways of getting a bowling green either by private enterprise or through the council and he was pleased that the club had adopted the lat-ter method. In the past when he had been boosting the attractions of Thirroul to visitors, he had always been asked “Have you a golf club or bowling club?” Now Thirroul had a green which compared favorably with any in the State, and a fine lot of members. In reply, Mr. Wearne said the occasion was one to gladden the hearts of members. In 1929 the first meeting was held in connection with the construction of a green? and of the 14 present at that meeting, 11 were now members of the club. In 1936 the club became affiliated with the Association and now, with the co-operation of the council, they had a fine up-to-date club-house and a green equal to any on the coast. Their membership totalled 60 and the financial position was very solid. The club had furnished the club rooms and purchased various implements, etc., all in the last 18 months. In supporting these remarks, Mr. L.Gerathy, club vice-president, said the club was a big asset to the town and district. Bowls was a great game and he installed the case of a man 77 years of age, who had recently lost his life’s partner. This man came along regularly and was able to enjoy his game. Bowls provided sport for men, who were past the age of cricket, tennis and football. Members were jealous to make the club one which any man might be proud to belong to, and all obligations would be fulfilled to the letter. Mr. H. W. Ross, in the absence of the ex-president, Mr. J. B. Scobie, proposed ”Bulli Shire Council”. The council and Riding councillors in particular had rendered yeoman service and members had them to thank for the fine green and club house. £360 had been borrowed to construct the green and £700 for the club house, and all were agreed that the money had been well spent. The Shire president called on the three Riding Councillors to respond. Cr. Clowes congratulated the club and committee on the completion of what was and will be one of the best assets any town could have — a well conducted bowling green. He paid a tribute to the work of council’s officers, particularly the Shire engineer Mr. Glastonbury. Cr. Kelly referred to the green and clubhouse as a gilt-edged security as far as Thirroul ratepayers were concerned. He urged members not to rest on their laurels, but to get behind the Progress Association and so work for the continued improvement of the town. Cr. Gibson was proud of the little he had done to get the green. He had heard no adverse comment from Thirroul ratepayers concerning the proposal, and there was no doubt additional visitors would now be attracted to Thirroul. Ex Cr. McNaughton said he had heard the council eulogised as he had never heard before, and may never hear again (Laughter) . He had always endeavored to further the interests of Thirroul and when he was first approached on the matter, it appealed to him immediately. He did his best and when he left the council, passed the job on to his successors. The toast to the ‘South Coast Bowling Association,’ was proposed by Mr. M. Keegan, and responded to by Mr. T. Hynd, president of the Northern Section. Mr. G. Chamberlain proposed “The Visitors”, Mr. T. Hope, president of Austinmer Town Club responding. “Auld Lang Syne,” concluded the very enjoyable proceedings.

Many a happy “session” was had in the timber clubhouse with the majority of members being coal miners who had come from the “Old Dart”. Saturday afternoon was generally a sing-along, with Irishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and Englishmen joining the natives in trying to out-do each other.

Beer was purchased through a “liquor-locker” system where members would buy coupons to exchange for a glass of lager to outfox the need to have a liquor license.

The committee would buy kegs of beer on the black market from local hotel keepers at a pound a gallon and as there was no gas or ‘temp-rod’, a car pump was tacked to the keg and air manually pumped to keep the beer flowing.

An old corrugated iron shed in the yard housed the pan toilet on which some wag scribbled on the wall the inscription “Please pull the chain” with an accompanying illustration.

When the late Dick Oakley joined the club in the 1940s he recalled a lot of blue collar workers had replaced the “more well to do” businessmen of Thirroul as the majority of club members.

He remembered in the days before refrigeration when Bob Wishart was barman and how he would get a tongue lashing after adding ice to the jugs in an effort to keep the beer cold.

“Come off it Bob, there’s enough water in the beer already without adding more,” was the response to the barman’s efforts to keep the grog cold.

During 1996, the 81-year-old told me about his mate, ‘Curly’ Shipley who “done his doe” on a three penny poker machine, and in a fit of anger threw the machine into the club’s fire place. “He was suspended for three months for that one,” Dick Oakley recalled.

The old weatherboard club house was replaced with new brick premises in 1961. The two storey brick building was officially opened by the President of the Royal Australian Bowling Association, Bill Kay on March 27 1961.

The club, built at a cost of £21,000, was considered one of the best in the district on completion with the top storey consisting of a kitchen, women’s rooms, dining room, lounge and bar. The ground floor housed a recreation room, locker room, showers, toilet and storeroom.

The building was constructed by 1960 Illawarra District singles champion and 1961 Illawarra fours champion skipper, Fred Lewis of Austinmer.

The impressive clubhouse was a culmination of 27 years hard work and faithful service of the club’s pioneer members.

The first secretary, George Laughlin, first treasurer, Edgar Primrose, and Sid Wearne, who served 11 years as president, were among the guests at the official opening ceremony.

Twenty one of the 22 Illawarra bowling clubs were represented on the day with the then club president, Hugh Ross saying the club had never looked back since its formation in 1933. “Perhaps we have been a little slow in comparison with other palatial clubs in the district, but we have certainly progressed. We are indebted to the old Bulli Council, which assisted us in every possible way,” he told the gathering.

The State Association president, Mr Kay said after cutting the blue and gold ribbon that bowls had broken down social barriers in the community.

“To get a clubhouse like this you have to find men with enterprise. These premises should suit your requirements for many years to come,” he said. And so they did.

Like Thirroul Bowling Club’s original 1933 rooms, the 1961 club house had reached its use-by date by 2003 and was replaced with modern premises again “reaping today the benefits of our pioneers”.

The old club house, built at a cost of £21,000, was replaced with a $3.4 million state of the art building in 2004. Known on completion as the Thirroul Bowling Leagues and Recreation Club, today its simply trades as ‘Club Thirroul’.

It will always be ‘Thirroul Bowlo’ to me.

Originally published 2014. Updated 2020.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2020

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