Honours Board

Legend of Bowls North Harbour – Ivan Kostanich

Even though he is on most short lists in any debate on New Zealand’s greatest ever bowlers, Ivan Kostanich to some might not seem to be an automatic choice among the legends of Bowls North Harbour.

After all, he won only four Harbour centre titles and when compared to the swags of the likes of Brent Turner and Colin Rogan that’s a somewhat modest tally.

Three of those were in Harbour’s inaugural season in 1984-85, the championship pairs and the titles in each of the champion of champion pairs and fours.

Deciding that the standard of play might be higher in the Auckland centre, while remaining a member of Helensville he also joined Carlton and it was there for the next decade or so he played most of his competitive bowls.

But it’s always with the Helensville club with which the Kostanich name is synonymous. It has largely been through his inspiration that Helensville has always boxed above its weight and continues to do so to this day.

In his wake have followed a string of talented bowlers, the Robertsons, Pat, Thelma and in more recent years Bart, Ron Cowper, David Game, Terry Cullen, to name just a few.

But the fact Helensville enjoys such a high profile, even nationally, is due largely to the exploits of Ivan.

Born in 1921 on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, Ivan came to New Zealand with his family in 1938 and soon became the family breadwinner when his father was killed accidentally. As a fisherman in the Kaipara Harbour, he was as noted for that activity in subsequent years as he was for his bowls.

When he took to bowls he quickly showed the natural flair of so many of his countryman even if he had an unorthodox style which did not accord to most coaching manuals. But to his instinctive feel for the game he added a calm temperament and as a result of his work as a fisherman a physical stamina which meant he was a competitive bowler well into his 80s.

His first major national success came in the 1977 national singles final in Auckland when he beat Manawatu’s Kevin Wing 21-20 in an epic final made even more memorable because it was shown live on national television. His composure was never more in evidence for to win he had to come from a 12-18 deficit.

His next national title was at Dunedin in 1984 when he won the pairs with his good friend and close Helensville rival Pat Robertson. He repeated his singles success at Matamata in 1993 when aged 72 he again prevailed under pressure recovering from an 12-18 deficit to beat Marlborough’s Kevin Gallop 21-18.

In all, Kostanich won 23 Auckland centre titles, most before the Harbour centre was formed, and to the three he won in Harbour’s inaugural season in 1984-85 he added a championship fours in 2002-03, when he was aged 81. A regular visitor to Australia’s Gold Coast, he enjoyed considerable success there, too, including winning the Gold Coast carnival singles title in 1985.

For Ivan bowls was a hobby rather than a professional career, which perhaps explains why his time in the national side was so brief, virtually limited to the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, when he and Bob McDonald finished sixth in the pairs.

Ivan died in July 2012, aged 91.