Women have been batting and bowling in backyards since the earliest days of the colony. At the end of the nineteenth century, an official organization of teams and clubs for women had appeared and in 1931 the Australian Women’s Cricket Council was founded.
The first international women’s cricket team arrived from England on tour over the summer of 1934-1935. Adding to the glare of media attention on the ‘lady cricketers’ was the fact that this was the first English cricket tour since the Bodyline season in 1932. The English captain Betty Archdale, who came back to Australia in the 1940s, more than passed the test as she and her team demonstrated fair play and professionalism, and both teams put on displays of highly skilled cricketing prowess. Even Yabba, the famous SCG heckler weighed in with his support: ‘the ladies are playing all right for me. This is cricket, this is. Leave the girls alone‘.
In turn the Australian women’s team also toured overseas, visiting England for the first time in 1937. The performance of the Australia’s players quickly outshone the novelty of their cricket culottes.
Sydney’s homegrown players were represented by, among others, Hazel Pritchard (1913-1967) also known as ‘the Girl Bradman’, who played style and scored 306 Test runs; and Mollie ‘the Demon’ Flaherty (1914-1989) a much-feared bowler, not only for her fiery personality, but also her fast pace bowling and strong right-hand batting. Mollie was the first fast bowler in international women’s cricket and also went on to excel in baseball and golf.
The expectations of balancing feminine virtues and domestic life versus a sporting career remained a common strain in media commentary over the decades however. In 1976, Anne Gordon the captain of Australian Women’s Cricket team wryly commented in an interview in the Australian Women’s Weekly that: ‘I don’t tell many people I play cricket because they expect me to tear up phone books for breakfast.’
Today more than ever women are levelling the playing field with the Rebel Women’s Big Bash (WBBL) garnering huge audiences, sponsorship deals and broadcast revenue. A new generation of star players have emerged like Muruwari woman Ashleigh Gardner, the first Indigenous woman to play in the Australian team since Faith Thomas in the 1950s. At just 18 years old Gardner captained the Indigenous woman’s squad tour of India and at age 21 achieved the highest score in WBBL with an unbeaten 114 runs from only 52 deliveries.
You can read more about women’s cricket in Australia on the State Library of NSW website here too: A Maiden Over
Minna Muhlen-Schulte is a professional historian and Senior Heritage Consultant at GML Heritage. She was the recipient of the Berry Family Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria and has worked on a range of history projects for community organisations, local and state government including the Third Quarantine Cemetery, Woodford Academy and Middle and Georges Head . In 2014, Minna developed a program on the life and work of Clarice Beckett for ABC Radio National’s Hindsight Program and in 2017 produced Crossing Enemy Lines for ABC Radio National’s Earshot Program. You can hear her most recent production, Carving Up the Country, on ABC Radio National’s The History Listen here. She’s appearing for the Dictionary today in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Minna!
For more Dictionary of Sydney, listen to the podcast with Minna & Sean here, and tune in to 2SER Breakfast with Alex James on 107.3 every Wednesday morning to hear more stories from the Dictionary of Sydney.