Last week, the Australian women’s cricket team released a remarkable video celebrating the very long history of women’s cricket in Australia. It was three minutes and forty-three seconds that brought tears to the eyes of this lover of women’s sport history.
Like most sports, the role of women in cricket—both on the field and off—has largely been left untold. So it’s particularly encouraging to see the sport’s national team embrace that history. Of course, there’s so much more to tell! We’ve pulled together a handful of fascinating and phenomenal and inspiring moments and stories and people in the history of women’s cricket that you may not know about.
It all began in the Goldfields
The first recorded game of women’s cricket was played in Bendigo on April 7 in 1874. Inspired by a visit in the same year by the English men’s cricket team, the town decided that the sport would be the theme of their annual fair. A meeting held in March to gauge interest in a women’s cricket match attracted 35 local women. Twenty-two were selected and they wore specially made white calico dresses.
The local paper noted that the women ‘unquestionably showed excellent play, and drew forth the repeated plaudits of spectators’.
The first Women’s Cricket Association was formed in Victoria in 1904 with twenty-one teams. More associations would follow across the country.
That first game in Bendigo set off a string of games around the country. But it was a game in Sydney in 1886 that revealed Australia’s first cricket star: Rosalie Dean. But it also brought us the Gregory sisters.
Dean played in the match between the ‘Siroccos’ and ‘Fernleas’ alongside the Gregory sisters at the Associated Cricket Ground or the SCG as it’s known today. More than 3000 people watched that game.
Dean would go on to score multiple centuries at games around NSW and would be the first woman cricketer to be included in Wisden.
And the Gregory sisters? Nellie and Louisa Gregory were hugely influential in the development of women’s cricket in NSW. The duo played, captained teams and organised matches around the state. Nellie was even the first president of the NSW Women’s Cricket Association in 1927.
She strode rather than walked onto a cricket field
Margaret Peden was born a year after the first Women’s Cricket Association formed. She would go on to be one of the most influential women in cricket in the first half of the twentieth century.
Educated at one of the first schools to allow girls to play cricket, Margaret founded the University of Sydney’s women’s cricket club. She played an important role in rebuilding the NSW Women’s Cricket Association, even serving as secretary for 16 years. She was one of the founders of the Australian Women’s Cricket Council in 1930 where she served as secretary and chairwoman. In 1934, it was Margaret that set about organising the first Australian tour by an English women’s cricket team.
Not just a sound administrator, Margaret could play too and she captained the NSW cricket team for many years.
Margaret even led a bunch of her teammates to level and clear an old market garden in Kuring-gai to use as a cricket ground. Legend has it, their efforts to clean the old garden up were not completely successful as potatoes were often found!
Pioneers in more ways than one
The history of women’s cricket is full of pioneers so it’s no surprise that it was the women who played in the very first cricket world cup in 1973, two years before the men would play in 1975. England hosted a round robin tournament. Australia competed, alongside New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and International XI and a Young England team.
Much of the credit for the 1973 World Cup goes to English captain Rachel Heyhoe-Flint who gained the support of businessman and philanthropist Sir Jack Hayward. Heyhoe-Flint who starred and led the English team to victory, would later be the first woman to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame
History maker in every sense of the word
No trip down cricket’s memory lane is complete without mentioning Faith Thomas. When Faith was selected to play for Australia’s national cricket team in 1958, she became the first Aboriginal women to be selected for a national sports team. It was a meteoric rise for the young South Australian nurse. After only three local games, she was playing for the state team. She played for the South Australian team from 1956 to 1958.
Faith played in only one test, the 1958 Ashes Series against England, in a team that boasted names like Betty Wilson. While her international cricket career may have been short (Faith had been selected for test matches in New Zealand and England but wasn’t keen on the long boat journey) the number 48 baggy green will always be hers and so too an important role in the story of women’s cricket.
There are so many other stories not mentioned here. So many names not listed and accomplishments not noted. Preserving and sharing the history of women’s sport is something we’re committed to at Siren so that’s exactly what we’ll keep doing.
Kirby Fenwick is a fan first and a writer, editor and audio producer second. She is the creator of the award-winning audio documentary, The First Friday in February and produces the regular segment, Voices From the Stands for Triple R’s Kick Like A Girl. You can find her on twitter @kirbykirbybee