When Helen Hargreaves and Jude Hukins visited France during their 1988 holiday to Britain and Europe, they watched Petanque being played in parks and reserves in France. A subsequent screening of 'A Year in Provence' which featured an intensive tactical battle between an English couple and the local experts whetted their appetite further.
Boules were almost nonexistent in Christchurch and so it all started when Helen acquired a set of recreational boules for Christmas 1993. While fun, the game did nothing for their lawn which quickly became bumpy with brown spots where the grass had died.
They approached Craig Oliver (CCC Parks Manager) for permission to play in one of the parks. He wisely suggested they first ascertain how much interest there was for this strange pastime of which he knew nothing.
An advertisement was placed in the Public Notices column of The Press in March 1994 followed by an article in Reporter's Diary. A total of 47 enquiries were received and contact phone numbers obtained. Craig Oliver was impressed by the response and suggested some possible sites. The area in North Hagley Park by the tennis courts "under the oak trees" was chosen. They arranged to meet on Sunday 22nd May 1994 and about 45/50 attended. After some discussion, some played and a group who were willing to help organise a Club had a discussion and agreed to a further meeting.
On May 25th 1994, 25 people met at the Dux de Lux. Roger McCarthy said he could get a copy of a club constitution which could be used as a base, Helen was elected the first President and Alison Hawker became the Secretary. They decided to play social Petanque on Sundays at Hagley Park starting at 11am.
The opening day was originally scheduled for July 17th 1994 but as it snowed, the opening was postponed until September 13th 1994. The first Club day was May 29th 1994
The initial Club name was Christchurch Petanque Association Inc as the majority attending believed an Association was a group of people. The committee set out to obtain the15 signatures required. The signatures were obtained and the Association was registered as an Incorporated Society on 10.11.1994.
Meetings were held in private homes usually at the Direen home and by the time of the first AGM on March 13th 1995 with an attendance of 30 members, contact had been made with NZPA and a logo had been selected.
The members even had their first social event and interclub match playing at Relais Rochfort against Akaroa. The lunch was memorable but the weather was very cold and as they played on a rough chunky gravel piste many members did not want to use their own boule as they might get scratched! We were very "precious" regarding our nice shiny boule in those days and shooting was virtually unknown.
Playing on grass was not entirely satisfactory especially as Jude and Helen would load their motor mower into their car on Friday night and secretly mow the playing area. Eventually after discussions with David Direen, Warwick Scadden, the Curator of the Botanic Gardens, helpfully agreed for a trial terrain to be constructed.
The base was excavated on Friday 23rd December 1994 and Jude, Helen, Diane & Andrew could not wait so they had their first game on the excavated site with no shingle. On the following Monday the shingle and crusher dust were delivered. The final surface was such an anti climax as it was soft and akin to playing in a sandpit. Where the boule dropped – it stopped. By the time the boxed edges were completed the base had consolidated and provided a good firm surface. The Council also erected a sign with instructions on how to play. The terrain was later extended to its present size.
After experimenting with making dividing piste lines with a rake handle and string we finally settled on elastic to divide the terrain into 5 pistes. We still had more players than boule so members shared. Then we had more players than room so some took turns to play on the grass.
We mostly played north/south and there was a slight slope to contend with as well as natural hazards such as acorns and duck poo. The terrain was always raked before we started and before any final. We played Petanque like outdoor/indoor bowls or marbles.
As there were no clubrooms, any notices were nailed to the oak tree and contact was maintained by extensive and time consuming telephone calls mainly made by Helen and Jude. This form of contact was probably the most significant factor in the growth and strength of the Association in the early days.
Jude Hukins made the first playing board and Malcolm Williams sourced the player discs. Our rake and board were stored in the locked space behind the toilet block. Even such useless treasures captured someone's attention as the first board was stolen.
The first newsletter was issued on June 1st 1994. Helen and Jude would organise the copy, give it to Alison Hawker who printed it on her work computer and Martin White from Canon would organise the photocopying. A telephone "tree" was also organized to try and reduce the phoning workload.
Those early days were very social. There were several family groups playing. Many members would bring their lunch and deck chairs and we would all sit around the terrain enjoy our lunch and a wine or three.
On Club tournament days, David Direen provided his brown tent for match officials and property storage etc, Most of the tournaments were organized by Bernie & Shirley Clark and Rona Phillips. One tournament was sponsored by Ansett NZ and that prize was a trip for 3 to play in the NZ Triples.
David Clarkson arranged a breakfast with Alliance Francais. We all met in their club rooms in the old Girls High classrooms. We tried to talk "francais" with mixed success as we ate our croissants and drank our café au lait. The Petanque which followed was far less stressful.
The club was approached by the French Bakery for help with their TV commercial. It was a lot of fun but we forgot to ask for royalties. David Direen dressed the part with a beret, a painted moustache and a striped red/white/blue T shirt and Shirley & Bernie Clark, Helen & Jude and Diane Findlay also dressed in appropriate French theme and all featured in the final advert. It took over 3 hours to film about 2 seconds of the advert but then came the highlight of the afternoon as all participants were allowed to eat the props!
The most memorable feeling of the early days was being part of an adventure, pioneering a new sport and watching the club grow. The public nature of the terrain resulted in many people stopping by to have a look and we had our members trained to give them the Petanque 'gospel'.
By now 60 people were playing on a social basis and as we grew too big for our surroundings, David Direen and John Lynn, with great perseverance and foresight, negotiated with the adjacent RSA Bowling Club and eventually we moved to our present club grounds.
But that, as they say, is another story.