Hobart Hurricanes captain Corinne Hall reflects on the release of her book, Victress: Women who paved the way in Australian Sport
Last month, one of our favourite women in sport advocates, Michelle Redfern, tagged us in a tweet that celebrated a newly released children’s book from Irish athlete Jacqui Hurley’s, Girls Play Too: Inspiring Stories of Irish Sportswomen.
Michelle asked us, “are you aware of an Australian equivalent to this cool Irish book?”
Personally, and ashamedly, it took me a while to think back to a book that was released earlier this year, and maybe that’s why this book that slipped my mind is so important. That it took me a while to think of this book speaks to its inherent need as, before this book hit the shelves, I really don’t think we’d seen anything like this. Books celebrating women in sport. Books celebrating Australian women in sport, in an accessible way, that both children and adults can enjoy. These books are so, so rare. But thankfully something special was produced this year to begin to add to the extreme gap we have of women’s sports stories.
The book I couldn’t place in the moment, is of course the brilliant Victress: Women who paved the way in Australian Sport by Corinne Hall and Michael Randall.
Victress was released in the lead up to the 2020 ICC T20 Women’s World Cup with the publishing support of Cricket Australia and celebrated with a stunning launch, but as COVID-19 brought the world to a halt just after our Aussie women cricketers lifted the trophy, it also brought the book tour to a standstill.
Artist, writer and captain of the Hobart Hurricanes, Corinne Hall reflects back on a time where we could gather in person to celebrate such momentous things as releasing wonderful books about women in sport into the world.
“We had a really beautiful launch in Sydney at the SCG and we had just the most amazing people attend. Like we had a fair few of the people that are involved in the book come along and all the Australian Women’s Cricket Team attended. And it was the night before their first game. That, I think that for me, just really emphasised how much women are just willing to celebrate other women in sport. For them to change their preparation, they changed their training session to be able to attend the launch, I think speaks volumes for what they’re about as a team as well.”
And in creating this book with her co-writer Michael Randall, encapsulating such amazing Australian athletes in her incredible illustrations, Corinne herself is also showing the same respect the Australian Women’s Cricket Team showed her through celebrating women through her unique artwork and personal reflections. In Victress, Corinne reflects on what these athletes mean to her, looking back on the women who shaped her life, who inspire her but also discovering the stories of athletes that haven’t been as easily found in our bookstores and libraries without more books like hers on the shelf.
“I think that was one of the joys, and it was really difficult to narrow down the people that I wanted to celebrate in the book, but I made a conscious choice to select people across multiple sports. From Paralympians, Olympians, team sports, and across generations as well.
“And I actually consider myself quite a big women’s sports fan, and there were a couple of people that I didn’t know about, and I was kicking myself. But this process allowed me to learn a lot more. And one of those athletes was Heather McKay, and she is a phenomenal athlete. She played squash for 20 years and she lost only two matches in that entire time. She just completely excelled. And she took the game to a whole new level and was unbeatable. And I didn’t know her name, and I couldn’t fathom that. So I got real joy in sharing a little bit more of those stories.”
Corrine and Michael share the stories of 35 of Australia’s women in sport, from the iconic Dawn Fraser, Cathy Freeman and Belinda Clark, to household names like Karrie Webb, Lauren Jackson, Liz Ellis and Layne Beachley, to modern heroines like Ash Barty, Ellyse Perry, Tayla Harris and Ellie Cole, alongside many more. This includes some you might not know like the aforementioned Heather McKay, and Kath Koschel, cricketer and founder of The Kindness Factory of which the book sales of Victress supports.
Reflecting back on the book launch earlier in the year, Corinne is ever humble, determined to place her work in the context of the achievements of the athletes she has profiled. The women who should have so many more books written about them, though as the preface written by superstar cricketer, and Corrine’s good friend Lisa Sthalekar states, “the irony is that Corrine could easily have been the first illustration in this book. She may not yet fully appreciate what a positive role model she is (and has been) in her own right, but she is someone who leaves a lasting positive impact on whoever has the good fortune of being in her company.”
“The big thing that I struggle with about the book is that I really didn’t want it to be about me, it didn’t feel like that.” Corrine reflects. “It was very much about trying to celebrate these people. And also, I think for me growing up— why didn’t have a lot of visible female sporting role models?
“Lauren Jackson said something really sweet at the launch. She said, ‘you know, to be able to be something you have to see it and this book is what this is all about.’ And I think that was why there was such a huge collection of people coming together as soon as you say ‘let’s celebrate women in sport!’ Like Dawn Fraser flew in from Berlin the morning of the launch to attend because I’d spoken to her in the making of the book and she was just like, ‘I can’t believe this hasn’t happened yet’. And she’s of course one of the original people who paved the way for women in sport and her passion and her desire to keep getting women talked about is really contagious. That was just truly touching. Like that was not about me at all, that was her wanting to be there and represent women in sport. So yeah, that was incredible.’
Yet I tend to disagree with Corinne, I think Dawn Fraser’s attendance was also as much in part to celebrate the woman that brought this book to life as it was to continue her advocacy of women in sport. Corinne doesn’t give herself enough credit, she is in herself, as Sthalekar says, someone who “loves supporting female athletes who are chasing their dreams, no matter the sport”, so much so she created the book on it.
Corinne Hall is the captain of the Hobart Hurricanes in her spare time when she’s not illustrating amazing and impactful women in sport books.
Of course, I’m being a little facetious. Cricket is Corrine’s life and alongside all her Big Bash teammates is making the big move to the WBBL hub in Sydney as the league takes all necessary measurements to safely conduct a season commencing October 25.
It’s a huge sacrifice, one cricket fans are very grateful for and it’s relieving to hear Corrine speak to her, and all the WBBL athletes’ willingness to do this so fans can have a WBBL season.
“I’m actually very excited, as a team [we’ve] decided to take the approach of seeing it as an adventure. We don’t quite know what’s going to come our way, but, you know, we want to try and make the most of everything we’ve got. We were very conscious of the fact that we’re in a very fortunate position that we actually still have our jobs and still can play the game we love. So the fact that we get to play I think is really the main motivating driver. And I think we’re ready to sort of just jump over every obstacle that comes along the way. But having said that, we have done some work as a team to make sure that we’re mentally prepared for those challenges we’ll face in there as well. So yeah, I can’t wait. I’m from New South Wales originally. So just flying in and seeing the bridge and all that will be really nice.”
Being in a bubble, I ask Corrine if this will lead to more drawing, maybe a Victress Vol. 2?
“I was only saying to a friend the other day that I actually hadn’t done a lot of art since Victress, it sort of went the other way. Because I remember thinking when the pandemic happened, I’ll be, you know, in isolation for a couple of weeks or in quarantine, I’ll get so much drawing done, I’ll get so much art done, and it didn’t happen like that, I didn’t have a project that I really wanted to sink my teeth into.
“But at the minute, I feel like I’ve got a real feminist vibe going on. So obviously, women in sport, but I’m reading a book that sort of reignited my inspiration. And it’s the Julia Gillard book that she’s written on leadership.
“There’s some incredible stories about women who have overcome incredible odds in the political world and overcome huge personal adversity and stuck to their guns and are really inspirational women. I’ve sort of decided that I’m going to draw those because I’ve felt so passionately about them. So I’m going to start that this week, actually. But yeah, for me, [drawing has] definitely always been a meditation thing, pretty much to check in with myself.
“We talk a lot about mindfulness in cricket now. And we touch on that in different ways, it might be walking on the beach, or whatever you prefer. But for me, as soon as I have a pencil in my hand, my mind just goes quiet. And I’m not really present. I think a lot of the time, people can be talking to me or whatever, but normally, I’ll have a cheesy chick flick in the background, and I’ll tune in the bits I like and then sort of go off in my own little world. I think for me, it’s been a really nice gift, actually. I was quite shy and really struggled to express myself and I think this has allowed me to do that. And especially for sport, I have so much gratitude to the world of cricket for the opportunities that I’ve been given. And I guess I’m not huge on talking, I don’t want the spotlight, or I try and shy away from that. So drawing for me was meant to, I guess, show that in my own way.”
When she’s leading her Hurricanes teammates in mindfulness exercises, I wonder if Corrine has ever tried to get them to draw and if there are any other budding artists in the mix?
“We’ve had a couple of [drawing] sessions throughout our personal development program, I suggested those actually. And I mean, I think it’s safe to say the majority of my teammates didn’t enjoy that as much as I did! A lot of them struggled to get past the stick-figure stage! But there were a couple that were pretty good, pretty handy with the pencil— Sasha Moloney is quite handy at most things, actually. But she can definitely draw a few bits and pieces. And then we had a few that were maybe in the abstract field that could pull something out if needed! But yeah, we’ve tried to explore lots of different things. And we’re very much in that environment, I guess, it’s very open to try and have those conversations around mental health, I think the last couple of years in sport in general. You know, it’s started to become a topic that people are more comfortable talking about. And you can relate to it a lot like most people. If you play for long enough, and you don’t even have to play a long time, but if you play for long enough, you’re probably going to experience some sort of battle in that area with the high-performance world we live in. So the more we can talk about it, the less weight everyone has to carry.”
It’s wonderful to listen to Corrine relate her passion for art and drawing into potential exercises to help her team manage the pressures of high-performance and the focus her club, and the league, has on mental health, particularly as the WBBL enters such a unique and demanding environment, but with leaders like Corrine at the helm of WBBL teams, the league seems to be in good hands to handle this challenge.
Victress: Women who paved the way in Australian Sport by Corrine Hall and Michael Randall is available now.