The Henselite company was started in 1918 by William D. Hensell. In a time when all bowls were made of wood, William left his role at Alcock, Thomson and Taylor, altering the bias of mis-shapen bowls that had come in from the UK by ship and started his own company. He came to an arrangement with the Dunlop Rubber Co. and in partnership they developed the world’s first rubber bowls which were less affected by variations in temperature than their wooden predecessors. Henselite was then contracted to turn and test rubber bowls for the Dunlop Rubber Co until 1930.
Once the contract with Dunlop ended, William and his son Raymond W. Hensell turned their attention to developing bowls made from a new kind of material which would be even more stable, and not expand and contract with temperature changes. After much experimentation they decided upon a plastic called Phenolformaldehyde and in 1931 the first solid plastic bowl was introduced to the market, changing the face of bowls as it was known.
These original bowls were called Henselites and were made with separate coloured discs which were inserted into the bowls to allow bowlers to differentiate their bowls from others.
1937 – 1946
In 1937 the separate disc model was replaced with the Uni-disc model, where the bowl was moulded and machined in one piece and the emblems were engraved directly on to the bowl. In this same year, the first Henselite all-plastic jack was produced.
Production was suspended during the Second World War. The factory took part in the war effort, producing plastic mouldings for ‘turn and bank indicators’ on aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force.
1946 – 1959
When bowls production resumed after the war years on 6th February 1946, Raymond W Hensell, who by this time had taken over the management of the company from his father, installed a series of specially designed, high-precision turning and biasing machines.
At this point, the Uni-disc model was renamed as the Standard model.
In these post-war years, bowls consolidated its popularity as a mass participation sport.
With television yet to be introduced, there was also a demand for indoor recreational games for the whole family. In the early 1950’s Henselite began to sell sets of “Junior Bowls”. Later called “Home Carpet Bowls”, these bowls remain popular with families today.
In 1959, Henselite introduced an improved powder compound with a ‘Super Grip’ additive, designed to give the plastic bowl a better feel in the hand and provide bowlers with a better grip on the bowl. Bowls with ‘Super Grip’ were called the Henselite Championship model. The additive has remained a feature of all subsequent models.
In the 1960s Australia was mostly importing goods and there was a push from the government to get exports moving. In 1962 Henselite was the first Victorian company to win an Australian Export Award. This was later followed up by 2 more awards in the subsequent decades.
1967 – 1988
Up to this point, Henselite bowls were not machined with a dimple grip. In the late 1960’s there was popular demand for a gripped bowl with many bowlers after a firmer, more reliable grip on the bowl.
Henselite brought out the Deluxe bowl the first Henselite bowl with a dimple grip. This grip feature continued to be extremely popular and today it appears on approximately 90% of bowls produced. Since its innovation, almost all subsequent Henselite models have been available in gripped or non-gripped variations.
In the 1970’s, Henselite expanded its business to become distributors of a wide range of sporting goods, becoming the Australian agents for sporting goods manufacturers such as Stuart Surridge and Gunn and Moore (cricket), Unicorn and Nodor (Darts), Finn and Yonex (Tennis, Squash, Badminton and Raquetball). The sporting goods business continued into the mid 1990’s.
In 1983 Henselite took over the Toll Park Engineering Company in Cumbernauld, Scotland and began to manufacturer Almark bowls for the UK market. Production continued at the factory until 1995 when the facility was closed and manufacturing shifted to the Australian plant.
1988 was a turning point for bowls and also for Henselite. This year saw the introduction of the World Biased Bowls (W.B.B.) Rules for the game of lawn bowls. These rules allowed the introduction of ‘narrow biased bowls’, and also called for bowls manufacturers to identify their biases by a specific model name.
Consequently, the Henselite Standard Bias, the bias used from 1930 to 1988 on the original Henselites, Uni-disc, Standard, Championship and Deluxe models, was renamed the Classic Bias.
Henselite was also producing a bowl with a narrower bias for faster, New Zealand greens which, at this point, was renamed the Masters Bias.
Due to the adoption of the new W.B.B. Rules, Henselite developed and released the Classic II model bowl with a narrower bias than the Classic.
As a result of its release and subsequent success on the greens, it became the most popular narrow biased bowl in Australia and New Zealand.
The following decade saw an increase in demand for bowls with varying bias profiles and Henselite began to manufacturer a number of different bowls for the different greens around Australia and the World, beginning with the Maestro bowl in 1992.
In 1994 the Maestro was superseded by the ABT-2000. The ABT-2000 used the latest precision manufacturing technology at the time, hence the name Advanced Bias Technology (ABT). This bowl combined the best features of the Classic II and the Maestro and was released only after extensive field testing by some of Australia’s best bowlers. In their hands it achieved outstanding success on the greens.
The Henselite factory celebrated the production of its six millionth bowl in 1995.
The millennium year saw the introduction of the Eureka Gold model and the Sapphire model – a bowl with a narrower girth, designed to accommodate bowlers with smaller hands.
Henselite played a significant role in the 2002 film Crackerjack with Mick Molloy. Henselite’s iconic North Melbourne premises and testing table appear in the film, Henselite developed a remote control bowl which was used by the producers when Mick Molloy’s character bowled his famous ‘flipper.’
In 2002, Henselite closed its North Melbourne factory and warehouse, and moved premises to the suburb of Fairfield, about 8km north of Melbourne’s CBD. The new premises provided more space and improved manufacturing and distribution processes were implemented.
With demand increasing among bowlers for a bowl with a ‘banana bias’ rather than a ‘hockey stick’ the Dreamline was introduced in 2003 and was hugely popular throughout the world. This year also saw the commercial introduction of coloured bowls in blue, green and burgundy and the Tiger bowl for the UK market.
In the following years, the very narrow biased Impact was launched in 2005, followed by the highly successful Tiger II for the UK market.
In 2006 the ABT-evo, an evolution of the Advanced Bias Technology, was produced primarily for use on faster greens.
In 2008, Henselite became the first manufacturer to produce 7 million bowls.
In July 2009 Henselite released the ALPHA. Designed specifically for fast, free-running greens and synthetics, the ALPHA was distinguished by a steady curved arc and flat finish into the head.
In this year Henselite joined the Australian Made Campaign and since then all lawn bowls sold within Australia have been labelled with the familiar green and gold logo.
Also in 2009, sales of coloured and speckled bowls over took sales of black bowls in Australia for the first time.
The Dreamline XG was introduced. The addition of XG to the well know Dreamline name was to mark it as the Next Generation. This release was the culmination of many years of development and innovation. The Dreamline XG is manufactured from a denser raw material. This leads to a bowl of maximum stability without compromising the comfort in the hand that its predecessor the Dreamline was famous for. The enhanced stability and predictable line make the ‘XG‘ so versatile, it provides the ultimate in comfort, stability and consistency for all bowlers from social to competitive and elite level.
Fusion joined the Dreamline XG becoming the latest bowl in the Henselite range. Since the change to the reference bowl in 1988, which allowed for narrower biased bowls to be introduced to the game, players had been faced with the issue of unpredictability with variations in green surfaces and playing conditions affecting the line of narrow bowls.
The concept behind the development of Fusion was to bring together the stability and predictability of a wider bias bowl, with a narrow line and a flat finish to the head. The technology, material and design features of the Dreamline XG which created it’s stability and made it a winner at Club, State, National and International level, were employed in the manufacture of the Fusion model.
With dry conditions across Australia causing dry, fast greens and the introduction of more synthetic greens, the Cruze model was introduced to replace the Fusion and as a companion bowl to the Dreamline XG. With a narrower bias but same feel in the hand as the XG due to its profile shape, the Cruze would allow bowlers to switch from one model to another, depending on the green speed, with the minimum of readjustment.
Henselite began manufacturing AFL bowls under licence from the Australian Football League. The popularity and sales of AFL bowls exceeded all expectations and this year Henselite was named as the AFL’s Most Outstanding New Licensee.
In 2018 Henselite celebrated its 100th year as an Australian business. A limited edition Centenary bowl was produced in celebration with 100 sets with a numbered certificate of authenticity.
After over 100 years in business, the Hensell family sold the company to a new family, father and son team of Ian and Thomas Paterson, who are committed to building on the foundations created over that last century. They have exciting plans to further build the Henselite brand, and the sport of lawn bowls, on the world stage.