Netball—which prior to 1970 was known as basketball in Australia—has a very long and very interesting history. There are conflicting accounts, but it seems likely that netball (the sport formally known as basketball) was played in Australia as early as 1906. The game was almost certainly being played in Victorian primary schools by 1913 and in Victorian high schools by 1915.
From early interstate competitions to questions about the rules, we’ve pulled together a handful of fascinating, remarkable and inspiring moments and stories and people in the history of netball that you may not know about.
What are the rules again?
Perhaps owing to its origins, the rules of netball were far from straightforward until the formation of the International Federation in 1960. Before then, regional variations of rules persisted. Some competitions played five-a-side others seven-a-side and others still nine-a-side. Often, umpires would have to confirm the rules being played before the games commenced! The variations in rules sometimes hampered the development of the game, this is particularly the case with interstate and international games. The codification of the rules in 1960 was a good and necessary step forward for the sport.
A resume that speaks for itself
Is there a woman who has had more influence on the game of netball in Australian than Joyce Brown OAM? Possibly not! Brown’s resume is remarkably impressive. She played for the Victorian state team from 1958 to 1963 and then captained the Australian team in the 1963 World Cup—yes, that inaugural World Cup that Australia won! She also coached the Australian team to three World Cups, in 1975, 1983 and 1991.In fact, Brown was Australia’s first full-time national coach and amazingly, she never lost a World Cup match as a player or a coach. That is some kind of record.
As if that wasn’t enough, Brown has written three books on netball and her vision for the sport not only inspired a generation of young players, it also led to the introduction of the first version of the game modified for children.
Brown was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1989, received the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1992 and was inducted into the Australian Netball Hall of Fame in 2008. Well deserved honours.
Sisters are doin’ it for themselves
In 1922, Lousie Mills and Nonie Hardie wanted to play netball competitively. The pair, who worked for the YMCA, called a meeting for girls interested in playing. From there, the Melbourne Girls’ Basketball Association was formed. Games started in May of 1923 with six teams competing. By the next year, there were twelve teams. The formation of associations was happening thick and fast all around the country. In 1927, the All-Australian Women’s Basketball Association was formed. One of the founding principles of the AAWBA was the exclusion of men. It was a policy that the Association held for more than 50 years; it wasn’t until the 1970s that the ruling changed. According to historian Tracy Taylor, the reasoning was that the ‘game’s advocates felt that if men were allowed to assume positions of influence they would soon dominate the organisation’s decision-making’. In this respect, netball was unique.
According to historian Fiona McLachlan, at a 1931 executive meeting of the All-Australian Women’s Basketball Association a ‘motion was passed that required players to be silent during the course of the game’. Bizarre! Apparently it wasn’t ‘lady-like’ for players to be calling for the ball or shouting encouragement or instructions for their teammates! Can you imagine a game of netball being played in silence today?
The first World Cup
The first Netball World Cup was held in England in 1963. The Australian team travelled to the competition via ship, spending three-and-a-half weeks on the SS Canberra. The long trip certainly didn’t hamper their game. Led by captain and Australian netball royalty, Joyce Brown, the Australians recorded ten, yes ten, consecutive wins to secure the inaugural netball World Cup. A tense one goal win over New Zealand laying the foundations for a fierce rivalry that still exists today.