Woonona war-time pioneers blaze trail for women's sport

Proud: Bev Bloor, Mary Whitehead, Linda Adams, Betty Farmilo, Vicki Bott, Olwyn Roberts, Maureen Appleton and Helen Pittman in 2019.
Proud: Bev Bloor, Mary Whitehead, Linda Adams, Betty Farmilo, Vicki Bott, Olwyn Roberts, Maureen Appleton and Helen Pittman in 2019.

Woonona is the South Coast's oldest women's bowls club and among the longest-serving in NSW having been formed in the turbulent months prior to the start of World War II in 1939.

The club remains a trailblazer for not just women's bowls but female sport in the region and was formed in an era when men dominated the sporting landscape.

The origins of Woonona Women's BC date back in 1928 when the first bowling club in the region - the all-male Woonona Bowling Club, established in 1894 - gave permission for women to play tennis on the courts adjacent to the bowling green.

The ladies were invited to ''roll-up'' at certain times convenience to the men and by 1938 had formed a small committee keen to press their case for forming their own bowls club.

But it wasn't until May 1939, on the eve of World War 11, that the NSW Women's Bowling Association convened a meeting and ratified Woonona's historic affiliation within the Association.

The Woonona Women's BC continued to blaze a path for female sporting participation into the 1950s when its president Vi Howard led the formation of the South Coast District Women's Bowling Association in 1954, which became the Illawarra District Women's Bowling Association (IDWBA).

Each year a Rose Bowl Day is held to honour the three ladies primarily responsible for establishing the now IDWBA which today boasts 17 local clubs based from Albion Park to Scarborough-Wombarra.

Woonona - which now has 87 members - have enjoyed their share of success winning 10 District flags and two State Pennant titles.

The club have bestowed a special honour to 14 Life Members in their 81 years, including present day members Mary Whitehead, Betty Farmilo and Beverley Bloor.

The club also have one of NSW's oldest bowlers, 97-year-old Olwyn Roberts who still plays in short games, while Eily Symes is the longest-serving member with 55 years patronage.

Betty Farmilo with 42 years of service, Mary Whitehead (42 years) and Maureen Appleton (41 years) remain among the pillars of the club.

While 2020 has been wiped out by the Coronavirus the club is determined to make the best of the remainder of the year as bowls returns.

The club's top performers in 2019 included Rhonda Brown and Vicki Bott who won the prestigious District Pairs, while Linda Adams claimed the Woonona Major Singles in a great performance after only joining as a member in 2014.

Woonona BC enjoyed a double celebration in 2019 when the men's bowling club - also the oldest in the region - commemorated its 125th birthday last September.

The two entities of Woonona Bowling Club remain the oldest and arguably grandest sporting partnership in the Illawarra.

Spirit: Woonona Womens Bowling Club members Marion Hunt, Margo Stanford and Angela Gibson. Picture: Mike Driscoll

Spirit: Woonona Womens Bowling Club members Marion Hunt, Margo Stanford and Angela Gibson. Picture: Mike Driscoll

Charity beginning at home

The exploits on the green at Woonona Women's BC have always served only a secondary role to the values of being a leader in the local community.

Each year the women's club host a Charity Day to support a much-needed cause with a game of bowls complimented by a fundraiser.

The concept has been operating for 18 years with $125,000 raised for numerous charities.

Last January the club delivered more than 200 boxes of household items to families on the Far South Coast affected by the bushfires, plus funds raised from donated quilts helped Balmoral bushfire victims.

The club also celebrate the contributions of its deceased members through a Remembrance Day, while a special day is held to thank the ongoing support of its Patrons.

Following months of uncertainty due to COVID-19 the ladies can't wait to return to the green to play friendly competition.

''It's been a year of immense change but we all want to get back to playing bowls,'' Woonona Women's president Margo Stanford said.

''We've come back with roll-ups and it's been great to catch up with one another. Everyone is staying positive and we know we'll come through these difficult times and enjoy the bowls again.''

Star: Dianne Tully won the clubs Major Singles for 2020.

Star: Dianne Tully won the clubs Major Singles for 2020.

Champs' green light to return

The Woonona Women's Bowling Club have been waiting patiently for the green light to return to completing its club championships for 2020.

It is six months since the 2020 club championships began with the season coming to a complete stop in mid-March due to COVID-19.

Fortunately, two club championships were able to be completed before the pandemic with Dianne Tully taking out the blue-ribbon Major Singles title, beating Linda Adams in an entertaining final.

Cathy Quail also claimed the Woonona ladies Minor Singles title after a victory over Christa Patrick in their final back in January.

The Major Pairs is the next scheduled club championship and is due to be played this month.

Roll-ups have been allowed since early June and members have been practicing hard ahead of the return of some form of competitive play. Given the long break, club officials expect plenty of interest for all upcoming events.

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This story Woonona war-time pioneers blaze trail for women's sport first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.