Brooke's on a roll

Novice bowler finds love as she follows a family tradition

WITH four generations of avid lawn bowlers in her family, it’s hardly surprising that the Bendigo East greens have become almost like a second home to Brooke Howes.

But while she virtually grew up around central Victorian bowling clubs watching dad Geoff and mum Susan play, it was not her parents’ influence that finally convinced her to join in.

“I really got into the sport because of my partner - I met him on a bowling green,” says the 25-year-old as she recalls the September 2011 encounter. 

“Dad was playing in the same division as him and one of the other ladies was saying to me, ‘look at that young man’.”

The “young man” in question was Nick Davies and the pair are now partners in life and sport, sharing their love of lawn bowls and even teaming up on occasions to play mixed pairs.

“When I met Nick, mum gave me a form to join and said it would be good for both of us and a great social thing. That’s how she got into it – mum joined because dad had been bowling since my age. 

“It’s made our relationship stronger. We play in tournaments together and we also play with mum and dad. We’re all playing in our Bendigo East tournament in March in mixed fours.”

Brooke is only in her third season of competitive bowls but she has taken to it with ease.

She plays for Bendigo East’s division one ladies pennant team on Mondays, skippered by her mum, and for the mixed-gender division four team on Saturdays.

In December, Brooke represented the Bendigo district and Campaspe region at the Bowls Victoria women’s novice singles state title finals and made it through to the semi-final before bowing out in equal third place.

She was also a member of the Bendigo East division one ladies’ team that made the state pennant titles early last year and only narrowly missed making the final.

“I picked it up very easily,” she says of the skills. “When we were younger, my brother Nathan and I would go out and practice with mum and dad. They also have a carpet bowls set and we used to play carpet bowls in the house.

“I remember having a bowl for the first time at White Hills Bowling Club when I was 11 or 12. It was their social night and Nathan and I got our parents bowls and had a go. 
“Mum and dad thought we had a bit of potential even then, but we weren’t allowed to play when we were younger because they wanted us to play sport with people our own age.

“I love it because it is something different – you don’t see a lot of young people playing and it’s a sport you can play right up until you are in your 90s.”

Before she took up bowling, Brooke swam competitively for various Bendigo clubs - most recently in the pool at Bendigo East right next to the greens.

Her specialty events were freestyle and breaststroke, mainly over the sprint distances.

At 17, she won a silver medal in the 50m freestyle at the Victorian school state titles.

She later won a swag of medals at the country short-course championships in the 18-and-over age group, including gold in the 200m individual medley and 100m freestyle, silver in the 100m breaststroke and bronze in the 200m freestyle.

“During primary school, I would train mostly nights but when I got to high school it became more intense and I was doing about 12 sessions a week – early mornings, afternoons and even weekends when there were no competitions.

“I always wanted to go to the national championships in Sydney. I’d always get close, but I just never got the qualifying time. It was very frustrating and as you get older it gets harder.”

After a break from swimming, Brooke returned to the water at Bendigo East during the 2011-12 season. But juggling work and training was difficult so her comeback was short-lived, eventually giving way to bowls.

“I still swim, but just for fitness and fun now,” she says. “I really miss it. I didn’t mind the early mornings – it’s more the competition and training I miss, being fit and the friendships. I was one of the older swimmers, so the younger ones looked up to me.”

Brooke lives in Kangaroo Flat and works at Coles in McIvor Road and for Camp Australia’s after-school care program at White Hills Primary School.

She says some of the youngsters there have shown an interest in her lawn bowls activities and she is considering taking in a carpet bowls set so they can try their hand at the sport that runs deeply through the Howes family lineage.

Dad Geoff has won four pennant grand finals - two at Chiltern and two at Bendigo East.

“In his first two grand finals, he played in a team with his father, uncle and brother,” Brooke says. “Bowling has been in his side of the family for years and years.

“My great-grandfather’s name is on the Inglewood board, where he was a past president and club champion.

“And at Chiltern, the Howes family has won 25 club men’s singles championships 

“On mum’s side, she got my grandmother and my auntie to play for Woodbury, which was the first club my parents joined when we moved to Bendigo. She has won six pennant grand finals and four club women’s singles championships.

“Last year in pennant season, I won my first Saturday pennant grand final for division six and on the same day, my dad and partner won the division two grand final. Mum also won the division one grand final for midweek pennant.”

Brooke’s parents are involved in lawn bowls administration at club and district level, while partner Nick is also a club selector.

It means there is never a shortage of experienced hands on deck to offer Brooke some tips.

“Nick does give me advice, which can be a bit annoying,” she laughs. “I do listen to him sometimes, but I am being coached by our Bendigo East club coach Brad Holland.

“Mum is also big on advice, because she is my skipper and she does help me out.”

Despite their early reluctance for her to bowl as a child, the Howes are now delighted to have their daughter on board.

“Mum and dad are very proud,” Brooke says. “I am playing in a mother-daughter/son tournament at Woodbury in March.

“We’re also in the last stage of Monday pennant and our div one ladies team should make the finals in March, so it’s going to be busy.”

After her recent success in the novice singles, Brooke has her sights set on rolling towards even bigger and better things. 

Her first aim is to win a club singles title, and she would love to one day play on state championship day (to be hosted this year by Bendigo East in April).

“In the long run, I just want to keep bowling for as long as I can.”

I love it because it is something different – and it's a sport you can play right up until you are in your 90s - Brooke Howes

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