Curling, which can be likened to bowls on ice, is one of the rarer New Zealand sports. It was introduced from Scotland by gold miners who came to Otago in the early 1860s. During the winters in the interior, which were sometimes severe, sharp and continued spells of frosty weather put a temporary check on mining, but provided ideal conditions for curling. It is possible that improvised stones were used at first, but soon there were genuine curling stones in the Maniototo district, brought in by some enthusiasts. By 1873 three curling clubs were in existence. They were formed in the Naseby, St. Bathans, and Blackstone – Mount Ida – Upper Manuherikia areas. In that year the New Zealand Province became affiliated to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club of Scotland, which still controls the game. Ten years later two more clubs had been formed in Central Otago and in the following seven years another three came into being. There were no new clubs until 1934 when, from that year, the increased number of motor cars and better roads brought curling within the reach of many more people. By 1963 the New Zealand Province incorporated 25 clubs, 23 in Otago and two in Canterbury. Most of the 23 were in the Maniototo Plain, but curling was also played at Idaburn, Oturehua, Alexandra, and Lake Ida (Canterbury).
Each year, if conditions are favourable, there is one bonspiel, as a meeting of the clubs is known, called when the ice is right. It must be thick enough to hold the weight of many players standing close together, and must be smooth. Clubs usually have 10 members, so that two four-man rinks can be entered in the bonspiel. The only equipment needed, apart from warm clothes, are the heavy granite stones which are propelled by hand across the ice, and brooms to sweep a path in front of them. If a stone is to be kept moving, vigorous sweeping melts the ice slightly, thus decreasing the friction enough to achieve the desired result. The circle, into which the stones are slid, is scratched in the ice with a 7 ft slick. The tee, which is in the centre of the circle, need only be a mark on the ice.
Curling stones, imported from Scotland, are carefully shaped and smoothed pieces of granite fitted with a handle which can be changed from top to bottom. The reason for this is that the two sides are prepared differently for varying ice conditions. The stones vary in weight, although an average would be about 25 lb. If they are not broken they will last for generations. By skilful propulsion and the use of the natural imperfections, or bias, in the ice, the stones can be manoeuvred towards the tee and at the same time the other stones avoided. The course of the stone is also influenced by the members of the rink who will sometimes sweep furiously to assist its progress.
Behaviour on the ice, the ethics of the game, and the observance of the rules are governed by a very strict code. Not the least enjoyable part of a bonspiel is the dinner held afterwards. “Beef and greens” are followed by “court” where young curlers are initiated into the more secret and subtle aspects of the sport. As with ice skating, ski-ing, and other winter sports, modern motor transport has made participation in curling much easier than in the past. No longer do curlers have to start out for a bonspiel the day before it is to be held. But the season, because of the conditions required, is short, and this minimises the number of those able to play. Again, a succession of mild winters sees the sport temporarily in abeyance.
by Ross Anthony Waby, Journalist, Dunedin.