Page 1: Biography
Wilkie, Elsie Hamer
Bowler, sports administrator
This biography, written by Joan C. Stanley, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Elsie Hamer Fielden was born on 20 December 1922 at Waihou, near Te Aroha, Waikato, the only child of Nora Hamer and her husband, Alfred James Fielden, a decorator. In her early years the family moved to Whakatane, Coromandel and Whangarei, where her mother died in 1933. With her father she moved to Papatoetoe, where she attended the local high school. After leaving school Elsie worked for John Court Limited in Queen Street, Auckland. She married Robert Caldwell Wilkie, a farmer from Walton, near Matamata, on 12 June 1943 at Papatoetoe. They were to have three daughters.
In 1954 Elsie Wilkie joined the newly formed indoor bowls club at Walton and later the same year the Walton Women’s Bowling Club. She showed a natural aptitude for the game from the beginning of her career and, in her first season, was one of the team which won the fours championship. Self-taught and uncoached, Elsie Wilkie quickly rose to prominence in the local and regional bowling districts with wins in the pairs and fours in 1958 at the Waikato centre, followed by the singles championship there in 1959. Elsie served on the committee of the Walton club as president, secretary and treasurer, acted as coach and was later made a life member.
In 1966 she took the dominion open women’s singles outdoor bowls title, and from then on became a leading figure in the national bowling scene. In 1969 she won the Dominion Championship pairs with Joan McLean and over the following two years her success in attaining both the Dominion Championship and the National Champion of Champions singles titles in 1970 and 1971, showed her pre-eminence in the field of women’s outdoor bowls. Representing New Zealand at the second World Women’s Bowls Championships at Wellington in 1973, she defeated opponents from seven countries to take the world singles title.
After her success as singles National Champion of Champions in 1976, Elsie Wilkie was again chosen to represent New Zealand at the World Women’s Bowls Championships at Worthing, England, in 1977. She made history by winning the women’s world singles twice in succession. On her return she was honoured with the awards of Matamata Sportsman of the Year, the Waikato Sportsman of the Year, the South Pacific Television Sportswoman of the Year, and the Rawhiti Bowler of the Year (which included male nominees). She also defeated at bowls Ivan Kostanich, the New Zealand men’s champion, and later leading players Phil Skoglund and Wayne Sellars. Elsie Wilkie was appointed an MBE in 1979 for her services to women’s bowls.
In 1980 she again won the Dominion Championship pairs, this time with Zelda Clements, a member of the Matamata Bowling Club to which Wilkie had transferred. For a third time she was selected to represent New Zealand at the world bowls championship, in Canada in 1981, but on this occasion was unsuccessful in gaining a title.
Elsie Wilkie won the inaugural Honda Civic Classic Women’s International bowls tournament held in Auckland in 1985. She was a member of the Matamata Women’s Bowling Club committee, serving as vice president and acting as coach, and a Waikato and a New Zealand selector until she suffered a stroke in 1988. In 1990 she was appointed the patroness of the Matamata District Combined Women’s Bowling Club Open Fours Tournament.
In the winter months Elsie Wilkie played indoor bowls, first at Walton, where she was both president and secretary, and later at St Joseph’s Indoor Bowling Club, Matamata, and won many titles. She assisted with delivering meals on wheels, enjoyed knitting, sewing, and gardening, as well as her family and grandchildren.
Elsie Wilkie was a tall woman with a warm personality who loved outdoor bowls. She bowled with an upright stance, was immediately recognisable on the green by her immaculate dress, her trademark long cigarette holder and her skilful draw play. Her equable temperament – said to be her greatest asset – together with natural talent and an exceptional technique, helped her to become a leader in women’s bowls. Her victory in the world bowls in 1973 gave New Zealand women’s bowls a high profile. The final accolade before her death, on 29 November 1995 at Matamata, was Elsie Wilkie’s induction as the first woman bowler in the inaugural New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. She was survived by her husband, Robert, and three daughters.