Bowling for Auckland? Men only

By Mathew Dearnaley

Members resign positions after vote keeps women barred from full membership at city club founded in 1861.

Auckland Bowling Club president Graeme Scott says that his is just one of many men-only bowling clubs, and several other clubs are exclusively for women. Photo / Dean Purcell
Auckland Bowling Club president Graeme Scott says that his is just one of many men-only bowling clubs, and several other clubs are exclusively for women. Photo / Dean Purcell

An Auckland sports club formed 32 years before women won the right to vote is keeping up its shutters against female membership.

The men-only Auckland Bowling Club, founded in 1861, has caused ructions in the club's summer business-house competition by blocking a proposal to allow women full membership - including voting rights.

Two of its 32 members have stood down from organising the competition, in which women are allowed to participate because of its "social event" status, in protest.

A member of one business-house team says it will not take part this summer, in support of their stand.

Although women can become social members, they are not entitled to have a say in the running of the club, which is thought to be New Zealand's oldest. It is sited on council-owned land on the Grafton Gully edge of the Auckland Domain.

Club president Graeme Scott said the proposal to allow women as full members was defeated by 75 per cent of about 16 members at a special general meeting. Mr Scott said he refrained from voting.

Asked what objections the majority had to women being full members, he said: "Women need their space, as do men. A club is a voluntary organisation of people with a common object and when you are in a club you agree to abide by its rules.

"In a democracy, you have a right to change those rules, and the majority rules - that's how it's worked for 151 years."

The two members who have stood down are overseas, and could not be contacted yesterday.

But in a message to participants in last summer's contest, one of them complained that the men-only policy was out of step with expectations of an organisation that receives council and community support.

Blair Aickin, a non-member who has taken part in previous business- house events, said the club's decision to bar women was "out of step and very short-sighted".

He was involved in a successful push at the West End Rowing Club in the early 1990s to admit women.

"I thought we were the last bastion of a bygone era at that stage, so for a club to still be doing this now in 2012 is rather ridiculous."

He said West End, which was struggling to survive, has since prospered. Olympic gold medal-winner Mahe Drysdale is among its alumni.

Mr Scott said his was just one of "many" men-only bowling clubs, and a number of others were exclusively for women.

Auckland Bowls president Patricia Cheeseman said her federation would prefer clubs to admit women as full members, but she did not want to comment on how Mr Scott's organisation ran itself.

Human Rights Commission spokesman Gilbert Wong said it was not illegal for private organisations to set membership rules, although it would be against the law for them to discriminate on whom they hired.

Four women's bowling clubs are listed by Auckland Bowls but three share greens with men's clubs.

- additional reporting: Michael Dickison

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