Throwback Thursday: The First Aussie Bowling World Champion

By Matt Stevens
July 16, 2020

The year was 1982. The tournament was the South Pacific Classic. The bowler was Jeanette Baker and it was the beginning of something very special.

‘JB’ is an all-time legend of the sport in Australia. A Tenpin Bowling Australia Hall of Famer with a never-ending list of achievements on a city, state, national and international level. 

Her achievements gained media attention throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Not only because of the achievements and popularity of tenpin bowling but also the way she went about it on the lanes.

“Baker captured the media’s fancy with her stylishly short skirts, sassy haircut and uninhibited body language” was the way QuibicaAMF described the appeal of Baker.

The South Pacific Classic (SPC) tournament was the most prestigious and sought-after title on Australian soil. One of the main reasons for its appeal was that it was the qualifier for Australians wanting to represent their country at the Bowling World Cup.

The event would also see some of the best bowlers from Asia attend which provided an international level environment to compete. Proceedings would commence on a Thursday and conclude with a televised final on Sunday. The task involved each bowler having three squads of qualifying before the matchplay portion leading to a step ladder final for the top 3. The format was very similar to a World Cup.

In 1975 Jeanette Baker would win her first SPC title at AMF Bankstown Bowl and become the second female ever to be awarded the chance to represent Australia at the World Cup. Her performance in the 1975 World Cup saw her finish 7th on debut.

Following 1975, Baker would have to wait 7 years before winning her next SPC title and having another crack at the World Cup. The absence largely led by a four-year dominant run by Ruth Guerster from 1976 to 1979.

The 7-year wait did not mean that Baker wasn’t always in the mix to be champion. Baker would rarely finish below 4th in the 7-year stretch. The wait endured had more to do with the tough format the SPC boasted.

“Qualifying was always based on pinfall, however, in the earlier years, matchplay was strictly 2 points for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss and no carry over pinfall. As you would appreciate, a very cutthroat matchplay competition” explained Baker.

At the running of the 1982 SPC, Baker, now 27-years-old entered with a wealth of experience which included being a six-time FIQ team member for her country.

Baker would be the number one seed for the step ladder. Her opponent would be Cathy Solis after the Philippine bowler defeated Australian Louise Wallace in Match 1.  After Wallace was eliminated, Baker would be the only Australian standing in the tournament. This achievement would stamp her ticket as the country’s rep at the 1982 World Cup in Holland.

Always a fierce competitor, Baker never did things in half measures. The grand final would be a two-game total pinfall match and would become the platform where Baker would bowl for her second SPC title.

This week’s Throwback Thursday largely looks at that final. A comfortable winning score line of 404-341 in Jeanette’s favour but fantastic vision of the TBA Hall of Famer in her prime. Also, added to the conclusion of the SPC vision is some footage of her 1982 World Cup win (albeit very grainy).

1982 South Pacific Champions – Jeanette Baker and Ian Bradford

The SPC win would also send her to Holland where history would be made. Jeanette Baker would become the first Australian to win the Bowling World Cup.

“It was a very proud moment” explained Baker. “Upon arriving home, the reception was amazing. Dad organised a small celebratory party before I headed back to Adelaide. My greeting upon arrival in Adelaide was amazing. I was taken back with the number of people who came to the airport to welcome me home. Woodville Bowl was my bowling base in SA and the management had made up a large poster to congratulate me. It was all very overwhelming and made me proud that I had represented both my fellow bowlers and country well!”

1982 Pin Action front cover following Jeanette Baker winning the 82 Bowling World Cup

After winning in 1982, Baker would depart from South Australia to further develop her game.

“I moved to Sydney to prepare for 1983 under the watchful eyes of Dr Ed Kee and particularly Eric Jang. Eric had been a long-time friend of my father and he agreed to take me under his wing to help with my further development in the sport” explained Baker.

Standalone wins were great but back to back titles were even sweeter. This would become a common theme throughout Bakers career.

Baker was crowned back to back champion at the 1983 SPC tournament after defeating fellow TBA Hall of Fame member Del Da Re. A close battle throughout saw an open frame by Del in the eighth frame of the second game which allowed Baker to pounce to victory.

This time her victory would see her sent to Mexico City to defend her World Cup crown.

A laser focused Baker went on to win in a dominating fashion in the grand finale against Gisela Lins of Western Germany 233-194. The victory for Baker would see her become the first bowler in history to successfully defend a World Cup title. The epic achievement has only been repeated twice since (Aumi Guerra 2010 and 2011 and Clara Guerrero (2014,2015).

“The tournament was strategically planned from the onset. I was to stay in top 3 position leading up to the final day of matchplay and from there forge through to top qualifier for the TV matchplay” said Baker.

“The accolades linked with being the first World Cup winner of back to back titles was amazing” explained Baker. Steve Mackie from AMF seized the opportunity to utilise Baker in promoting the sport Australia wide as being the designated spokesperson.

“The media exposure was the highest honour I could have received and the increase in recognition for the sport after having the opportunity to ‘spread the gospel’ – the experience was both humbling and complimentary” described Baker.

In addition to her recognition from peers, the honour of becoming South Australian Sportswomen of the Year in 1982 when up against Commonwealth Games Gold winning athletes was another highlight.

Following the history making 1983 World Cup victory, Baker would have to endure an eleven year long wait for another chance.

In 1995 she would make her fourth and final appearance at the World Cup. The final appearance would see Baker finish in an impressive fourth place as a 39-year-old. Four appearances, a seventh place, back to back titles, and a fourth. An outstanding World Cup resume of one of the all-time greats of our sport in this country – Jeanette Baker.

A second throwback video of Jeanette’s 1983 SPC can also be found below.

We thank Patrick Birtig and contributors to the Bworld2 YouTube channel for allowing use of their fantastic footage of our great game!