April 9, 2011
It was a red light that brought a highly promising career in bowls to a halt.
In 1987, Manning's Phil Gillespie was one of the up and coming bowlers in Western Australia, a member of the State squad, Metropolitan v Country representative, and a State blazer was beckoning......
But a set of traffic lights was to change all that.
Waiting for the green signal, Gillespie's vehicle was cannoned into from behind by a truck, causing severe multiple injuries to the thirty nine year old. His back was smashed, needing spinal fusion and his right knee was shattered. Four years were to elapse before he set foot on a bowling green again.
"It's been a long process, but I think I'm back in form," said Phil. "I recently got my skippers job back, and they're coming out pretty well."
Gillespie is one of many ex farmers playing top bowls in Perth, but whereas many retired to the Metropolitan Area, he and his dad sold the farm when Phil was twenty six year old. "It was a hard decision, but I haven't regretted it," he said.
A typical country lad regarding sport, Gillespie played tennis, badminton, and hockey as a teenager. He excelled at athletics, winning the State schoolboy mile in 1965, then was successful in the State mile and half mile championships in 1968, and was also an accomplished golfer on a single figure handicap. Bowls wasn't a consideration in a busy sporting agenda, but on turning twenty one in 1969 he soon discovered that not only was the bowling club open longer than the hotel, but the prices were cheaper.
He joined the club for those considerations only, but quickly found that the Jack Club(scroungers) was a handy preamble to a Sunday lunchtime drink.
Using Dad(Reg's) size three Henselites, Phil soon became hooked and played as a lead in the club's pennant side. After the move to Perth, Gillespie joined Manning Bowling Club, and played third to Jim Francis in first reserve division for the latter half of the 1974 season.
Promoted to skipper in the club's First Division Red side the following season, he made an immediate impact, winning fifteen and drawing one of his eighteen games. "I learnt a lot from the masters," he acknowledged. "Peter Sardelic, Steve Shroy, Geoff Oakley, Alan McLeod, and in later years Denis Katuna Rich, Robbie Ball, and many others I played against each week were tough opponents, but it was all good experience."
It was Sardelic who beat Gillespie, Jim Weir, and Gordon Bates in a semi final of a State Triples, and Phil had no hesitation in naming the little master as the hardest he played against.
While with BHP Wire Products, Phil became involved with co-sponsorship of the Wickepin Merino Fours, and this lasted for nearly ten years. Playing in the event most years, he recalls one year when his team of Barry Raynor (Sportsmans), John Capper and Errol Reberio, both from Manning, had gone through and won the first five games in the carnival.
"We only needed to draw the last game to take home the bacon," Phil related. "Well, we were leading going into the last end until the kitty was driven into the ditch putting us three down and down game with my last bowl to play.
Wickepin had just experienced a major locust plague, resulting in not a blade of green grass left and the green covered in locusts.
The green was running over nineteen seconds but I had about fifteen feet to draw the shot to win the game and the carnival, so thought this was nice and easy. Not wanting to drop short, I gave the bowl a little extra to make sure I passed the head. On the way down I thought the bowl was a little fast, but running over a couple of locusts would soon slow it down. Unfortunately the locusts cleared a perfect path to the ditch for my bowl, resulting in the loss of the game, the event and $800.00.
The boys never forgave me for that bowl and I was just fortunate that we were travelling in my car or it was to be a long walk home. Barry Raynor still reminds me of my $800.00 bowl."
"Oh for one or two locusts."
"Some of the old masters used every trick in the book to upset the opposition and still do so today. I recall I was skippering in a pennant game at East Fremantle and my third, lets call him JC, many would know who I mean, had a knack of upsetting thirds in a big way. JC never carried a measure as he believed his eye was better than any measure. I guess he was right on 98% of occasions.
On one particular end he chased his bowl up the green as he always did and then stood on the bank. The opposing third played his bowl and sprinted up the green, Carl Lewis would be hard pressed to beat him over those thirty metres.
I said to the opposing skipper: "why is he chasing that rubbish, the bowl was wide and heavy", but he didn't stop at the head or even look at his bowl, just flew past us onto the bank and after JC.
I am pleased to say no damage was done and we all had a good laugh about it after the game."
L/R:Phil Gillespie, Jim Weir,Terry Ball, Bruce McNaughton
A member of the State squad for two years, the future seemed bright, but a moment's inattention by a truck driver put paid to that.
When Gillespie returned to the fray in 1991, he immediately concentrated his efforts on getting involved with the running of the club. "When I joined Manning in 1974 we fielded twelve Saturday pennant sides," he said. "Membership was closed at four hundred men and two hundred lady members, and the place was jumping until the late hours.
As a young bloke with two daughters, it was often hard to fill my club responsibilities and at the same time manage a positive home life. I must thank my wife, Sue, and daughters Tanya and Michelle for their support during those years. I wouldn't have put up with it."
"But the demographics of the area changed, and numbers eroded as people passed on. There has been a significant change in the make up of the surrounding suburbs in recent years with a lot of rebuilding going on, and we are gaining many new members."
Phil served on the committee for twenty four years, three as president, and has run the gamut of club positions. "The old story about selectors having few friends and often having to drink on their own is not wrong," he laughed. "As a bowler one had to continually perform to hold his place as there was always someone ready to take it from you. These days, most clubs struggle with numbers to make up sides, which is disappointing, as so much enjoyment can be had from playing bowls."
"Having played bowls for over forty years at the top level, I must say that I have met a tremendous lot of great people during that time, both on and off the green, and could probably count on one hand the games spoiled by poor sportsmanship." Two club singles are among the twenty odd Manning club championship events that Gillespie has won.
Phil spent many years with BHP, where he was manager of Wire Products, but is now sales manager for a company involved in the importing of steel office furniture from China, but has laid plans for a less strenuous life. "I am hoping to semi retire in the not too distant future and hopefully give the job away fully in two year's time, which will allow more time for bowls, fishing, crabbing, and a few days at the races. Travel overseas with Sue is also high on the wish list."
Who knows what Phil Gillespie could have achieved but for the intervention of fate. Those like myself who remember the skills of the Manning bowler in the late seventies and early eighties are happy to see him back and playing at top division level.