Hi Mark! It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to do this interview with you. As you know last week I started my blog Bowls Discussions Matter and I’m glad you could find time to chat to me. The positive response I received on Social Media was wonderful and hopefully we can have a chat about your life in the sport.
NS – What got you first interested in taking up the game?
MD – I was playing golf one mid-week afternoon back on the Central Coast of NSW and after the round we went into the clubhouse for a couple of quiet beers. Instead of sitting in a dark corner we chose to sit by a window overlooking a bowling green, where a social game was in progress. I said to the mates, “geez this looks simpler than golf, the worst that can happen is a bowl falls off the green – no searching bushes and ponds to recover the ball”; we laughed. I said to the others, “I wonder how you get into this game”, so on the way out of the club I asked the lass on reception, she gave me the coach’s number and said when he passes me on my skills I am allowed to play. I called him up, learnt every Saturday morning and boom, now I am a bowler (albeit kinda average).
NS – Who were the positive role models in those early months while you were learning the game? Who was there supporting your deeds on the green? I guess my coach would be the answer to that, I recall his name was Ron but apologies that I have forgotten his surname, as this goes back to the mid-90’s. I chose to take up bowls by myself and had no support other than the people I met at the club.
NS – How often do you get time during the week to play? Is it more working your bowls around work or the other way around?
MD – I practice at least one day a week in off-season and a bit more during pennant. I play at least one social game of bowls a week and Saturday pennant through summer in Tasmania.
NS – What sort of bowls do you use at the moment and what sort of bowls have you had in the past (if any)
MD – I use and love Aero Dynamics! I have had them since Aeros opened for business, which means just over three years and would not consider changing at the moment. Given I had almost nine years of bowls (returned in 2012), prior to the Dynamics I had ABT2000 back in NSW; and the only other set I had was the Maestros, size five I was given by my coach when I started to learn the game. I only used them a short time until I got the ABT’s. I still have all three sets to this day.
NS – What did your friends and family say when you started taking up the game? Were they supportive/confused/happy that you were still being active going into later life?
MD – My friends and family continually stirred me up about taking on an “old mans” sport, but my response to them was this – 1: By the time you get old I will already be good at the game, and 2: by being in a bowls club young I can see what I potentially will be when I get old! All up though, no one ever suggested I was stupid in taking it up, and often they would come and check out a game or two I was playing in.
NS – Have you played representative bowls and if so who for and tell me a bit what it felt like to be selected for the team? It mustve been an awesome experience knowing people respected your ability on the green?
MD – I never took it too seriously in the early part back in NSW, but a crew of us played in different events and it was there I got noticed and was picked to play in what was then termed ‘academy’ bowls. It was a squad that trained and travelled together, for those bowlers too old to be considered juniors, but young enough to think there was some chance to be developed. A good concept at the time and today the advancements for development in the sport is fantastic. And yes nice to be noticed in the game for sure
NS – What position do you usually play?
MD – These days the third position is my most favoured, it keeps me involved in the head and also the thought process with the skip. It allows me to play different shots and also with the right skip, allows me the ability to suggest shots for them. I am always happy to lead, as that is what I did for years back in NSW. Nothing better than a solid lead drawing the first bowl to a jack and putting pressure onto the opponent from the get-go… So with that said, my favourite format is crossover pairs, where I play lead and have a mate beside me where we combine as a team – it gives me the chance to play my two favourite positions all day!
NS – Do you enter in as many tournaments as you can, or are you restricted by work/family/home life etc?
MD – I play as many local bowls carnivals as possible, as well as a couple of bigger events that I travel to within Tasmania. Given I am located on the east coast of Tasmania, I am more restricted by distance and season than anything else. Our pennant season here runs pretty much right through summer, so that takes up most of my bowls time.
NS – What’s your opinion on the state of the game in your area and in general? Also do you hold any position of power at your club?
MD – The state of the game in the area I live is really positive; as we have a synthetic green and can play twelve months of the year. The local club plays in two different competitions; the regional east coast pennant as well as the Launceston-based competition. I think the state of the game itself is really progressive and the development of juniors, different formats and encouraging community involvement augurs well for the sport into the future. Bowls Australia has some fantastic initiatives available through electronic media, training courses, development of the sport and events that should see the sport prosper in the years ahead. This being said, it also means that CLUBS have to work with BA and their state bodies to embrace changes and continue to progress with the times. The clubs in danger of not surviving are those that ignore these initiatives and get left behind by those clubs being run as ‘businesses’, and by people (and committees) that wish to see the game move into the 21st century! I have just completed a year as president at the local club after serving on the committee for the two prior; in those two years I worked on match committee and implemented a sub-committee we called ‘community and development’; this was working with community groups and the local school to encourage greater participation in the sport. We have seen huge growth and awareness from what was achieved for the club and membership is reflective of that. We raised sponsorship for resources through grants, and this was supported by our Regional Bowls Manager (employed by BA), of whom we have an excellent working relationship with.
NS – What club do you play for and have you played for anyone else in the past?
MD – Ahh interesting question there! I am in the transition stage as we speak… I have been playing for, and on the committee of my local club at St Helens (Tasmania) the last three years since returning to the sport, although I will be moving to North Launceston BC in the upcoming season (commencing October), of which I am really excited for the move and the new challenge ahead. Prior to my break from the sport, I was at Cygnet BC (Southern Tasmania) on my arrival to the state back in 2003, and prior to that I learnt and played lawn bowls on the Central Coast of NSW at Everglades Country Club…
NS – Have you met anyone on the green that you’ve made a lifelong friendship from, and on the other side is bowls a place where enemies can be made easily do you think?
MD – I guess given my time off from the game and the move of states that was difficult, but in returning to bowls in the last three years it has definitely been so fantastic to meet the people I have, especially through working with juniors in the sport. This has led to many friendships which I hope will be life-long and a couple of best mates I reckon that will be around till the end for sure! As for the enemies side of the question, my answer to that after a year as a President is pretty simple; YES. The petty politics and bullshit from people is incredible. Maybe the small town syndrome, I don’t know. I have had issues with members that have taken it to a personal level and have found it to be so bad with a couple of them I have decided to move to a club two hours away. The ‘one bad apple…’ scenario is rife in bowls clubs I believe, we will leave it at that I think…
NS – Do you think there is sexism in bowls? Yes; and this is generally speaking by the way.
MD – I guess given the demographic of the sport, that it is more of the ‘older generation’, then like a lot of things, society is changing and some will move with the times and others won’t. We play ‘open’ (non-gender specific) pennant in northern (as well as southern) Tasmania, which has caused some concern amongst members, but overall and with time the format is continuing to be accepted and embraced by the majority, and I hope in time the sport will be better for making it as inclusive as it has done in the last five years particularly…