In a career that spanned 34 years, South Australian sports writer Lois Quarrell was a pioneer. A meticulous reporter, a passionate advocate, a champion administrator.
When a then 21-year-old Lois Quarrell was writing her first women’s sport column for South Australian newspaper The Advertiser in 1936, she didn’t hold back.
“During the last five years, the growth and development of women’s sport have been meteoric. Fresh fields, hitherto sacred to men, have been explored and conquered by women, and the public, from being mildly amused and tolerant, is today impressed by the high standard of play attained.”
It set the tone for the next thirty-four years of reporting as Quarrell, South Australia’s first woman sports writer, blazed a trail for women in sport both on the field and off it.
Born in 1914, Quarrell was a keen sportswoman from an early age. Netball, hockey, cricket, pennant bowls and golf—Quarrell was amongst it all. In his book about women’s sport in South Australia—and about Lois Quarrell’s influence on women’s sport in South Australia—John A Daly writes that Quarrell’s sporting prowess ‘…added to her credibility and gave her writing an authority that commanded respect even among male administrators of sport’.
Quarrell was only 17 when she joined The Advertiser in 1932. She started off in the commercial department, working as a typist but soon began writing a column for the paper on women’s surf lifesaving—another sport she was involved in. That led to a cadetship and then to Quarrell’s women’s sport page. Daly writes that a young Quarrell ‘rode her bike to sporting venues, collected information there and wrote a column devoted entirely to women’s sport’. A page dedicated to women’s sport was a remarkable achievement—even more so when we consider the coverage of women’s sport in mainstream newspapers today nearly a hundred years later—and it wasn’t an opportunity Quarrell would waste.
The women’s sport page
When Quarrell launched her women’s sport pages in 1936, it was during a time of great social change. Daly writes that while there was ‘growing enthusiasm by women for sport’ there was also plenty of ‘questioning of physical capability and what was “appropriate” activity for women’.
Through her weekly columns, Quarrell gave women’s sport its deserved place in the sun. Daly writes that she ‘sought to redress the imbalance of reporting sport in South Australia, and encourage publicity about the efforts of “the other half” of the population—the women’. A task we certainly support at Siren.
Athletics, swimming, baseball, hockey, cricket, netball—or as it was known then, basketball. Quarrell covered everything. She reported on results and upcoming matches and events, but she also reported about the issues around women’s sport too. This included access to facilities, the uniforms women wore and the sports that were ‘appropriate’. She covered the way that women so often retired from sport after marrying or having children. She even used a section of her women’s sport page to challenge this idea and profile women who continued playing sport, combining work and family with sport.
When the Interstate Women’s Cricket Carnival came to Adelaide in 1938, the Lord Mayor of the time weighed into the conversation of women’s sport. At a civic reception he told the cricketers not to be too competitive and that if they ever felt that they were playing for publicity, that they should give up playing the game. Quarrell didn’t give his comments any attention. Instead, as Daly writes, she used her women’s sport page to provide quality coverage of the Carnival, describing the players as forceful, smart, fast and accurate.
An advocate for associations
There’s no denying that Quarrell championed women on the field, treating local women’s pursuits, alongside those of women on the national and international stage, with the respect they deserved. But Quarrell did more than that.
From the beginning of the twentieth century, women began creating their own sporting associations across the country. The South Australia Women’s Cricket Association was founded in 1930 and the Women’s Athletics Association in 1931. Quarrell played an important role in the development of women’s sporting organisations in South Australia. She encouraged and challenged and pushed for women to ‘not only to participate but also to take charge of their own activities,’ as Daly writes.
In 1936, the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association made the tough decision to disband. Daly writes that they cited a ‘lack of interest’ and ‘no support from the men’s association’. Quarrell wasn’t having it and she worked behind the scenes and ‘engineered a successful reestablishment’.
Again in 1936, Quarrell wrote about the ‘meagre following among South Australian sportswomen’ of rowing. Her reporting resulted in an increase in participation and support and a team was sent to Brisbane to represent the state.
Quarrell was also actively involved in the associations she championed and supported. She held several positions including president, vice-president or secretary for sports associations in South Australia including the SA Women’s Hockey Association, the Women’s Amateur Athletics Association, the Women’s Cricket Association, the Women’s Amateur Swimming Association and the Women’s Basketball [netball] Association. She was also a state selector for cricket and basketball [netball] and even managed swimming and netball state teams after she retired from playing herself. In 1940, Quarrell joined the National Fitness Council of South Australia, the first woman to do so. While in that role, she pushed for more sports facilities for women and got them. In 1966, she was the driving force behind the South Australian chapter of the Sportswomen’s Association of Australia.
A pioneer in more ways than one
In 1946, Quarrell took her reporting from the page to the airwaves. For three years until 1949, she hosted a Saturday morning segment on South Australia’s Radio 5AD. While she was only allocated ten minutes or air time, Daly writes that her efforts ‘provide[ed] an inroad into sport broadcasting which had only reported male exploits in the past’.
Quarrell retired from The Advertiser in 1949 ahead of a move to Melbourne. In an editorial that appeared in the newspaper in May announcing her retirement, Quarrell was described as having ‘literally’ “grown up” with the development of women’s sport,’ in South Australia. The editorial went on, writing that Quarrell ‘has done a great deal to educate public opinion in the value of various sports for girls and young women’. Four years later, in 1953, Quarrell would return to South Australia and to her role at The Advertiser where she again took up the baton for women in sport. She would continue in the role until retiring in 1970.
In 1937, Quarrell wrote that ‘few girls are content to be mere spectators’. She may not have been talking about herself in that moment, but the statement is as true for her as anyone else. Quarrell was not just a reporter covering women’s sport.
Through her reporting and advocacy in the pages of The Advertiser, Lois Quarrell advanced the cause of women’s sport. She championed women athletes from the elite level to the grassroots. She pushed back against social conventions that sought to limit women’s access to sport and she encouraged women to take control of their sport and run their own associations separate from men. As Daly writes, she used her weekly pages to ‘“legitimise” women’s sporting efforts’ and ‘combat the frequent “inferiorisation” of their sporting accomplishments’. Lois Quarrell was a pioneer for women sports writers, a passionate advocate for women’s sport and women in sport and a champion administrator.
Read more about the history of women’s sport in South Australia and the work and influence of Lois Quarrell in John A Daly’s ‘Feminae Ludens: Women’s competitive sport in SA, 1936-1956 and the influence of sportswriter Lois Quarrell’.