“For me, there are very few opportunities in life to have a party,” says George Catsi, who has been president of Petersham Bowling Club since 2006. “You just need to mark things … and also honour those who were part of it. That’s what we did in 2010 [for the club’s 115th birthday]. And I told everyone we should [throw a party] every five years.”

Keeping to his word, the club – affectionately known as the PBC – will be hosting a grand ball on June 30 to mark its 125th anniversary, as well as 15 years of being a completely independent and community-managed venue (the milestones were last year but celebrations were delayed due to Covid restrictions).

These days PBC is a popular spot for live music and friendly barefoot bowls competitions. But things haven’t always been so rosy for the club, one of the oldest in New South Wales (it was established in 1896, before Australia was federated). At one point, the club was on the brink of closure, having lost most of its members as the area’s demographic changed, leading to a huge financial troubles.

In 2004, a development application was lodged to demolish the clubhouse and top green to build 17 townhouses. But the local community, including Catsi – an award-winning writer, performer and creative arts academic who lives across from the bowlo – fought the DA and won.

The board of the club at the time put forward a subsequent plan to lease the greens to an ABC Learning childcare centre (which eventually went bankrupt) for 99 years. Locals successfully thwarted those plans too, resulting in the old board resigning en masse and volunteer community members – with Catsi as lead – taking over as the new board in 2006.

“We took over the club except none of us had been on boards, none of us were bowlers, we had vague hospitality experience … we literally got in here and just went ‘holy crap!’” Catsi tells Broadsheet.

Catsi says one of the first decisions the new board made was to replace the poker machines with a stage for local performers. “We can’t rely on [pokies]. It’s a horrible income stream, so we basically started trading like a business asking ourselves, ‘What do the customers want?’ and ‘What can we try?’”

The PBC also became one of the first bowlos to offer craft beers, according to Catsi. The recently renovated bar, which is covered in ’70s-style burnt-orange tiles, now has 24 taps on rotation. Also on display throughout the venue are photos of the original clubhouse members, and badge and honour boards.

“For me, aesthetics is everything. We’re shabby chic and that’s us,” Catsi says. “What I love about the club is it’s just one big room … because we have different groups come through, I love how they intersect with each other. You might have a wake going on and a kid’s party happening outside. It’s just good to see people mixing and blending – it is the inner west and I think we’re a bastion of that.”

The Petersham Bowling Club will be hosting its 125th anniversary ball on June July 2022 from 6pm to midnight at 77 Brighton Street, Petersham. Tickets cost $146 and includes a multi-course canape menu, house drinks all night and live performances from Eamon Dilworth's Crawfish Po’Boys. Dress code will be fancy, formal or flamboyant. Purchase tickets to the ball here.