Middle Park Bowling Club’s story is one of progress and success.
The game we play was developed in Scotland in the second half of the 19th Century, and introduced to Melbourne in the 1860s by migrants from Scotland. The Middle Park Bowling Club was formed in 1903 – by that time there were 33 bowling clubs in Melbourne, including 7 in the nearby suburbs. The Club was at that time largely for the influential people in the community – members were mostly older men, and membership costs were high. It maintained this status, with membership ranging between 150 and 200 until the Second World War.
Many bowling clubs in this period had women as “associate members”, but at Middle Park the Ladies had their own club, and played bowls from the start. This was uncommon. Our Ladies had a great deal of success, winning the Flag in the top Ladies pennant competition 7 times between 1913 and 1925. They dominated Ladies bowls for much of this period. The men did well too – they won the White Flag (for winning the top pennant level) in 1923 – still the only time the Club has won this. Individual members also won many honours. But the depression in the 1930s hit the club hard. From 1930 until after the Second World War, the club did poorly in terms of the number of bowlers, and the results they achieved.
After the war came a great resurgence of bowls generally, as bowling clubs stepped in to fill the need for general community centres. Middle Park Bowling Club became a general community centre rather than an elite gentlemen’s club. The number of members increased to a peak of 413 in 1956. In that year the Club fielded 8 Pennant sides (112 men every Saturday) and 3 Ladies sides in the mid-week Ladies’ pennant competition. The standard of bowls also was high in this period and the Club had much success, though it was not able to win a second White Pennant.
From 1965 on, the Club membership – in common with other bowling clubs – was increasingly elderly, and the Club changed its function yet again and it became an elderly citizen’s support system rather than a general community centre. From the mid 1980s, other organisations were set up to support the elderly, and bowling clubs generally went into a decline. Many are still in decline, and many have closed. Middle Park has hung on, and retained enough good bowlers to have a respectable presence in the bowling world, though without a great deal of depth. One of the reasons for this longevity was the superb bowling greens. The Club has had top greenkeepers since R Hoskins set the standard from 1923 to 1937. Allan Vance, the greenkeeper from 1939 to 1971, had an international reputation for his skill. Our greenkeepers since then have maintained the standard.
From 2005, the Middle Park Bowling Club – along with a number of other mostly inner suburban clubs – has changed its membership base again. It has now returned to being a general community centre, with a younger membership base, and is on the move again. The number of members is increasing, the number of bowlers is increasing, and the standard of the bowls also is increasing. The result of years of neglect of the facilities is slowly being rectified, and the future looks good.