Still a Place For Ageing White Men
Melbourne’s Inner City is the domain of IT Professionals, upwardly mobile sorts of all persuasions, and that ubiquitous Lifestyle Loitering Lot.
Laurie Davis isn’t one of them.
He was born and grew up in Carlton light-years from its present Lifestyle Hotspot. His formative years were a time long before Sushi Bars replaced Milk Bars.
Holdens ruled the roads and John Nicholls was biffing blokes behind the play at Carlton home games.
Four n twenty pies and Saturday afternoon crowds flocking to Princes Park are distant memories. Today it’s SUV drivers and Eco Warrior cyclists jostling for right of way in search of rare parking spaces in front of the latest ‘urban spoon darling’.
Like a tourist lost in a Moroccan Medina, Laurie feels like a lost bloke.
He‘s out at sea in amongst this lot.
But he still has one sanctuary.
Princes Park Bowls Club is one of the last bastions of a Carlton he can still relate to, an oasis for ageing white blokes like Laurie.
The Clubrooms would look familiar to someone from his father’s generation.
But hot dogs in soggy white slice bread and party pies have given way to Vietnamese hawker street food and Mornington Peninsula Pinot.
Yes, even Bowls Clubs have to adapt to the ever creeping tentacles of gentrification and attract new audiences.
The club has created an ambience respectful of tradition but hardly stuck in a Menzies era time warp.
It’s discerningly progressive. The curious who stroll in off the street are surprised to find imported German wheat beers and a selection of wines by the glass.
But we’ve drawn the line at installing a coffee machine offering café latte.
There are enough places in the neighbourhood pandering to the Latte Lot.
Anyhow, serving Macchiato at a bowls club just wouldn’t be Fair Dinkum.
Mind you the progressive members had to fight off some staunch fossils in the ranks, stuck in their Edna Everage mindsets. The decades have passed since Malcolm Fraser was PM and his Blues were winning back-to-back flags.
It was an era when they both ruled their respective roosts.
However, Carlton, its fortunes and surrounds have irrevocably changed.
In recent years the club has embraced the demographical changes but hasn’t ostracized blokes like Laurie in the process. He still feels at home at the club where his father started bowling in the 1960s.
Ironically, the young hipster’s barefoot bowling get around in similar Op Shop threads.
Laurie’s retro streak extends to playing with his father’s old bowls- a set of Henselite Standards. They were around when Barassi crossed town and Syd Jackson and Serge Silvagni were stalwarts at Princes Park.
I liken Princes Park to a small country town’s bowls club.
A hub for a diverse group of people who could otherwise feel at a loose end.
The club plays an important role in ensuring that Laurie doesn’t feel like a Lost Bloke.
The fate of countless others living in neighbourhoods being gobbled up by the tentacles of gentrification.
He’s had his issues during his 18 years at the club, moreover being overlooked for pennant sides when the selectors have had a pool to choose from.
A few seasons ago he was overlooked for selection on a Saturday. Only to get a last-minute call to substitute for an opposition side who were short a player. He earned himself an 8 pin that day. He shuffled back into the clubrooms after the game positively beaming.
He reckoned the selectors received their comeuppance that day.
Laurie played in his first pennant final in 2013 and he turns 70 in October.
A couple of important milestones his bowls club would have helped him celebrate.
Princes Park has taken some bold measures to secure its financial future and viability in a location irrevocably changed since Laurie’s father bowled here.
If he was to turn up today he’d be gobsmacked to see;
crowds of youngsters on the greens barefoot bowling, a piece of ‘ chainsaw art’ in the way of a wooden mermaid hovering above the entrance and the variety of boutique beers stacking the fridges.
The Vietnamese bloke dishing out stir-fries would most probably floor him, but I reckon he’d be happy knowing the club has survived and continues to provide a sanctuary and a place where Laurie feels at home.