The bowls club reviving a community’s spirit after devastating bushfires


On December 31, 2019, bushfire swept through Malua Bay, on the South Coast of New South Wales, destroying businesses and homes along the usually idyllic coastal region.


The bowls club reviving a community’s spirit after devastating bushfires

One of the many impacted by the fires was Club Malua in Malua Bay; home to the local lawn bowls club with a membership of more than 4000. The clubhouse was completely destroyed, yet remarkably the bowling greens were left largely untouched.

“The fire wasn’t meant to come this way at all – and then the wind changed,” said Club Malua Manager, Christine Howarth, who was on-site the day of the fires. 

“I was evacuating members out of the Club and by the time we were leaving there were flames coming over the trees and embers falling in the car park. We were petrified. We had no idea it had gotten this close so quickly. Never in a million years did I think the fires would come through this area.”

Bowls club member, Pat Biddolph, was shocked when she heard about the bushfires in the south coast region.

“We’ve been coming down here on and off for about 25 years and I’ve never seen a bushfire like this. People have lost their homes, all the way from Batemans Bay to Moruya is completely burnt." 

However, in an incredible display of resilience, less than a week after fires swept through the grounds, members were back on the greens, reigniting their community spirit once more.

“We have some pretty resilient members here,” said Christine. “A week after the fires they were back here bowling. It was amazing.” 

As a Vero insurance customer, Club Malua has been working closely with the Vero claims team to ensure members have a place to continue to gather in the aftermath of the bushfires. 

“We’ve been working on building a temporary facility to make sure we have a space where they can gather, talk about what’s happened. This will be here until our new clubhouse is ready,” Christine said. 

Tee Ngata, Vero’s Leader for Commercial Property and Natural Hazard Claims, was in awe of the club members’ spirit, describing his surprise when seeing players on the greens. “We were here a short time after the bushfires, and we didn’t expect to see anyone on the green and it was full,” Tee said.

“In a very short space of time, and thanks to our fantastic builders, we were able to construct a temporary clubhouse for them to use while the new facility is being built. It’s quite amazing the community spirit that’s here, and how important this place is to locals.”

Vice President of Men’s Bowls at Club Malua, Peter Hutchinson, has been involved with the Club for more than five years, and a local resident for almost 20.

Describing the community in Malua Bay and at the Club, Peter said, “This bowls club is like a second home to the members. There’s about 4,000 in total, so while it is a bowls club, it is very much a place for the community as well. Bowls is a part of it, of course, but it is only a part of it. It’s a strong community.”

The community strength and unity is keenly felt by Club Manager Christine, who is now looking forward to making new memories with the next chapter for the Club. 

“We’re all just getting back to normal, and trying to move on, put the past behind us and focus on the future now. Most members have been here for years,” she said. “It’s not just a club that we’re running, it’s a home for people. Without them we wouldn’t be a club.”

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