Just saw this –
cross buns LX
Although I’ve been past there before, and it’s only a stones throw from the swimming pool, I still managed to get us lost. We went through the railway underpass, then turned left into Brighton Street. I had a moment of indecision, and then proclaimed that the club was definitely further north, and we should continue up Palace street and take the next left. This proved to be utterly false, demonstrating that when it comes to geographical positioning, my instincts are invariably the opposite of reality. Conversely, this may just be one of the things which keeps me from going insane when restricted to one small suburb. My goldfish memory.
We realised once we’d hit Parramatta Road that we were seriously out of the zone, and I rang Lisa to find out what street the Bowling Club was on. Brighton Street, of course.
The crisp hard level surface of the empty bowling greens, the cloudless blue sky, the deadly quiet of Good Friday, the succulents growing in pots at the edge of the green: it was like we’d gone back to an idyllic imaginary 1950s suburban utopia.
Inside the pavilion, three cheerful young ladies were cooking up a breakfasty storm before our eyes. Home made hot cross buns were laid out on the counter, but I couldn’t go past the “Big Bowl”: eggs and mushrooms with smoked salmon and roast tomatoes. The author of this feast was Fiona, who’s only recently transplanted (a month ago?) into North Petersham. She was headhunted from Canberra to cater to the locals. I think she’s loving the ‘sham. Tonight she emailed me with this:
Just wanted to say thanks for popping in and telling us about the project – sounds really interesting and curiously enough parallel to the process that I’m going through as a Petersham novice. I’ve been struck by the community feeling in Petersham and indeed just in the streets surrounding the Bowling Club. At some stage you should ask more permanent residents about the ongoing campaign to save the Club as a community space, its a fascinating reflection of what people value financially, socially and physically in their immediate surrounds.
We sat near the big glass wall overlooking the bowling green, watching as two men set up an ad-hoc game in the sun. It was clear that the older one was better than the younger one. After a few rounds, the younger fellow bounded back into the pavilion wiping his brow, declaring: “you could be selling beers out there in this heat!” That was Paul – he’s on the board of the club. He and Lisa (who runs the drinks) told us that the saga of the Petersham Bowling Club wasn’t too different from the plot of Crackerjack, that goofball Aussie bowling movie. Dwindling memberships, hostile takeover bids, older bowlers dropping like flies: “the rope on the flagpole wore out from being raised and lowered too many times!”
But it seems the locals want to retain the club, and not just have it sold off as an unviable business venture. Recently there was a move to redevelop the bottom green as a childcare centre. But the board, populated by residents who live close to the club, are strongly opposed to losing it. And the funny thing is, most of them don’t even bowl themselves. “Oh they do bowl,” said Paul, “you know, casually on a Sunday arvo…but the days of the competitive leagues are over.” (Which is a shame, according to Bec. Mainly, it must be said, because she was getting all excited about scoring an old lady’s bowling outfit, which I can imagine her wearing, very ladylike, in the shade while watching the rest of us work up a sweat on the lawn.)
I asked Paul how far the locals come from to visit the club. He said the majority of enthusiasts are living right here, in the tidy renovated terraces which face onto it. Then, up to about three streets away, that’s the main constituency. Some come from up on top of the hill on Palace street, but really, that’s not very distant either. So in essence, what we have here is an issue about proximity to open space, and a valuable social resource for a small neighbourhood. It’s not really about bowling per se.
“Most of the people on this street know each other through coming to the club,” Paul said. I could just imagine it: someone you might nod at as you walk to the train station. But you never say much more than hi. You bump into them down at the club. “Hey, you’re the people from number 27, right?” … and so on. We all seem to want this kind of relation. Or am I wrong? Is it just that the unheard majority, who simply want a quiet time without being bothered by nosy gregarious neighbours, are at home with the shutters closed?
Paul suggested that if I really want to talk to someone interesting, I should seek out this particular old lady – she’s over eighty, blind, a former magistrate – who lives close to the club behind a white picket fence. He took my number and said he would call her first, because she doesn’t answer the door to strangers.
I must say, we all got pretty excited about the club. It seems to have an openness to it, a vulnerability that implies one might be able to get involved, might be able to make it somewhere we could really get into. I remember my cousins used to drink up at the Ashfield club, they knew everyone and would hang out there for hours playing pool too. Only one of them ever actually bowled.
I have thrown down the gauntlet and proposed a North-versus-South Petersham challenge. Lisa will assemble her team from the smelly Parramatta Road end, and I will pull together a team of trusty champs from the mighty southern realm of our noble ‘burb. Date to be announced. If you live in the ‘sham and want to be a part of it (no experience necessary, we ourselves have none) please get in touch.
On the way home, I stopped and spent a pleasant half hour with Eric, who runs the Palace Pantry, on the corner of Palace and Brighton. It’s a ye-olde style corner store cum cafe in the process of expanding into a 50 seat restaurant. But Eric’s story, (as well as that of Bruce, who called me up for a constitutional late in the afternoon) will have to wait for another day. With all the excitement re my impending exit from the ‘sham, I’ve got to hit the sack and get a good night’s sleep.