16 May 2024

Cheap and cheerful French game of petanque can be played anywhere by anyone

| Eileen Mulligan
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Man measuring distance between boules.

Wollongong Petanque Club’s Didier Kerjean measures the distance between the jack and the nearest boule. Photos: Eileen Mulligan.

The Wollongong Petanque Club may be tiny, but its members are revelling in the glory of one of their own beating New Zealand.

The Wollongong players compete at the highest national level and club member Marie-Anne Kerjean was selected for the recent trans-Tasman series played in Perth.

Marie-Anne and her team thrashed their New Zealand counterparts in the over-60s division 72-48, while the Australian open division beat their Kiwi archrivals 94-50.

“Unfortunately, Australia hasn’t won it as many times, so it was good we got them this time,” Marie-Anne said. Next year’s trans-Tasman competition will be held in Auckland.

Petanque may not be widely known in Australia but it is played with a passion in France. It is similar to lawn bowls or Italian bocce and can be enjoyed at both a competition level and as a social event.

Marie-Anne joked: “You can play with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. But nowadays, we’re trying to have it as a sport so it’s a lot more regulated.”

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Petanque is cheap, cheerful and portable. It is played with steel boules on a hard surface and the aim is to throw your boule as close as possible to the jack. It is usually played on gravel but can also be played on sand or grass. It can be played anywhere and by almost anyone.

Marie-Anne and her husband Didier Kerjean were born in France and are keen to keep their culture vibrant in the Illawarra.

Didier is one of the club’s co-founders and Marie-Anne was the Australian triples champion in 2022 and the Australian singles champion in 2021.

“You can play anywhere,” Marie-Anne said.

“You can play on the side of the road,” Didier said.

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The Wollongong Petanque Club is the sporting arm of the Wollongong French Association, of which Marie-Anne is secretary-treasurer.

In 1979, the president of the Wollongong French Association approached Didier and asked him if he knew anything about petanque.

“To be honest, in France, I never played competition, but I played the social backyard game,” he said.

“I played half a dozen times before I came to Australia, but I knew the game.”

Didier and two other Frenchmen, Jean-Claude Brassaud and Jean-Claude Blanchet, founded the Wollongong Petanque Club.

The club held its first games in Stuart Park and, after several moves, established its base in the mid 1990s at the AGA Club Germania at Kembla Grange, where players enjoy the benefits of the licensed club.

Petanque club members come from diverse backgrounds, such as France, Belgium, Bangladesh – and even New Zealand – to play a French game at the German club in the Illawarra.

Liliane and Francois Jerez are the club’s oldest members and love the company of other players and the opportunity to speak French, which was especially important when their children were young.

Eddy Rolet said: “I was three years old when I came here (from Belgium) and it’s kept me connected with my language.”

He said it would be an excellent activity in schools and university, especially for young people who didn’t care for football, basketball or other sports.

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Eddy said the game promoted friendships and other players were like family. He recruited his neighbour, Danny Graham, to the game 10 years ago and, more recently, university student Ruby Sultana.

“He has been like my adopted father,” said Ruby, who arrived in February from Bangladesh to study for a Masters in Human Resources Management.

“In my culture we have bonding with my parents and community. If I am feeling homesick, he helps me a lot. I came here, not just to study, but to share enjoyment and the festive feel.”

Volunteers maintain the gravel piste (pitch), organise competitions and they built the shelters around the piste.

The Wollongong club only has 21 licensed players, down from 40 to 50 35 years ago, and is looking for new members.

The Wollongong Petanque club meets for competition games on the first Sunday of the month at the German Club at Kembla Grange. Registration is $50/year.

Social games are held on the third Sunday of the month and new players are welcome. Head to Facebook for more information or email the club at [email protected].

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