The Lucas Girls: A Match to Remember demonstrates how telling the history of women’s sport can help to positively and accurately reshape our cultural narrative.
It started with a photo. A black and white photo of a team of women footballers called the Lucas Girls. A team who had played in the first recorded game of women’s football in Victoria in 1918. For Melbourne filmmakers Belinda Ensor and Joel Checkley, it was a photo that sent them on a hunt for more: more information, more photos, more… something.
That hunt culminated in the premiere of The Lucas Girls: A Match to Remember at the State Library of Victoria last week.
“Originally the film was sort of going to be looking at the history, looking at the players and looking at all of the events in 1918 that led to that match,” Belinda Ensor told Siren. “But when we started working on the project, what we found was that the match had largely been forgotten in the community.”
It’s perhaps unsurprising that a search for the story of the Lucas Girls yielded little more than a couple of photos and a few newspaper reports. The first World War came to an end not long after the match. Women’s sport, let alone women’s Aussie rules, was hardly a priority in the early decades of the twentieth century.
“I think it sort of speaks a lot about the women who played the match and about the society that they lived in, where, you know, the war had just ended and I suppose for them, playing this football match was just not as important as everything else that was happening around them. But actually, it’s incredible,” Belinda said.
Despite their early enthusiasm, Belinda and Joel were soon forced to put the project aside after their research failed to reveal any of the things they had hoped for.
“We really kept just hitting dead ends, and couldn’t really find anything. [We] went through all of the local collections, went through the public record office, all the Council Minutes, found bits and pieces, but nothing really solid. Nothing that sort of was going to make a particularly exciting film. And so we’d kind of put the project down with the idea that at some point, something would happen.”
In the meantime, the AFLW launched in 2017, completely reshaping the landscape of Australian rules football and sparking significant change, particularly at the grassroots level. It’s here where I stop being just the scribe for this story and step into the narrative myself.
A year after the AFLW burst onto the scene, I did something I never thought I would do. I started playing footy. Having grown up immersed in the sport, watching my dad and brothers play and being a lifelong fan of the Bulldogs, the game was far from unfamiliar. Being on the other side of the boundary fence, however, was. I joined Redan Football Netball Club in Ballarat, not far from where I grew up. The Lions welcomed me in, handed me the number 5 jumper and sent me out onto the footy field.
That year, my first year, also happened to be the centenary of the first recorded game of women’s football in Victoria. That historic first game was played on an oval in Ballarat a few minutes away from where I trained twice a week. That we, as locals, and as women playing football, had to celebrate the centenary was obvious to me. Luckily, it took next to no convincing to get Redan and later Ballarat and East Point on board. And then Belinda and Joel got in touch.
“The fact the Redan Football Club kind of just picked it back up is just amazing. And it’s amazing that it’s being honoured, and that the women who played now they’re sort of… being associated as these kind of pioneer women of Australian sport, which I think is pretty exciting,” Belinda said. “So really, the film is about the sort of grassroots rise and celebration of women playing football in Victoria.”
While the initial goal of Belinda and Joel may remain unrealised, what they have created instead is a film that not only brings to life the story of the Lucas Girls and the Khaki Girls and the historic game they played in 1918, but also illustrates the phenomenal growth of women’s football off the back of the launch of the AFLW in 2017. In doing so, they have helped to cement the story of the Lucas Girls in the narrative of Aussie rules and of women’s sport.
The value of telling stories like that of the Lucas Girls extends far beyond the nostalgic. By bringing these often forgotten stories back into our broader sporting narratives, we can reshape those narratives in a way that has the potential to chip away at the gender inequalities that persist in sport today. It’s why putting up a statue of Betty Wilson or Margaret Peden is important. Or why books like Women In Boots: Football and Feminism in the 1970s are such valuable contributions.
Delving into the history books is a joy, one I relish. But it’s a practice that has power, too. Because when we know where we have come from, when we know our history in all its richness and complexity, we can mould a sporting narrative that more accurately reflects the truth that women have always been a part of this story.