IT LOOKS like a hacksaw and with Aussies wielding it about on the lawn, the bowls community has every reason to feel intimidated.
But please don't be apprehensive, say the Australian Armaroos, who are competing at the Kia Toa Bowling Club in Hastings today in the third leg of their six-match inaugural tour of New Zealand.
"In New South Wales and Victoria, people initially thought we were taking advantage of other players, but there are so many and numerous arms that it's now seen as a normal," says Allan Starrett of Newcastle, who is among the contingent of 20 Australian national bowling arm team members from the states of Queensland (1), NSW (6), South Australia (6) and Victoria (7) here with their partners.
The team play from 10.30am to 1pm today. The ultimate goal, through coaching clinics, is to pave the way for a transtasman test once New Zealand has enough arm bowlers.
Fundamentally, Starrett believes the arm not only promotes longevity in ageing players or the infirm but offers an avenue for taking the code to higher echelons of attainment.
"I'd like to see it as part of the Commonwealth Games," says the 74-year-old retired school principal who coaches the elderly, disabled and amputees how to use the DHB (Dean Has Been) arm affectionately known as "the Black Hacksaw" which he helped develop.
The other two types of arm used in Australia are Drake's Pride (its inventor, Trevor Harker, is 101 and lives in Victoria) and Bionic Bowler, although it's important to know that a doctor's medical certificate is compulsory in using the arms.
The ambition is to stage not only inter-state competitions in Australia but also state versus state.
"We're only playing in individual cities here but in the near future we're hoping new Zealand will have a national team."
A coach, selector, instructor and administrator at state and national level in arm bowls, Starrett used to be a top cricketer when injury prompted him to look for another sport in 1988.
Someone pointed him towards bowls and, unsuspectingly, he thought it was going to be a breeze to overcome an elderly bloke.
"I couldn't dream of an 85-year-old beating me in anything but that day he thrashed me," he said with a laugh, discovering later the senior citizen was a NSW rep.
"There was more to the game than I anticipated," said Starrett, who embraced the arm after a ballroom dancing lesson exposed the shortcomings in his ageing knees and feet.
The surgery also involved inserting metal objects into his toes thus preventing the New Lambton Bowling Club member from lunging forward when delivering from the mat.
Close to 8000 Aussies use an arm, which cost about $300. Starrett said its use was prevalent in England, Canada and parts of the United States.
National teammate Ann Power, who played regular bowls eight years ago, said: "I thought of giving it [regular bowls] up. I hesitated because there was a stigma to using the arm."
The 63-year-old retired nurse from Melbourne was an avid tenpin bowling enthusiast but arm, neck and back problems took hold.
As a novice for 18 months, the City of Frankton BC member was runner-up in club champs but had to give it up after 18 months.
"I herniated a disc in my back and was unable to return to hard bowling," said Power, who also severed a tendon in her right index finger that led to numbness in her fingertips and a weaker grip.
Now a first-division gun bowler, she demands attention from the blokes in competitions.
"A lot of the gentlemen bowlers go, 'Oh, it's not that arm lady again'," she said, with a nod of approval from Starrett.
A club selector/coach, Power finds more bowlers, especially women, tend to approach her for advice.
"The arm just gives them a ray of hope," said the woman who will represent Australia at state level for the third time in September.
Says Starrett: "The bowler's arm, over time, will enable them to probably play better than the original standard."
The Armaroos play in Taupo on Monday, Hamilton on Thursday and Browns Bay (Auckland) next weekend before jetting home.
Asked how the Kiwi bowlers were responding to their clinics, the pair who were in the the very first arm bowls was mooted said positively.
How about the standard of play here with arms?
"Absolutely poor. I'm not teaching everything but just enough to use them," he said to suggest that Aussie banter is alive and kicking among the armers, too.