True bowls cham­pion Ella looks back on 100 years

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Romy Udanga

The day be­fore her 100th birth­day Ella McGuin­ness was on the bowl­ing green cel­e­brat­ing with friends.

“It’s al­most a week-long birth­day bash. I’ve got sev­eral birth­day out­ings,” says New Zealand’s first na­tional wo­man bowl­ing cham­pion. But life was not al­ways so rosy. She vividly re­calls life on the To­laga Bay farm where she was born. When she was nine she and her six sib­lings lost their fa­ther to a flooded river and their lives changed for­ever.

“There was no so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem to fall back on,” she says.

“We took turns to milk our 20 cows by hand and drove the horse cart to the milk fac­tory.”

Those dire cir­cum­stances be­tween 1917 and 1922 forced Ella to leave To­laga Bay School at 14.

By 16 she was work­ing as a cook on Matahia Sta­tion and later with the sit­ting mem­ber of par­lia­ment, K C Wil­liams.

“That early, I found my pas­sion for cook­ing,” Ella says.

Her skill led her to Pent­land Hospi­tal in Devon­port. Later she worked at Wake­field Hospi­tal in Auck­land from 1933 to 1935.

That year she got en­gaged to a man be­cause her true love, who had been court­ing her for seven years, was too timid to ask for her hand in mar­riage.

“That timid man was my hus­band Lind­say. He was work­ing on the rail­ways and when he learned I’d got en­gaged, he fi­nally came to his senses and asked me to marry him,” Ella says.

The cou­ple mar­ried on the short­est day of 1935 – June 21. By 1942 they had two chil­dren, Beth and Doug, and bought a 10-acre farm on Ran­furly Rd in Al­fris­ton where Joy, their third child, was born.

Lind­say died af­ter 10 years of mar­riage. A widow at 36, Ella has re­mained sin­gle.

She and her chil­dren con­tin­ued to live on the Ran­furly Rd farm.

Beth was eight, Doug six and Joy 11 months when they were left fa­ther­less and Ella feared her early his­tory would re­peat it­self.

But by tend­ing eight cows, penned pigs and free-range chick­ens, the fam­ily lived con­tent­edly.

Ella’s pas­sion for bowl­ing started with a ca­sual visit to a club in 1953.

“My friend Robby Fowler in­vited me and I took to it like a fish to wa­ter,” she says.

She joined the Ma­nurewa Women’s Bowl­ing Club and was only in her fourth year of play when she won the first New Zealand LS Peters Cup Cham­pi­onship sin­gles ti­tle in 1957.

She had made his­tory as the first na­tional women’s bowl­ing cham­pion at 49.

Ella was made a life mem­ber for bring­ing glory to the Ma­nurewa club, now the Ma­nurewa Cos­mopoli­tan Bowl­ing Club. She joined the Al­fris­ton In­door Bowl­ing Club in 1956 and made her mark there as well.

Her name ap­pears more than 20 times on the hon­ours board at Al­fris­ton Hall and she was made a life mem­ber there.

In 1992, at 84, Ella was awarded a gold star for win­ning five cen­tre ti­tles in Manukau.

“I con­tin­ued to play un­til I could see the kitty no more.”

The great-great-great grand­mother still lives in her own home, grows her own veg­eta­bles and still does a lot of cook­ing.

Her chil­dren and their fam­i­lies – five gen­er­a­tions of 36 di­rect de­scen­dants – dote on her.

Ella still plays in­door bowls and watches sport on television.

“I am look­ing for­ward to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.”

Photo: FIONA GOODALL

Bowl­ing along: Ella McGuin­ness, cen­tre, cel­e­brates her 100th birth­day with bowl­ing bud­dies Mar­garet Fletcher of Ma­nurewa, left, and Betty Leach of Takanini at the Ma­nurewa Cos­mopoli­tan Club.

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