Boules Artistes in Sydney: French sport with an Australian twist
This article is in English. Click here to read it in French.
In 1991, Gary Hosie discovered pétanque during a holiday in France and hasn’t let it go since. His vision of a perfect world? “When I go to France, I play every day; I’d love to do that here.” The plan was obvious: Sydney needed to be conquered.
That’s how Boules Artistes, created in 2003 by five Aussies (including Gary) and a Frenchman, counting over 100 members, has become the main pétanque club of the city.
It’s the 4th Thursday of the month and we’re playing at Milsons Point. Our ground stretches from behind the railway to the foot of the buildings. Gary puts on his brown sandals and takes his box containing an 8-metal ball set and a wooden cochonnet. Then Heidi arrives, the first, followed by Martin, Stéphane, James and Ben.
Imported to Sydney with the French and Mauritian immigration wave 20 years ago, pétanque remained for a while a francophone matter, the expats making sure not to involve Australians. Having sensed a severe injustice, Gary has since used his communication and sharp playing skills to extend the network to more neighborhoods, targeting mostly young people.
5.43 pm: the first game
Heidi shoots the cochonnet. We’re ready to play, in a team of three: Martin (AUS), Ben (IRL) and me (FR) vs. Heidi (AUS), Stéphane (FR) and James (UK). The first to hit 13 points wins the first game¹.
Gary, meanwhile, observes us and gives advice about l’art et la manière of shooting or pointing the ball, “nice and slow, nice and slow”. I throw my first ball. Too fast. And my arm isn’t relaxed enough.
If all you had to do to be a good player was to throw the metal ball, it would be common knowledge. The game requires technique and strategy. “It’s all in the wrist”, says James who, playing for the first time, surprises us with an impeccable shot. At 6.35 pm, the score reaches 13-6 and we’ve lost.
Pétanque in Australia
There are so few rules² in the game that it’s in the passionate discussions around it, the bottle of wine we open and the late afternoon sun behind the Sydney Bridge where the essence of pétanque truly lies: a buddy game with a hedonistic spirit.
Stéphane confesses however, with this typically Marseillaissense drama, that playing in France for the youngster, is “awful. Awful. They think you’re not good enough. It’s friendlier here”. The youthfulness of Australia in this discipline allows a less sectarian state of mind in the sport.
The second game isn’t any more glorious and at 7.20 pm, despite the improvement of our shoots and points, we acknowledge our stinging defeat with 13-3.
Gary is categorical. There aren’t enough players in Sydney for his taste. Without forgetting the competition (“people love it”), his ultimate goal would be to be able to play anywhere, anytime; girls, boys, Australians, young, old, expats and your grandma’s cat. Sydney’s configuration, made of small neighborhoods, is perfectly suited to recreate a village pétanque, without pastis and plane trees, but with Jørn Utzen’s opera and white ibises.
Interested? Come and experience the “quintessential French pastime” (as Gary would say) with Boules Artistes. For opening hours, dates and meeting points, send an email to Boules Artistes and ask to be registered on their mailing list.
1. A point for each ball closest from the cochonnet than all the closest of the adverse team.
2. In short, playing the balls within the limits of the ground, feet inside the circle, the cochonnet six to ten meters away.