From "death spiral" to a dynamic local venue, the community-run Petersham bowling club will have much to celebrate at its 125th birthday party next month.
On a winter Friday afternoon as the light rapidly retreats across the green, a large bouncing castle is being inflated in the encroaching shadows. There is not a ball or a jack or a white shirt in sight. Rather, a swarm of children has appeared and is darting in and out of the castle, a growing pile of little shoes on the grass.
The free bouncing castle pops up every second Friday of the month at the Petersham Bowling and Recreation Club. You can sense a communal exhale as parents sit down at the outdoor tables: the end of another week - time to put the feet up, as much as the rug rats will allow; to have a craft beer from one of the 20-odd on tap, order a pizza from the bistro, line up some chicken and chips for the kids.
Words by Sarah Maguire - Inner west review 2022
Established in 1896, the Petersham Bowling & Recreation Club (the PBC) is one of the oldest clubs in NSW, with a rich and interesting history.
A few years ago the club was snatched from the jaws of property developers intent on building town houses or an ABC Childcare Centre on the site.
Now the PBC is a vibrant, dynamic and creative, poker machine-free community club with a strong commitment to environmental sustainability.
The PBC thrives on the efforts of our dedicated volunteer Board , top notch staff and patronage of the local community and visitors from all over the world.
People come because the PBC is a warm and welcoming old club – a bit worn and beaten-up around the edges – but with great food, a family-friendly atmosphere and a well earned reputation as a live music venue.
As a multi-purpose facility the PBC offers sport, music, the arts, space for functions, a selection of tasty beers and wines, great food and lots of opportunities for fun while protecting the open green space for the next 120+ years.
Come and be a part of it!
Bring your mates for a drink and some barefoot bowls.
Bring the kids for a play while you listen to some great music on a Sunday afternoon.
Come to a gig and support Sydney’s live music scene.
Everyone is welcome at the PBC!
Our anti-gambling stance.
In 2007, we made a decision to remove the poker machines and rely on building a club that valued its social assets (our people) and didn't exploit one group to subsides another.
Against a lot of odds, we have not only survived but thrived.
We have built a model for our club that doesn't use gambling but builds a place where a range of our community can meet, intersect, be creative, discuss, disagree, celebrate and more.
Read more about the PBC's anti-gambling stance here.
In October 2006, members of the local community stepped up to the plate and became Directors of the Petersham Bowling Club after the encumbent board resigned.
None of the new board bowled, none had run a licensed premises before, none had changed a keg and few had poured a beer.
It was a steep learning curve, but years later we and the club are still here!
From left to right; - George Catsi, Roberta Palfreeman, Miranda Herron, Kurt Carlsen, Kath Reynolds, Michael Siu
From left to right; - George Catsi, Peter Dixon, Eileen Leather, Kurt Carlsen, Jabin Dermody, Jason Harty.
Absent; - Anna Scott, MIranda Herron, Kerryn Plummer
Meet the current board and management…
George Catsi - President
George is on his second stint as President after heading the community crew that took over the running of the club in 2006. A diverse background that overlaps education, film, theatre and art. Sees club as a great playground for ideas and a place for all types of people to meet each other, with arts as the glue. Often found with a glass of house red in hand he is always good for a chat.
Jason Harty - Treasurer
A producer of many talents including his fine taste for decadent beers. Usually found at the bar on a Friday afternoon, come ask him fiscal advice over a pint.
Eileen Leather - Secretary and Licensee
Eileen first encountered the PBC in 2008, and has been involved in one way or another ever since. Now Board Secretary and Licensee, she is thrilled to have been a member of the Club through its many trials and tribulations. Eileen considers herself honoured to have participated in the PBC’s journey from a struggling pokie-free venue to its current success as the Inner West’s best kept secret. Eileen loves the PBC’s ethos and community focus as a not-for-profit. She’s thrilled that it has set the standard for the reinvention of bowling clubs across Australia.
Peter Dixon - Board Member
Our most recent addition to the board and what a cracking one at that. Family man and all time lover of the PBC, Pete is always willing to volunteer his time and resources to those in need.
Jabin Dermody - Board Member
With the friendliest face in all of Petersham, Jabin is our most recent board member but a long-time patron and supporter of the PBC. He is Mr Fix it, and always willing to help out patching a roof leak when needed. Thanks Jabin.
Kurt Carlsen - Board Member
Kurt was one of the original community members to become a Director back in 2006. After nearly 8 years on the board he took a break for a few years and returned in 2021. "It's been such a buzz to see the PBC flourish and become the valuable community hub that we dreamt of back in 2006."
Miranda Herron - Board Member
I'm a Petersham local of 20-years. I first joined the board in 2005, 'back in the day' when the PBC really struggled and the former board first tried to sell-off the greens and build apartments, then an ABC child care centre. It was a wild ride, but the community rose to the challenge magnificently, as usual. I took a break from the board for a few years, but recently was lured back. I have a 20 year-old son, Conrad, and a 17 year-old daughter, Thea. You might have seen Conrad's band Euterpe playing around the traps, or at the Bowlo sometime.
Kerryn Plummer - Board Member
Kerryn is a longtime Petersham resident and lover of the bowlo. She is very happy to contribute to the club by being on the board. Kerryn loves books, people, a quiet beer on the green and selling raffle tickets.
Anna Scott - Board Member
Anna has been a local patron of the club for many years, enjoying a sunny arvo beer on the green or watching local live music. She worked in hospitality for over 15 years, owning her own bar for 10. Anna is one of the most recent additions to the board, bringing horticultural knowledge and passion.
Carl Manwarring - Club Manager
Hayley Lyon - Events Manager
Lizzie Chapple - Bistro Owner
From 1896 to 2004 the Petersham Bowling served its membership well with a focus on bowling. However by 2004 the club had lost most of its membership, due to demographic changes, declining membership and a whole host of factors. This led to a financial spiral downwards.
In 2004 the board put out a proposal to demolish the clubhouse and top green to build 17 town houses and build a new club on the bottom green with a fake bowling green on the roof. The local community, activated by the large development proposal, fought and had it stopped.
Council urged the community and club to work together, however this combination had only minor victories and in 2006 a proposal to build an ABC learning childcare centre on the bottom green - leased for 99 years - was proposed.
Again, this was fought by the local community who had since become members. They were successful in voting down the proposal on the grounds there was no plan for engagement. (Lucky as ABC learning childcare corporation went belly up soon after).
So in 2006, after the vote went against the old board they resigned en masse and a new board made up wholly of community members took over the club, vowing to protect the open space. The club building and grounds were in disrepair, it had no paid staff and no viable income - failure was what most predicted.
The community board, all volunteers, none with club experience, rallied the community to save the club. For the first few years no permanent paid staff were able to be employed, volunteers ran the bar and venue.
In 2007 the decision was made to remove the poker machines and make a stand against gambling - the stage now sits where the pokies were. Creative ways of thinking were used to do things differently - kids were allowed on the greens, sustainable practice was built into every operation of the club, arts - film, music and visual arts were incorporated into the fabric. Kids were given a place where they could enjoy live music - watching it and performing it. Most importantly the club was set up so that different people and different groups could meet each other, intersecting at the bar or the greens.
After a very challenging first few years the club is now a vibrant, award winning, musical, fun, club that is a role model to other small clubs. The PBC shows that by using your wits, your talents, providing something special and delivering good service is what a club should survive on - not pokie machines. The club board is run by members from the community for the members and the community. We survive by your contributions, your patronage (and your patience at times).