Sport and Health

Keeping Bowls Alive in the Trout-Fishing Capital of the World

Located at the mouth of the Tongariro River where it flows into Lake Taupo, Turangi is regarded as the trout-fishing capital of the world.

Just 3,500 people live there. But when the Tongariro Hydroelectric Power Scheme was being developed in the 60s and 70s, the population swelled to nearly 10,000. The ‘River Rats’ who had built the cascade of dams on the Waikato River – Aratiatia, Ohakuri, Atiamuri, Whakamaru, Maraetai, Waipapa, Arapuni and Karapiro – came to town to harness the last of the central North Island’s hydroelectric potential. They were joined by workers from Downers and the Ministry of Works, and tunnellers from the Italian company Codelfa-Cogefar – who in the day were regarded as the ‘go-to’ tunnellers in the world.

They needed somewhere to socialise. So the Turangi Bowling Club was opened in 1966. Not so much because of the attraction of lawn bowls, but because the club became the first licenced premises in Turangi – able to serve a DB Draught or Lion Brown (and presumably a Limoncello) from 8:00am to midnight.

The Chief Project Engineer of the power scheme, Bill Gibson, who was effectively ‘mayor’ of Turangi, sent down the kitty to officially open the club. It’s single cotula green (a second green was added later) and clubhouse began life debt-free. And like many clubs back in the day, it began life ‘women-free’. 140 men lined up to join.

Turangi_Bowls-NZ-Grandparents_NZ Club President Mia Bishop, Committee Member Alan MacDonald and Life Member Ray Foster dream about a new carpet green.

“That didn’t last long,” says Club President, Mia Bishop. “In 1968, a woman’s club was started as well. And in the early 70s the clubhouse was extended so they could have their own space. There was even a rope cordon keeping the men and women apart. The club had no-go areas for men and women!”

But no one was sure where the new men’s and women’s clubs belonged.

Ray Foster, a Life Member whose name appears on the inaugural year of the honours board, reckons the club was passed around the centres like a hot potato. “We started off as part of the Wanganui Centre,” he says, “and the women started off as part of the Waikato Centre. The men eventually also became part of Waikato, before the amalgamated club became part of the Bay of Plenty Centre. Today we’re the southernmost club in the Bay.”

“Many say at the ‘arse-end’ of the Bay,” Ray laughs.

Indeed when Club President Mia turned up at the Centre AGM this year, she was greeted with astonishment. “No one had seen anyone from Turangi for years,” she says.

It’s a geographical problem that’s always beset Turangi. “When I played rugby,” says Committee Member Alan MacDonald, “We belonged to the King Country union. No one’s really been sure where Turangi belongs.”

However, the centres playing ‘pass-the-parcel’ never stopped Turangi from holding a renowned Easter Tournament over the years. “The fours tournament went on for 4 days,” says Alan, “There were 32 teams, and a waiting list. We used to get the likes of Peter Belliss, Keith Slight and Nick Unkovich coming.”

That was in the days when the club had a peak playing membership of 129. These days the club has 65 members (50 playing) who make up for their lack of numbers with their dedication to, and passion for, the club.

It hasn’t always been like that. “Were it not for the efforts of my predecessor Lois Carson, the club wouldn’t be here,” says Mia. “Membership had got down to 6, but Lois refused to give up. She became the President, the Treasurer and the Secretary. She doubled the membership to 12.”

So when Mia took over the presidency the hard yards had already been done by Lois. Mia was able to take the membership from 12 to today’s 65.

“Mia is a little modest about her own efforts,” says Alan. “She came in here like a breath of fresh air and got everyone off their bums. The result’s been great. The clubhouse’s been painted, the membership’s increased dramatically, and the locals are proud of their bowling club.”

“Even the PD workers who come here once a month do a fabulous job mowing the lawns, trimming the hedges, and maintain the gardens. They’re great. And Mia makes sure the club shouts them a feed of fish’n chips when they’re here.”

Mia’s been used to organising people. She used to run the old Family and Naval Hotel on Auckland’s K Road before opting for a quieter lifestyle in Taupo and Turangi as a real estate agent (Don’t forget. $260,000 will buy you a nice home in Turangi!)

Her next challenge is to get the carpet green replaced. It’s done 19 years of service … and showing it. “We’ve been quoted $230,00,” says Mia. “It’s a big number, and we’re starting from zero.”

She’s on the prowl for anyone who can help them with their funding efforts. And she’s ready to listen to what anyone has to say about putting the money together. She knows there’s real demand for the club – there’s not another club around for 50km (Taupo).

It would be a shame for the club to disappear.

It was the home of Bill Parsons, who passed away 6 years ago at the age of 105. He was still driving his car there to play bowls at the age of 102.

That could make Turangi the home to the oldest bowler ever in New Zealand.

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