By MICK ROBERTS ©
THIRROUL Bowling Club is the last of three registered clubs that once traded 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.
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 temprod, 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.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2014