The bowling ghost that no one was expecting

IMG_2822 (2) - smallThere was no guessing the real-life ghost that I’d soon discover after walking through the gates in search of history at this 80-year-old Brisbane bowls club.

I passed through the Alan Tanner Memorial Gates, and beside the Les Brydon Green. No one who I met there knew about either of these names, so I was fully prepared with permission to uncover what history remained, but not for the curious stories and the guidance that I’d discover.

The general location had been an Aboriginal camp ground for millennia, a watering hole for European settlers for centuries, and there was an army base nearby during the Second World War. The kindergarten across the park was an old army barracks, and the bowls clubhouse itself was built by volunteer labour during the early years of the war in 1940.

Les Brydon, whose name adorns the green, had been club secretary for twenty-four years. A newspaper report from 1954 recalls the bowl for which he was famous. “Les Brydon, from Holland Park, caused consternation amongst his opponents with his ‘steamroller’ bowls; the havoc they caused was tremendous.”

Alan Berry Tanner, in whose honour the gate is named, was the inaugural treasurer of the bowls club in 1941, and served two terms as president. He was the son of Queensland’s most prominent beekeeper.

Alan went to the First World War in 1916 as a twenty-year-old private with the 11th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, and three-and-a-half years later returned as a lieutenant bringing the 41st Infantry Battalion home.

He was a leading accountant in the 1930s and 1940s at Commerce House, next to the Brisbane Arcade on Adelaide Street, the façade of which can still be admired today. Its Baroque gable details add to the striking street architecture for which the old streets of Brisbane city are known.

IMG_2882 (2) - smallIt was Alan who began guiding me the moment that I powered up my metal detector. The Minelab Safari is a specialist treasure hunting detector, and Alan knew it, because behind the seats along the edge of the green, I immediately began finding coins. I was picking up the green fees that Alan and subsequent treasurers had left behind. I had ten coins in quick succession.

Finally I found a pennant winners badge from 1999. Alan couldn’t resist giving me this nod to his own history. He’d been a pennant winner himself, including in 1949 which was exactly half a century before this one. “Southsiders, Holland Park, were too hot for Windsor in yesterday’s final … Alan Tanner skipped a four to the best margin for the winners, his rink being 7-up on Jack Laidlaw’s men.”

In 1951, Alan’s bowls talent was described with a significant amount of awe. “Possessor of all shots, he is a solid bulwark for Holland Park.” Sadly just twelve months later, Alan died at only 55-years-old, which was an inappropriately young age like many First World War veterans back then.

Alan wasn’t finished speaking to me yet, because it was then that I learnt about his wife Violet.

Violet was three years Alan’s senior, they had married in 1921 two years after he returned from the war. Their son was in the First 15 rugby team at the nearby Anglican Church Grammar School, and also became an accountant. Violet passed away in 1977 to officially outlive her husband by a quarter of a century.

However, there are stories today that Violet still resides in the Tanner family home that she shared with Alan, which is just nine minutes’ walk from the club. Viewed from the street, the two-storey home appears to be single level, the rooms are lined with dark cedar panels, and inside the backdoor invisible from the street, at the bottom of the internal stairs, there’s a tile mosaic that spells Tanner.

Violet is a friendly ghost. However, that perception wasn’t shared a decade after her death when she spooked one occupant so much one night that he ran from the house in fright. She had wreaked havoc in the kitchen in reaction to a broken romance that was about to occur to a family member there.

In any case, Alan Tanner being the good accountant that he is, had me pick up his loose change, and find a winner’s badge just like his. Thanks to the gates that bear his name, and his wife Violet haunting their home just down the road, he will not easily be forgotten.

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