Mary and Carole, formidable on-green opponents


Carole Fredrick and Mary Gulbrandsen (the middle two), pictured after they helped Marlene Castle win the national fours title. Marlene Castle is on the left and Paulette Mytton on the right.

North Harbour Bowls with Lindsay Knight

It’s little wonder two of the great matriarchs of North Harbour bowls, Sunnybrae’s Mary Gulbrandsen and Birkenhead’s Carole Fredrick, are such formidable on-green opponents.

Their experience is one factor for between the pair there are more than 85 years of playing bowls. And for another there’s the fact of each coming from distinguished sporting families.

Mary’s mum, Eileen Cribb, was herself a top bowler and with five centre titles was a gold star badge holder in Wanganui and her nephew, Ron Cribb, was a prominent rugby player representing North Harbour, the Crusaders, the Blues, NZ Maori and the All Blacks in 15 tests in 2000-01.

The sporting genes also run strongly in Carole’s family and she played representative cricket and netball for Wellington in her teens. Her father, Eddie Barton, played soccer for New Zealand and her brother, Paul Barton, was a test cricketer, a lovely batsman who scored a test century on New Zealand’s 1961-62 tour of South Africa.

Carole started bowls at the Titahi Bay club in 1973 and when she and her late husband, Noel, moved north in the mid-1980s they joined the Shore’s Stanley club because that was the only club in Auckland which held its tournaments on the weekend.

She later moved to Glenfield and Sunnybrae, then to her present club, Birkenhead and has now amassed a staggering 27 centre titles as well as being in two fours which have won the national title.

In 1999 at Christchurch she and Mary were in a successful Harbour composite skipped by the great Marlene Castle and then in 2012, in Auckland, Carole skipped her Birkenhead club-mates, Ruth Lynch, like Mary a close friend, Gayle Melrose and Lisa Helmling, to a second title.

The latter was especially satisfying as it was a club combination. “Allowing composite teams has changed the nationals,” she says. “You don’t mind playing New Zealand representatives but when they’re in club teams and not playing together.

Mary took up bowls aged 38 in 1978, at the suggestion of her mother, when a leg injury forced her to quit her first sporting passion, tennis, in which she also excelled. She had instant bowls success winning the first-year singles at Bayswater.

Besides her 1999 national title, Mary has a “pathways” one with Sunnybrae club-mates Cheryl Taylor, Vicky O’Connor and Collleen Sexton and is especially proud of skipping Sexton and two juniors, Anne Dorreen and Rhonda Preston, to third equal at the 2012 nationals. She has won nine centre titles and has a remarkable 50 club titles, 42 of them with Sunnybrae. She has also had considerable success in national Maori tournaments.

Now a Sunnybrae life member, Mary believes her many honours would have been greater had she not been a runner-up so often, particularly at centre level where a frequent opponent has been Carole.

Though both ladies are now in their late 70s, they remain intensely competitive.

Carole has not enjoyed one of her more vintage seasons because she underwent a number of personal distractions, mainly shifting houses. But with the benefit of more practice she is intent on gaining at least three more centre titles to add a fifth bar to her gold star.

And Mary hasn’t given up hope on gaining a 10th centre title and so gaining her gold star bar. She also remains a top performer at ham and “meatpack” triples tournaments held by Sunnybrae and neighbouring clubs. “I’ve never had to buy much meat,” she jokes.