Fairfield Bowling Club History : 1913 – 2006
Over the years, Fairfield has prospered into a suburb that most people would want to live in. Easy access to the city, a friendly living environment, not to mention the leafy, tree lined streets that can’t help but make you relaxed. Fairfield Bowling Club has grown with it since 1913, into the terrific club we have now. Here’s how it happened, from the start.
Early in 1913, local identity Sir MacPherson Robertson (known by Australians through MacRobertson Chocolates) indicated to Fairfield residents that he was willing to offer the use of his property known as “Carmalia” as a recreation club. A public meeting was called to discuss this most generous donation on 21st January, and at that meeting the Fairfield Bowling, Croquet & Tennis Club was formed. With 23 bowling members for the first year, the fees were set at two pounds two shillings and the club officially opened on Saturday 8th February. The club heralded its’ first club champion, Mr.F.Guerrero in 1918. Sir MacPherson Robertson remained an important figure at the club in those early years, remaining president until the end of the decade.
A meeting was held during September 1921, the main focus of which was to disband the Fairfield Bowling, Croquet & Tennis Club and to re-form as a new club – The Fairfield Bowling Club. This happened as a result of Mr. William Bolger purchasing a lot on Gillies Street, Fairfield for the princely sum of 775 pounds in cash. This land has remained the site of the Fairfield Bowling Club to this day. During the 20?s, a billiard table (earlier donated by Sir MacPherson Robertson) was one of the main forms of recreation at the club. Such was its’ popularity that a committee had to be formed solely to deal with matters relating to the table. By 1923, the club had prospered greatly, and boasted a membership of 118 (with a few waiting for approval). This figure was almost six times the original membership ten years earlier when the club formed. On September 20th, 1927, the Fairfield Ladies Bowling Club was formed, largely through the efforts of Mrs. A. Williams. The wives of members had been particularly active in the club for the five previous years, assisting greatly with social events and catering at the club. The single-minded Mrs. Williams capitalized on this fact and managed to have the new club formed. Her fund raising efforts within the local community were tremendous, and within a couple of years she had seen to the building of a ladies clubroom.
The 1930-31 season provided the first major successes for the club when Mr.J.Boyd captured the Victorian Champion O Champions title. This win came on the tail of his four club singles titles during the late 20?s and the 30-31 season. He went on to win two more singles titles at the club durig the 30?s, stamping him as the club’s most decorated player of the period. Boyd’s win in the Champion Of Champions was followed immediately by a win in the V.B.A. Fours, the itle taken off by C.Allen, D.Mason, A.Lee & W.Veal. In 1936, the club achieved its’ first pennant success when the Division 6 team were able to achieve a sectional title. In addition to this, the Ladies’ Division C team captured a VLBA pennant. This completed a golden period for the club, and its’ first real success among the metropolitan competitions.
The War Years
During the 1940’s, bowls became a secondary issue as the nation concentrated on the war effort. Fairfield members were particularly active to this end, with our ladies combining with those from Canterbury B.C. to make camouflage nets for our soldiers. Saturday pennant bowls wound down as most of our men were away at war, or were working here in Melbourne for the war effort. Sunday bowls became an issue as it was claimed by some members that our men would appreciate being able to play on the sabbath after a long hard week working. This proved to be a controversial issue as the club was divided between wanting to play, and the sacrilege of bowling on the sabbath. Eventually the issue was solved when it was pointed out that cards were already being played on a Sunday and that bowls would be the lesser of two evils. So it came to pass that Sunday bowls was acceptable at the club.
As the war ended, bowls clubs throughout Australia began the task of getting their affairs back in order. Fairfield were extremely fortunate during the early part of the 1950’s, when Mr.C.Sturtevant was selected to represent Australia in test matches against Great Britain, an obvious source of great club pride. Sturtevant’s effort was followed up a year later when club legend Lou Fry made the final of the state Champion of Champions, a feat only achieved once before at Fairfield by Mr.J.Boyd. Unfortunately for Lou, he went down narrowly in the final to the legendary Glyn Bosisto, considered to be the “Bradman of Bowls”. This feat has been a much discussed and lauded topic even to this day.
The period from 1960 to 1964 would have to be the most famous in terms of Fairfield’s on-green performances. RVBA pennants were won each year, firstly in 1959-60 by the Division A2 side, then in the three following years by the Division D1 side. These performances are all the more remarkable as they are the club’s only four pennant wins in over 85 years of competition. Notably, in 1966, long-time member and contibutor, Mr. Norm Southern resigned as secretary after a massive 19 years of service.
June of 1970 marked a milestone for Mrs. Sturtevant when she celebrated 20 years of service as treasurer for the ladies’ club. The ladies’ club had a major milestone of its’ own in 1977 when it celebrated its’ golden jubilee after 50 years as a club. It had come a long way since Mrs. Williams instigated its’ introduction in 1927. Notably for the mens’ club, Ern Curnick achieved a great result in winning the RVBA Veteran Singles title. Also, the dominance of Lou Fry began to be challenged by Frank Gray, who captured two titles late in the 70’s. His run of singles titles would soon begin to challenge that of Lou’s record of 9 championships.
As the 1980’s commenced, the RVBA began to see the need to drop its’ joining age from 18 to 16, with the advent of many new bowlers taking up the game. This trend was also prevalent at Fairfield, where Frank Gray was taking a stranglehold on the club championship title, winning in ’82, ’83 and ’87. Two of the young members in particular were drawing attention, those being Wayne Long and Brian Wilcock, who each won singles titles in the late ’80s and were to become influential players at the club through the ’90s. The club pulled off a coup in 1989, winning the coveted Northcote City Council Shield Tournament, which is contested between clubs throughout the district. Off the green, in 1985, the club was de-registered as a company and all assets were transferred to the ownership of the members.
During the 90’s, the RVBA’s catch-cry in promoting the game has been “The Sport For All Ages”. This has been prevalent nowhere more than at Fairfield. Our club has recruited a lot of new bowlers, many of them in the 20-40 age range and the club has a new look about it. Luckily for us, our older members have continued to be fine contributors, both on and off the green. Frank Gray captured the Veteran Singles title in 1996, and followed it up this year (1998-99) by winning the group 11 triples along with Peter & David Duncan. Peter Vening along with Mrs. Mavis Batty won the Group 11 Mixed Pairs title in 1996 and Brian Wilcock has become one of the area’s finest bowlers, with some great performances in group titles and at the Richmond Union Masters. To close out the decade, Fairfield’s second side, won their way through to the RVBA Division 7 Grand Final, only to be defeated by St.Kilda. Their performance was the best by a Fairfield pennant side in many years, and was the catalyst for things to come.
The Mouse that Roared
As the year 2000 came to pass, a new age was well and truly established in Victorian bowls. The RVBA’s new Premier League competition had created a new regime of power clubs, with huge membership bases and plenty of money to throw at young and promising potential recruits. These clubs have begun to choke the life out of many smaller clubs, with as many as 15 Melbourne metro clubs meeting their demise over the past 10 years. Fairfield, like many other small inner-city clubs has faced this possibility, but in 2000 chose to fight the possibility of oblivion with their heads held high. The season will be long remembered as one of the most stirring in club history, and will serve as an example of what a determined group of people can accomplish. The only downside to season 1999/2000 (if there must be one), is that Fairfield never took an RVBA premiership from it…..but it couldn’t have been much closer. Both pennant teams put in brilliant seasons to win their respective sections (Division 2 and Division 6), with the top side reaching that goal in a dramatic, come-from-behind win in the final round. The euphoric scenes in the rooms that night will be long remembered by everyone who was there. As the teams entered the finals on the crest of a wave, expectations were high. The second side were unfortunate to go down against Hoppers Crossing at Newport in their quarter final – ending their dream of a second successive Grand Final appearance. But, in a pleasant surprise for the club, the top side managed to keep level heads and disposed of Clayton by a mammoth 47 shots at Burwood. The semi final against Ringwood at Kew Heights was a great spectacle of pressure bowling, as the 18-second surface tested the mettle of every competitor. Fairfield built a strong lead early in the match and held sway despite a desperate Ringwood fightback late in the day to record a 23-shot win and move on to the RVBA Division 2 Grand Final. Ultimately, inexperience cost Fairfield badly in the Grand Final, which they lost to Yarraville/Footscray by 36 shots. Bewildered by the Bulldogs’ after-tea surge, the team never re-grouped and was left floundering in their wake. Whilst the season ended with a loss, the self-belief that filtered into the club during the latter part of the season was proof that there are no limits for Fairfield. With a solid base of promising youngsters and a dearth of potential stars coming to their ripest stage, anything is possible next year in Division One.
For the 2000/2001 and 2001/2002 seasons Faifield competed in the RVBA Division 1 competition. Despite a number of good wins it could not maintain its place in the grade, suffering an unfortunate relegation. Racked by a severe loss of players the seconds’ side suffered too, also being forced to relegation, unfortunately in what came down to the last bowl of the season. Needing just 2 points at Montmorency to survive, the last rink on the “plastic” were holding four shots whilst only two behind to see the Monty skip draw to cut out three.
The 2002/03 season saw in a new administrative era. The Fairfield Bowling Club accepted the Fairfield Ladies Bowling Club into the fold and set up a new administrative structure of a Committee Of Management overseeing RVBA & VLBA Affilited sections and various other committees.
The top side had been relegated to Division 3 after the 2004/05 season, but quickly regrouped and gained promotion back to Division 2 the next year. The following year, the second side, with a team featuring a number of inexperienced but talented bowlers, won their section in Division 7.
The top side had a tremendous season during 2007/08, once again gaining promotion to Division 1. This achievement shouldn’t be underestimated – we were by far the smallest club competing at that level. All members involved in making the club so successful on the green should be proud of their efforts.
Unfortunately, the stay in Division 1 was short lived, and the top side were relegated the next season. A number of close losses, many by less than a handful of shots, during the middle part of the season really hurt the clubs chances of retaining its position in Division 1. The clubs disappointment was further exacerbated by the Division 7 side also being relegated.
Despite the on-green gloom, the club itself was marching full steam ahead. The club merged its RVBA and VLBA sections to a single Bowls Section in anticipation of the merger of the RVBA and VLBA into Bowls Victoria. Barefoot Bowls was booming, and the bowling green was typically filled most Friday nights. Corporate parties also become a regular occurrence during the Christmas period, providing a valuable revenue stream.
Our Tuesday pennant side won their section during the 2010/11 season, a mighty achievement for all involved. The reward was promotion to the new mixed pennant Division 1, where they managed to hold their position the next season.
The Division 8 side finished atop their section during the 2011/12 season, going on to win the section flag and gain promotion. During the finals series, this side battled the extremes of weather – from temperatures in the high 30’s one week, to pouring rain the next. They narrowly lost their semi final to Box Hill RSL, who went on the comfortably win the entire Division the next week.