Young People Shine in a Biased World
Lawn bowls is shedding its image as the domain of grey-haired grandparents in starched white uniforms, as Carolyn Webb reports for The Age.
With their tracksuits, caps, nose studs and tatts, Alan Crowle and Lisa Phillips are the new, youthful face of the genteel suburban sport.
Mr Crowle, a TAFE hospitality student from Broadmeadows, stumbled across a bowls tournament while flicking TV channels three years ago.
He doesn’t like contact sports and was after a social outlet.
”I thought it was a sport that I could get into, that I could really dig,” he said. ”It was something I could picture myself doing. I thought, ‘I could play this sport’.”
”I bought an old bowls set for $35 on eBay and it went from there.”
He now plays five times a week, and in February competed in the Australian Open men’s singles. ”It was the first time I qualified for it,” he says, proudly.
”It’s just a mad sport, everyone should get into it, it’s given me a goal, it’s given me a life, something to look forward to.”
Happily, the rules have relaxed to the point where he can wear casual clothes, even when competing, as long as they have a Bowls Australia logo.
Even the bowls themselves now are often fluorescent pink, green, orange and yellow rather than traditional black.
Ms Phillips, who at age 19 is a two-time Australian Open champion, has noticed a trend for female players to wear ”skorts” – mini skirts with lycra shorts underneath.
She says most people she competes against, at the highest level, are aged under 35.
”It’s happened all of a sudden, there’s so many more younger people playing,” she said.
According to Bowls Australia, the current women’s national lawn bowls team has an average age younger than the Australian men’s cricket team.
Ms Phillips, from Newborough in Gippsland, will represent Victoria at the country’s biggest interstate lawn bowls competition, the Australian Sides Championships to be held at the Bendigo Bowls Club from this Monday to Thursday.
The event, on daily from 9am to 2pm, has free admission. For each state, female teams of 12 compete for the Marj Morris Trophy, and male teams of 12 compete for the Alley Shield.
On Saturday night, the sport’s elite will roll up at Bendigo Town Hall for the bowlers of the year and Hall of Fame awards, a night dubbed ”the Brownlow of lawn bowls”.
Ms Phillips, a fast food worker ”when I’m not bowling”, took up the sport aged nine after years watching her parents, uncle and grandparents play. She competed in the Victorian under-18 singles at the age of 12.
Twice a week she makes the three-hour round trip from her home to play at Clayton Bowls Club, which has high level competitions.
At first, she says, ”my friends bagged me out about it a lot: ‘It’s an old person’s sport’. I guess they changed their tune when I started to win some of the big events”.
She says the barefoot bowls movement – social sessions at local greens over beer – has won over many of the detractors.
”Sometimes you go and watch a game of bowls and it’s like being at a footy match. Everyone really gets into it.”
Her current goal is playing for Australia at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
She has a sponsor – bowls product maker Henselite, who provides her gear. Winning the Australian Open singles and triples in February earned her $21,000 in cash.
Asked her tips for playing, she advised each player to find a technique that works for them, and says self-confidence can provide a winning edge.
ON THE GREEN
– 1960 bowls clubs in Australia, 503 in Victoria
– Whites are out, coloured clothes the norm
– Australian National Team is known as The Jackaroos
– Average age of national team 29
– World’s top two ranked men are Australian
– Australia is the top ranked country in the world
Caption: Victoria’s Alan Crowley and Lisa Phillips are changing the perception of people who play lawn bowls. Photo: Joe Armao