Pétanque in Australia

joueurdeboulesenprovenceIn pétanque, people throw hollow, metal balls at a small, wooden ball called a cochonnet (literally ‘piglet’). The aim is to get your boule closer to the cochonnet than your opponent’s. The name pétanque comes from ‘la petanca‘ in the Provençal dialect expression ‘pès tancats‘ (‘feet anchored’).

About 17 million French people play pétanque casually. Numbers continue to grow gobally, including in Australia where there are 1 200 registered pétanque players. We interviewed three players: Andrew Mack, Gary Hosie and Pierre Bommarito.

Andrew Mack

What is your connection to France?

I love the French people, culture, attitude, countryside, national sports (cycling, rugby and pétanque). I took my girlfriend on a holiday there and ended up being married (for 30 years to date). Last time we were there was 2006 to watch Le Tour, meet locals and look at houses for purchase.

How did you start playing pétanque?

In 1999, I saw a local advert in paper asking for people to start a pétanque club. After four years, I switched clubs and played in the Aussie nationals. I became an umpire and eventually graduated to National Umpire status.

How can people get involved with this French sport?

It depends upon where one lives. If one lives in Sydney, then Boule Artistes are the people to contact. If one lives elsewhere, then here’s a list of clubs, or you could Google it.

What would you like to see for pétanque in Australia?

Like Boule Artistes are doing; playing in a public place rather than hiding away in a bowling club or somewhere that the Council dumps us. Like France, in Canberra the council leaves the open places in the towns with gravel and doesn’t pave, concrete or grass them. Just gravel the places and Petanque shall flourish…

Joueurs de petanque

Gary Hosie

What is your connection to France?

I visited France in 1990 and fell in love with it. I returned with my wife, Jane, in 1991 and she loved it too. We returned a few times and bought a house in La Redorte, a village in the Languedoc. We visit whenever we can afford it, which isn’t often enough!

How did you start playing pétanque?

I  really enjoyed watching people play it in France. By chance, both my mother and Jane gave me boules for Christmas and I started organising groups of mates to come and play. It was social, but we always ran a competition.

I wanted to play more and get better, so I joined a club in Sydney that was mainly French and Mauritians. I eventually formed the Boules Artistes Petanque Club because I was frustrated by the other clubs lack of interest in promoting to Aussies.

What do you like about it?

I enjoy the fact that it can be very casual and social or focused and intense. It is a pastime and a sport. I very much like the ‘village’ style pétanque I experience in France. This is what I want to achieve in Sydney. Nice pistes in public parks with trees; competitions that are serious but played with a great spirit and played in a shorter time. Most expat clubs play all day competitions, which are not conducive to people who are juggling commitments.

Auckland Petanque Championships 2011

Can you describe your pétanque club.

We were started about six years ago by five Aussies and a frog who wanted to implement the sort of pétanque that would appeal to Aussies. This meant timed games, shorter competitions and crucially, trying to get councils and the like to build pistes in parks that anyone can use. Most pétanque clubs are in bowling clubs and that is not how most Aussies envisage pétanque.

We are the biggest club in NSW with around 24 ‘licenced’ members, 46 social members and around 30 casual members. We run events in Centennial Park, South Coogee, Redfern, Balmain and Kirribilli. We continue to lobby councils, government bodies and developers to get more places built.

How can people get involved with this French sport?

People should email me and I will help them. There are very few clubs in Sydney, so if there is not one near where they live, I encourage people to form their own group and develop from there…[otherwise] it may involve some travel. This isn’t France after all!

What would you like to see for pétanque in Australia?

I would like to see more grounds in public parks and more Aussies playing the game…

Where is your favourite place to play pétanque?

I love nothing more than playing in and around my village in France. There I am a player and not an organiser. The atmosphere is fantastic and if there are politics I am oblivious to them!

In Sydney, the best place is Latham Park in South Coogee which is the most like a French boulodrome with trees for shade on the piste and a giant fig under which we set tables and chairs, or Ballast Point Park which is near Balmain. It has fantastic harbour views!

Pierre Bommarito

Petanque Photo

What is your connection to France?

My parents are French; Mum was born in Algeria and Dad in Tunisia. I have many uncles and cousins in Montpellier, Marseille and Avignon.

How did you start playing pétanque?

Dad was one of the first Australians to import pétanque boules back in 1983, he constructed a piste at the time at the back of a neighbours property and I basically grew up playing with family and friends. In 1985, a federation was formed in Australia by an Englishman, David Williamson, and clubs were born in most capitals in the country. Melbourne Petanque Club was formed at that time, and I am currently its president.

What do you like about it?

The camaraderie that you develop when playing sport is probably the best thing about pétanque. You go through all of the emotions together – anger, elation, frustration, joy – you feel so alive when you play a tournament. And you feel so far away from work and everyday life during a game. The travelling is fun too. As you can see on the Victoria pétanque calendar you get to travel around Victoria, interstate and to New Zealand. I have represented Australia many times and played in New Zealand, Tahiti, Singapore, Turkey, France and Belgium. I have played in five world championships in Clermont-Ferrand (1994), Montpellier (1997), Brussells (2005), Grenoble (2006), Izmir Turkey (2010). And you can’t beat the wine prizes at various tournaments, especially when we play tournaments at Coonawarra and Avoca, some of the best wine regions in the country.

Even aging hippies can play petanque

Can you describe your pétanque club.

Our club was formed in 1985, and is now located in Sunshine. We have 30 permanent members. Our location at Club Italia in Sunshine has an indoor boulodrome shared with the Bocce players, the first indoor pétanque piste in Australia. There are nice facilities, including a bistro and bars.

How can people get involved with this French sport?

Beginners can participate at most events. There are boules you can hire or borrow for the day at these events, and if you enjoy it, you can become a member of a club. Club venues can be found here. Joining a club allows you to play pétanque at any open event around Australia and overseas. Membership at Melbourne Petanque Club costs $100 a year.

What would you like to see for pétanque in Australia?

I would like to see many more people sharing in the fun. We only have 1 000 members in Australia and this number has not changed for 15 years. Unfortunately like all young sports, funding is limited and there is just not enough publicity being generated for the sport, so that’s why I jumped at the opportunity to be included on your site! To be eligible for funding from the government, we first need to be recognised as a sport, and without a critical mass of players like 5 000, this will be difficult.

Where is your favourite place to play pétanque?

The World Championships, although the opportunities don’t come around often, you can’t beat the feeling when you’re playing in stadium in France in front of 5 000 people and TV crews filming you. In summer, a shady poolside or beachside location with a BBQ is a great spot to play. You can enjoy a dip in the water between games, and enjoy a seafood BBQ for lunch washed down with a nice bottle of Rosé. Perfect!

Pétanque et rosé !

Image Credits
1. © Andrew Mack
2. By nico97492, via flickr
3. Auckland Petanque Championships 2011 by Sandy Austin, via flickr
4. © Pierre Bommarito
5. Even ageing hippies can play pétanque by Ed Yourdon, via flickr
6. Pétanque et rosé by Franco Bouly, via flickr

About the Contributor

Judy MacMahon

Experience FRANCE beyond the CLICHÉ with MyFrenchLife.org MyFrenchLife is for Curious Savvy Francophiles wherever you are. Meet Francophiles in France, online, and/or wherever you live. You’re very welcome to join us - Judy MacMahon - MyFrenchLife.org

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  1. Emmanuelle Tremolet Nov 23, 2011 at 3:33 PM - Reply

    Thank you! Very interesting! My partner who is French wants to play pétanque at Melbourne. He is looking for French “boules de pétanque”!
    I prefer to watch and drink rosé!

  2. Julie Gourichon Nov 24, 2011 at 9:21 AM - Reply

    super! Je suis heureuse que ce sport s’exporte!! 🙂

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