Northcote Bowling Club
The idea of a bowling club in Northcote was first mooted in 1903, when a group of prominent local businessmen convened a meeting with local citizens, invited to project the idea of forming a bowling club. The chairman of this meeting was Walter Stott, whose name was synonymous with sport in Northcote through his long involvement with the Northcote Cricket and Football Clubs.
The group faced an early setback when their attempt to lease land from the Railways Department on the eastern side of Ruckers Hill was denied. After the council arranged for the construction of several roads in the area, the Railways Department started to sell off their substantial land holdings, and the group behind the Northcote Bowling Club purchased four blocks in Pearl Street, having arranged finance with the Commercial Bank of Australia.
The club’s green was laid down and then officially opened on October 5th 1906. It was subsequently affiliated to the RVBA in 1907. After Northcote was declared a city in 1914, the club’s fortunes improved with membership increasing significantly. In addition the club boasted several champion players in its membership ranks, including 1924 Victorian Champion of Champions, Dr. Catarinch.
The club enjoyed full membership as well as successful competition results in the 1970s while it remained an all male club. In 1982, after 76 years as an all-male domain, the club accepted women as associate members. A decline in popularity of the sport and an ageing membership took its toll on Northcote into the 1990’s when the club took a radical change in direction.
In 1993 the Collingwood Football Club, under the presidency of Alan McCallister, purchased the Northcote Bowling Club during an ambitious period of expansion. The club became the Collingwood Football Club Northcote Bowling Club. Poker machines were installed in the club rooms, with the Northcote board hopeful that the association with Collingwood would help attract new members. The club changed its colours to black and white and incorporated the famous Magpie logo in a further attempt to associate itself with the football institution.
Unfortunately the partnership did not bear fruit for either party. Collingwood endured significant ongoing losses in operating the club, while the Bowling Club did not find the boost in membership it was hoping for. The pokies were not successful either, and eventually were taken away by the owner of the machines, Tabaret.
In 1996 the word Northcote was dropped from the name of the club, and then in 1997 Collingwood re-negotiated its position. Collingwood retained 25% ownership of the club and took away the club’s second green as payment for returning the remaining 75% of the club to its members. In 1999, after losing the poker machines and struggling to survive with its one remaining green, Northcote Bowling Club merged with neighbouring Faircote Bowling Club to form the Darebin City Bowling Club. Selling its large block in Pearl St netted the newly merged entity over 1 million dollars, which it then invested in the new facility in Darebin Rd, on the site of Faircote’s old clubhouse and greens. Along with substantial investment from the state and local governments, Darebin City now boast the state of the art State Bowling Centre at the Darebin International Sports Centre, venue for the Lawn Bowls events at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
As with any merger, the one between Northcote and Faircote was not accomplished without difficulty and without alienating some members. Overall though the members of Darebin City Bowling Club consider the merger to be a success with the club hoping to further build its membership and capitalise on corporate interest in lawn bowls as well as interest from a new generation seeking a new way to spend their leisure time.
City of Northcote (1933). Northcote Jubilee celebrations 1883 – 1933 : souvenir & official program. Northcote: Author.
Murphy, Padraic. AFTER 95 YEARS, BOWLS CLUB OPTS FOR A BIGGER SLICE OF GREEN. (1999, June 19). The Age. (Melbourne).
Niall, Jake. MAGPIES LAND A CASH BONUS. (1999, July 23). The Age. (Melbourne).
Swift, William George (1928). The history of Northcote: From its first settlement to a city. Northcote, Vic: Leader Publishing.
The Victorian Ladies’ Bowling Association: a history from 1907 to the present. Hawthorn (Vic.): Victorian Ladies Bowling Association, 2003.
Further information courtesy of Darebin City Bowling Club, Darebin Rd, Thornbury