Truth be told, I once rolled on Mel Gibson’s personal bowling alley.
Back before he made his Passion of the Christ millions and ruined his career with racist rants, Gibson’s alley was owned by a Korean businessman and located in Toorak, a seedy area in the Fijian capital city of Suva. It was the South Pacific nation’s first wooden lane bowling alley and it went bust in just a few years.
The few bowlers who do exist in rugby-mad Fiji tend to be expats or members of the Fijian elite who delight in throwing balls on grass along the Suva waterfront in a tradition harkening back to the country’s colonial roots under the British. Wooden lane bowling, beloved of the paunchy, balding North American male, was like a fish out of water here.
In 2006, Gibson bought the alley and moved it — rental shoes and all — to his private slice of paradise in northeastern Fiji called Mago Island. It’s unknown how much he paid for the alley. But he reportedly shelled out several million dollars (the exact figure varies from more than $3 million US to slightly less than $15 million US) for the 2,190-hectare island — the largest privately owned island in Fiji — and its surrounding lagoon, according to The Fiji Times.
It was in Toorak in 2000 that I took turns hurling balls Fred Flintstone-style down the wooden lanes at the squat 10 pins with my roommate Alicia, my Samoan friend Ulafala and his daughter. My weapon of choice that night was a bubblegum pink marbleized ball with the no. 6 stamped on it. It was the lightest ball they had at the alley. Hailing originally from Atlantic Canada, I was used to the tiny hard balls and tall thin pins of candlepin bowling so, needless to say, I failed to record any strikes that night and was far from a lethal weapon at the lanes.
To get to the bowling alley, which looked straight out of any tiny North American town, we had to walk past several young men who might have been looking for trouble if it wasn’t so hot that night. (Correction: it’s not “hot” per se in Suva — it’s a sweltering humidity where a wise person tries not to move too quickly). Aside from their vaguely threatening/teasing whistle, the most excitement we had was the sighting of a giant rat surfing waves of colourful bolts of cloth for sale in an Indian shop.
Alicia had invited tonnes of her Fijian workmates to come and bowl with us for the first time — and they all said yes. In Fiji, a yes really means a no. Well, it does sometimes. They hate to say no. Really, it’s true. This tendency has often meant good natured Fijians have been taken advantage of by visitors. Good guide books will warn tourists about this.
Anyway, none of Alicia’s friends showed so it was just the four of us rolling. Ulafala, who looks like a Samoan Omar Sharif, did passably well. But it was his daughter and her classic bowling between the legs stance that took the night.
I’m pretty sure we lobbed the ball a few times, too. Wonder if Mel ever had a problem with dents in his wooden lanes?∗
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