Oakleigh Bowling Club - established 1906


Moves to establish a bowls club at Oakleigh were made in 1902 but a club was not actually established until 1906 after a meeting at Oakleigh’s newly rebuilt Mechanics Institute.
With the purpose of forming a bowls club in Oakleigh, on the 9th May 1902 a meeting was called by the mayor of the Borough of Oakleigh, Cr. William H. Thomson. At that meeting Town Clerk William Haughton and recreation reserve trustee David W. Nicoll urged that a club be formed called Oakleigh District Bowling Club. An entrance fee of ten shillings and sixpence (10/6) and an annual subscription of £1 1 0 per annum applied.

In July 1906, trustees of the Oakleigh Recreation Reserve gave permission to establish a bowling green at Drummond Street on land ‘east of the tennis club’ at a rental of
£2.2.0 per annum.  At the time the tennis club adjoined Oakleigh State School.

Before any game could begin a green had to be fashioned, and then an all-important pavilion. A sub-committee called for tenders to form the green with the outcome that J. W. Horsfall’s specifications and tender of £95 were accepted.

Horsfall achieved the task and the green opened in January 1907. It was reported in the press that the opening was before ‘a large attendance of members and visitors.’ The ceremony of bowling the first jack was performed by the wife of the president, Mrs W. H. (Lucy) Thomson.  A south-facing pavilion backing onto Logie Street was also constructed that year.

Club colours of purple and gold were adopted. Nearby were the long established Oakleigh Cricket Club, formed in 1879, and the Oakleigh Football Club, an Australian Rules club which dated from the 1880s and was admitted into the VFA in 1929. These clubs all adopted purple and gold as their colours and the colours in turn became synonymous with Oakleigh.

A progressive Club, in 1907 Oakleigh District Bowling Club invited ladies to join at a reduced annual fee. Within five years women had formed Oakleigh Ladies Bowling Club on the same site.

When aged in his twenties Edward (Ted) William Walker began bowling with Port Melbourne but in 1906 was a foundation member at Oakleigh. In 1908 Ted Walker won the Oakleigh club’s first championship. He went on to win 14 in all between 1908 and 1949. Walker was the Club’s outstanding player contributing at the local, state, national and international level.

The outbreak of World War 2 impacted on clubs and community. Despite difficult times, in May 1942 Oakleigh won the VBA premiership pennant 1941-42.  

In post-war years from 1945 to 1948 E. W. Walker was elected to the presidency of the then Victorian Bowls Association and in 1950 to life membership of the Royal Victorian Bowls Association.

In 1952 former public land was made available for recreation purposes. A lease, granted by Oakleigh City Council for the land, enabled Oakleigh Bowling Club to demolish its old clubhouse on its northern boundary along Logie Street and rebuild a modernised facility, opened in 1956, on its western boundary. The additional land was utilised for a second green, adding another seven rinks.

Both the Oakleigh Bowling Club (OBC)   and Oakleigh Ladies Bowling Club (OLBC) were buoyant in the 1980s, each having large numbers. In 1986 OBC had 130 men and OLBC 70 women members who played pennant, interclub, in-house and special trophy events. Both greens were among the best in Melbourne.

Oakleigh won Division 4 and Division 7 RVBA premiership pennants in 1984-85 and in 1987-88 won the RVBA premier Division 1 pennant. 

In 2006 Oakleigh Bowling Club celebrated 100 years of bowling tradition at Drummond Street, Oakleigh.

Oakleigh Ladies Bowling Club - established 1912


 At the 5th AGM of the Victorian Ladies’ Bowling Association ( VLBA) on 23 September 1912 two women attending indicated their intention to affiliate a new club: Oakleigh Ladies’ Bowling Club (OLBC). The women were its president, Ethel Westley, and secretary, Ada Tranter. The club was promptly affiliated with the VLBA and was only the seventh club to be admitted.


Oakleigh women began with 20 players. Their first game was played in October 1912 in which they defeated Malvern 85 - 50.


OLBC established alongside Oakleigh Bowling Club (OBC) formed in 1906 and the two coexisted and supported each other. OBC saw benefit in women members and was at the forefront of those accepting women into bowls. Women were invited to join from 1907.


The women proved significant fundraisers for OBC and OLBC clubs and helped provide amenities. To raise money they took on catering, held card nights, arranged dances, concerts, street stalls and the like.


OLBC came to the fore in 1934-35 when it won the VLBA champion rink and in 1940-41 the VLBA B champion rink.

During World War 2 Oakleigh was nurturing an outstanding bowler and administrator: Clare V. Gray. A Club president and first life member of OLBC, at War’s end Clare Gray was elected third president of the VLBA. She held the position from 1946 through to 1950 and was a very capable leader during a period of rapid post-war development. C. V. Gray was a VLBA trustee and in 1947 became a foundation member of the Australian Women’s Bowling Council. She was also made a VLBA life member.
During her presidency of the VLBA Clare Gray led an official VLBA party on its first tour to country clubs to promote goodwill and the game. Within a few years she had arranged an interchange of visits between Gippsland clubs and the Oakleigh club, the first of these in 1952.
Clare Gray was club champion seven times and was runner-up in the Champion of Champions in 1945. She was in the winning rink of the Australian Fours in Sydney in 1949 and in that year was chosen to tour England with the international team.  In the summer of 1952 she won the VLBA proportional trophy.


In 1956, the year that Melbourne hosted the Summer Olympics, OBC celebrated its golden jubilee. It was a dual celebration as a new Clubhouse was opened on the western boundary of the greens. Continuing its support of the Club the women contributed to the building fund and took the whole cost of providing three new shelters.


Bowling enjoyed such popularity that numbers grew to the point that OBC membership was full. In 1950 OBC agreed to allow lady bowlers to play in Saturday and public holiday tournaments provided ‘there was room on the green’. It was not until 1951 that rules and bylaws for the ladies club were drafted and adopted.


Oakleigh Ladies Bowling Club won the Division 2 Melbourne Metropolitan Pennant in 1942, 1962, 1981 and 1999.  Remarkably two members, Sylvia Rule and Florence Walsh, were in both the 1961-62 team and 1980-81 team.


However, from the 1980s the sport of bowls declined. By the 2000s Bowls Australia acknowledged a reduction in membership of what was once one of the largest participatory sports in Australia. Bowls clubs were losing members at the rate of 5% per year.  It was a similar story at Oakleigh.   


At unification of both Clubs in 2011 Oakleigh Bowling Club had turned its club around and membership is growing. Another chapter for women bowlers is being written. In 2011-12 there were seven officer positions of OBC Committee and four of them were held by women.
In 2012 the Club celebrated the 100th anniversary of the formation of Oakleigh Ladies Bowling Club at Drummond Street, Oakleigh.
Citation: H. G. Gobbi, 2012                                                                                        



Oakleigh Bowling Club Archive

H. G. Gobbi, Holding Shot: A history of Oakleigh Bowling Club, unpublished manuscript.         VLBA, The Victorian Ladies Bowling Association: A history from 1907 to the present, 2003