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Commonwealth Games Throwback | Auckland 1990

We continue our countdown to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games with Bowls International columnist David Rhys Jones sharing his memories of the Games through the decades. David recently shared his memories of the 1986 Games in Edinburgh, but we now move to the southern hemisphere to the 1990 Games in Auckland.

Next up was Auckland in 1990, when the lawn bowls events were staged at the Pakuranga club on the south side of the City of Sails.

The event was a triumph for Australia’s Rob Parella and a laid-back lady from Papua New Guinea called Geua Vada Tau, who won the men’s and women’s singles titles.

Parella showed a strength of character and a fantastic will to win, using every shot in the book from delicate draw to ferocious force as he defeated Hong Kong’s Mark McMahon in the final.

Tau became the first Papua New Guinean to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal and was supported by a happy contingent of PNG athletes, who celebrated her fine achievement. Rarely, if ever, visiting the head, Tau appeared to be happy-go-lucky, and played as if she was engaged in a club friendly.

I genuinely felt as if Geua Vada Tau’s success could have been a turning point in the story of our sport. Here was a bowler of colour from an unfashionable country winning a major international title. Surely her achievement could be used to inspire people from what we euphemistically call ethnic minorities to take up bowls.

Not just in the South Sea Islands or African countries, but all over the world. It was a big disappointment for me when our sport’s spin doctors squandered what I thought was a marvellous opportunity.

After the final, in which Tau defeated home hope Millie Khan – the Marvellous Maori from Matamata – we learnt of a terrible tragedy that had occurred that morning. Millie’s baby grandson, who was at the Pakuranga venue with Millie’s family, died. At the request of the family, the news was kept from Millie until the final was over. It goes without saying that the tragedy cast a cloud over the whole event.

In a great event for the southern hemisphere, Aussies Ian Schuback and Trevor Morris, and Kiwis Marie Watson and Judy Howat won the men’s and women’s pairs titles, while Marian Stevens, Daphne Shaw, Audrey Rutherford and Dot Roche struck gold in the women’s fours.

It was left to Scotland’s Denis Love, Ian Bruce, George Adrian and Willie Wood to fly the flag for the northern hemisphere by winning the men’s fours – and, what’s more, in the final they defeated Northern Ireland’s Rod McCutcheon, John McCloughlin, Sammy Allen and Jim Baker. Well done the lads!

As we get nearer to the Birmingham 2022 Games, we will be sharing further Commonwealth Games memories from DRJ, along with interviews and features with other Commonwealth Games stars past and present.

Bowls International is the world’s most respected bowling magazine, available monthly in both digital and print formats. A comprehensive Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games supplement is included in July’s issue of Bowls International.

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