Initially a private leisure pursuit encouraged by the colonial élite, lawn bowls were democratised when 'public' greens were established next to taverns and inns. Hotels in Prahran, Richmond and St Kilda boasted greens by the 1860s, but the first club was not formalised until 11 April 1864 when the Melbourne Bowling Club established a rink at Chapel Street, Windsor. Victoria won the first intercolonial contest, held against New South Wales in April 1880, and the Victorian Bowls Association was formed three months later. In November 1900 the Melbourne Cricket Club hosted the Singles Bowling Championship of Australia.
Although originally dominated by men, the sport became popular among women in the first half of the 20th century. The first women's intercolonial match between Victoria and New South Wales was held in 1900, and the Australian Women's Bowling Council was formed in 1947. Dramatic expansion during the 1950s and 1960s made lawn bowls one of the largest participant sports in Australia but by the end of the century the sport was in decline. John Dobbie, who first played for Victoria in 1948 and went on to represent his State on 200 occasions, received an OAM for his services to the sport in 1977 and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.