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Bowls In Focus : November 2011
22 Bowls In Focus Feature Profile When Denese Brick walks on to the green or into a room, you know she’s there, she radiates vitality and this season she has plenty to shine about, it’s her 50th in bowls – a golden anniversary as such. It’s hard to believe that this charming and vivacious lady has actually been playing the game for fifty years, and no she didn’t start at the age of four! She was slightly older than that when she first picked up a bowl in earnest. Actually she had little chance of not picking one up as her renowned mother Becky Katz was a standout player in South Africa, their home country, and continued to prove her skill here after arriving with Denese and her family in 1987. Denese is now no stranger to the Australian bowls scene, having achieved a record as long as your arm. Well two or three arms to be exact. Together with husband Gersh, mother Becky and her three children Marc, Johnny and Lisa, Denese joined younger sister Gail Nadelman along with brother Hilton and their families, who had left South Africa nine years before. The family quickly assimilated largely due to the welcome and support they were given by the now defunct City of St Kilda Bowling Club. “ We were truly a reunited family,” said Denese, who confesses to tears on the plane coming over. Not at leaving her beloved homeland, but at a dawning truth. She could not cook and the threat of poisoning her family loomed large in her imagination as she winged her way towards Australia. “ We took a lot for granted, we had those wonderful people who worked for and looked after us,” she said. So well looked after in fact she never had to learn the gentle art of cooking or most other forms of housework. But the family survived her early efforts of trying to decipher cookbooks and kitchen instruments and today her nine grand children regard her as the best schnitzel cook in the world, although there’s little secret to the preparation of schnitzel! When Denese first started bowling here, a breath of fresh air swept over the greens at a time when women bowlers appeared like a gaggle of white girls guides, communicating with each other in a mysterious form a semaphore. She had come from a country where players called out to each other and there was a bit of zip in the game. But she wasn’t alone in razzing up the atmosphere as players from European backgrounds were also starting to make their presence felt and women’s bowls was on the cusp of change. But the Katz family was at the forefront of it with Becky, Denese and Gail becoming affectionately known as ‘Mummy Katz and her kittens’ when they began picking up important wins. “We didn’t set out to create what happened, it just happened,” said Denese. And as the pages of time are turned back to her days in Johannesburg, it’s not hard to see why Denese Brick has stamped such an indelible mark on Victorian and Australian bowls. Her family background is steeped in Polish and Jewish tradition; father Julius not only enjoyed his sporting activities but being an accomplished musician, reached national recognition as a singer. Today one of Denese’s most prized possessions, along with the cup she won for her first ‘major’, the under-12 school tennis championship, is the violin her father played as a child. “We had such happy days growing up, we had normal caring parents. And I had a father who said girls should be educated like boys,” said Denese. She followed in her father’s footsteps, although admitting to not having a good singing voice, but saw to it that her three children had a sound education at all levels and university. “I brought up three fully educated children,” said added, going on to point out that they all married and each has three children. “Nine little boys, we have done Australia proud.” Denese and her brother and sister were sent to leading schools, but apart from winning her first tennis cup, her greatest thrill seems to be that Becky, an outstanding athlete to boot, kept winning all the mother’s races at her primary school and remained undefeated! Through secondary school it was hockey, swimming, tennis and hard study, while after finishing as school captain at the Jeppe High School for Girls, Denese went on to study law at the University of Witwatersrand. But the law courts of South Africa were not to benefit from her keen mind as she married Gersh Brick and wasted no time producing a family of three. Also, her bowls started at the Sharon Country Club where she rolled up between swims and games of tennis. But it wasn’t long before her keen competitive spirit took over and at the age of 21 she started to spend more time on the green. Shortly after she played lead in a four that won the Southern Transvaal Ladies Maccabi Fours. “Anyone can belong to Maccabi, but you have to have a Jewish parent to play in the Maccabi Games in Israel,” she explained. By the time she and Gersh made the decision to emigrate, Denese had several other significant wins under her belt, including big mixed events with Gersh. However life has not always been ‘bowls and skittles’ for Denese as she has had to overcome some adversities, starting as small child when just before her fifth birthday Diva’s Golden Milestone • Above: The seasoned professional in action at Warilla last month. • Below: Victorian bowls diva Denese Brick.