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International Women’s Day: Our Sporting Heroines

As we look toward International Women’s Day 2020, and aligning with our values at Siren, we wanted to highlight some important sporting icons of our own, as well as those of some women across the sport media landscape.

Alison Smirnoff — Melissa Hickey

I first met Mel Hickey back in 2015 when I had just started to become involved with the Darebin Falcons in an off-field capacity.

One early conversation with Mel, in some ways, changed the course of my life. We were at the Falcons’ Silver Jubilee function, having a good old chinwag about our love of footy (obviously), when Mel said to me “I reckon you’re going to play.”

I scoffed in return, citing my age (I was 36 at the time) as a barrier. After some words of encouragement about it never being too late, Mel simply added; “If you don’t give it a go, you’ll always regret it.”

Through that one conversation, the obstacles to finally taking up the sport I had always loved seemed far less daunting. And that’s what Mel does. She puts those around her at ease and encourages them to get the best out of themselves. She is generous and genuine and has an uncanny knack for helping you look at problems or setbacks in a different way. All of these things make Mel an amazing teammate, leader and friend.

And yes, she was right, I did play. My football career only lasted one season, but the effect was profound. I learnt what my body could do and discovered a sense of strength and confidence that I never knew I had. I also became part of a community that has become almost like family to me. I owe all of that to my mate Hickey.

Image: Rob Lawson

Kirby Fenwick — The Lucas Girls

It’s a Saturday afternoon in September more than a hundred years ago. It’s a footy ground not far from where I grew up. It’s an historic game in front of a crowd of thousands. It’s not one woman, but a team of women. 

The Lucas Girls played in the first recorded game of women’s football in Victoria in 1918 at Eastern Oval in Ballarat. Named for the local textiles factory they worked in, the Lucas Girls were a remarkable bunch of women. The driving force of that 1918 game was a fundraising effort for the Arch of Victory. But the legacy of the Lucas Girls far exceeds that memorial.

I have a picture of team—which must have been taken just before the match—above my desk. It’s not always easy being a woman in sport. The barriers and challenges and obstacles can sometimes feel insurmountable. But whenever I look at that photo of the Lucas Girls, I’m reminded of the strength and resilience and determination of the women who have come before me.  

While I never had the opportunity to meet any of the women who played that day, their legacy lives on in me and my work. Their role in the history of women’s footy, in the history of women’s sport is one I will continue to champion. Their story is one I will continue to share. Their photo is one I will continue to be inspired, motivated and encouraged by. 

The Lucas Girls. Team: L Rayworth (captain), C Ware (vice captain), M Rogers, P White, L Jacoby, E Todd, E Jones, A Thornton, D Williams, D Jones, D Harris, E Price, D Thompson, A Halfpenny, D Scarlett, B Bastin, C Lynch, R Mounsey, C Stewart and A Bussett.

Dr. Kasey Symons — Associate Professor Kim Toffoletti

Associate Professor Kim Toffoletti is one of the world’s most respected sociologists and researchers when it comes to women, sport, fandom and media.

Kasey (second from left) with Kim (far right)

Her work, particularly her book Women Sport Fans: Identification, Representation, Participation (2017, Routledge), had a huge impact on me personally as I began to learn about myself and my place in sport as a fan, as well as an immeasurable influence on my research.

Kim was a mentor to me throughout my PhD journey. She was been kind enough to meet me for coffee to talk through my ideas, point me in the direction of other important research in the field, read some of my work and encouraged me to present at academic conferences. She has been such a cheerleader of mine and having someone like her in my corner has been invaluable. And as an early career researcher, I can’t express how grateful I am to Kim for taking the time (out of her incredibly busy schedule!) to help me along the way. Women like Kim who help women, help make the world be a better place for the next generation of women who come through, in academia, or any field. 

Last year, Kim put together a panel of researchers working in fandom and the AFLW space for the Fan Studies Network conference and she invited to be part of it. Presenting my work on a panel alongside her, one of the women in sport I look up to, was a massive highlight of my academic career.

Dr. Kate O’Halloran — Alma O’Halloran

My sporting heroine is my late Grandma, Alma O’Halloran (nee Clyne). In 1962 she was the first ever Australian Open Ladies Singles Champion of tenpin bowling. There’s an amazing photo of her on the day (left). She actually went on to win the National Championships in 1963 as well and the prize was an overseas trip to America, but she was pregnant with my Mum, Cathy, so she gave the trip to the runner up instead.

That’s a pretty good insight into what her character was like – very generous and unassuming. I’m so incredibly proud of her for her sporting achievements, but she was humble about it until the very end, even trying to tell me the field wasn’t that strong because it was the first ever instalment!

Some of my favourite memories are of getting my first job at the bowling alley in Sunshine where she and my Grandpa bowled every Monday and Wednesday night. My Grandpa was actually President of the Western Suburbs Tenpin Bowling league for over 60 years! They took their bowling very seriously, and I even joined their team “Space Invaders” for a while. That didn’t last very long because I’m not a great bowler, but it was a good excuse to hang out with them.

Megan Brewer — Ellyse Perry

Ellyse Perry is probably one of the most recognisable faces of Australian cricket. She is the youngest player to represent Australia in cricket, played for the Matildas, was the inaugural winner of the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year and list of achievements go on.

I loved cricket growing up but had no idea that women played the game. There were brief mentions that made the news but Perry’s constant record breaking, list topping achievements always made it hard to ignore that cricket was being played by some incredible women.

The moment that solidified my admiration for Perry was during the Ashes series in 2017. Test matches are such a rare thing in women’s cricket and for this match to be broadcast so I could watch my favourite format be played was an absolute dream. Perry scored 100, then 150. The journey to reaching 200 was exciting, tense, funny, entertaining and a reflection of her talent and years of hard work. It was such a joy to watch. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Sourced: Cricket Australia

Gemma Bastiani — Sam Mostyn

As a very small fish in the huge pond that is Australian rules footy, I’ve long looked up to Sam Mostyn. Her name isn’t one widely credited with the significant changes she began, but the reality is that the AFLW would not exist right now had it not been for Mostyn’s actions over a decade ago.

In 2005 Mostyn was appointed as the first female AFL Commissioner which in itself made waves. As an intelligent, eloquent member of that commission, she had to push twice as hard for simple things, and when bringing up women’s footy the commission suggested they weren’t interested. It didn’t stop Sam who kept working toward what became the first women’s exhibition match in 2013—the first major step toward a national competition.

Upon the announcement of the official AFL Women’s competition, Mostyn stepped away from the commission and moved across to the Sydney Swans’ board and became involved in the setup of the GO foundation—spearheaded by Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin. This was all while balancing countless other corporate roles and responsibilities.

Sam Mostyn has always pushed hard for social change within the world of footy, something we know the AFL has been resistant to in the past. Her resilience and courage has opened so many doors for women and minorities within the world of footy, and has changed the face of the sport. If I can have even a tenth of the impact Sam Mostyn has, I’ll be pretty chuffed.

Emma Race — Tanya Hosch

I have found it easy to love football’s stories of bravery, redemption and success on the field. The stories from off the field haven’t been so easy to cheer for. Through my life in the “outer” I met Tanya Hosch, General Manager Inclusion and Social Policy from the AFL. She is not just the glue that binds policies and practice of inclusion into the mosaic of football in this country. She is the cement that anchors the pillars of inclusion for generations to come. Tanya’s ability to creatively and tactically foster new pathways to support people and groups from the outer astounds me. Her leadership pushes me to think laterally and act decisively. The challenges she faces must, at times, feel very personal, yet she forges a path to bring people together. Tanya’s legacy to football will be impossible to calculate.  The game I love and the people I care about will benefit from her fingerprints on the league forever. 

Tanya Hosch, Image: Adelaide Advertiser

Emma Race is the co-host and co-creator of both the ABC podcast and radio show The Outer Sanctum and the online AFLW tv show ALL IN. She is the producer of Totally Normal Podcast for Girls and #1 Ticket Holder at the Hawthorn Football Club.

Alyssa Longmuir — Hannah Bevis

Being a woman in ice hockey isn’t easy. Being an Australia woman in women ice hockey analytics some days feels almost impossible. There’s a lot of women who over the past five years have inspired me beyond belief and challenge me, in turn, to believe in myself. Sasky Stuart, Megan Chayka, Alison Lukin, and Madeline Rundlett just to name a few. But the person who stands out the most the person that her support and her believing in me has truly changed my life is Hannah Bevis. 

Related—A beautiful game: the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League finals

Hannah was the founding managing editor of The Ice Garden and on my 21st birthday sent an email that’s changed the course of my life forever. Since then Hannah has covered some of the biggest women’s hockey events across the world, from the world championships to the Olympics and the team USA boycott that shook the landscape of the sport to its core. However, above her writing accolades Hannah is an advocate for so much more than just what happens on the ice and is the type of person who inspires you to be the change you want to see.

Hannah Bevis

Alyssa is a sports analyst and STEM educator with a passion for accessible data in Women’s Sport. Usually found at an ice rink Alyssa is the co-founder of Even-Strength.com and works with the AWIHL, the Newcastle Northstars, and HockeyGraphs.

Mary Konstantopoulos — Alex Blackwell

Alex Blackwell is Australia’s most capped female cricketer and has played more than 250 international games; but this is only one reason I admire her so wholeheartedly.

Back in 2015 before WBBL01, my knowledge of women’s cricket was limited. After picking the Sydney Thunder as my team, I naturally needed to pick a favourite player. As captain, Alex was a natural pick. 

But I later learnt that Alex had made a decision to pursue a career as a full-time athlete, at the expense of being a genetic counsellor, even though at that point the quest towards equal remuneration was in its infancy.

‘Do what you love’ is a phrase so many of us use, but do we put it into practice? Alex embodied this saying as do so many female athletes who do what they love despite the obstacles.

Alex has always been an advocate for being yourself and is a proud gay woman who, since retiring from cricket has coached, entered the commentary space and was the first woman elected to the board of Cricket NSW.

Even in retirement she continues to be a trailblazer and it’s because of her, that my relationship with women’s cricket began. 

Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer and the founder of ‘Ladies who League’ and its various spin-offs.  She also sits on the board of Hockey Australia and is an ambassador for the Full Stop Foundation.

Rana Hussain — Evonne Goolagong-Cawley

I was an 8 year old brown girl, growing up in a white world when I first heard of Evonne Goolagong- Cawley. Evonne wasn’t a household name for any of us growing up in the 90s but a school project led me to her and it blew my tiny child mind that a brown, Australian woman had not only made it, she made it in sport, better than anyone else had ever really made it.

Later when Nova Peris and Cathy Freeman turned up on the scene they weren’t a surprise, quaint or exotic. In my mind they were part of a tradition of strong, brown female athletes, successors in the Evonne Goolagong tradition. Researching the tennis legend was perhaps the first time it occurred to me you could be a national hero even if you were a woman. Even if you were brown. I was raised by a woman who was a trailblazer in her own right, a mother who was a hijab wearing Doctor in an extremely conservative medical industry and a professional in a community where the norm amongst her peers was home making and a high school education (at best). As a child I knew what a trailblazer was, and I recognised it in Evonne.

Without Evonne Goolagong, I don’t, in my formative years see what I think is an Australia that championed people of colour. Without Evonne I don’t form a seed of hope for our relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Without Evonne the seed of thought that has since bloomed in me – the power of sport to bring people together – perhaps doesn’t take root in my own spirit.  

Rana Hussain
Rana Hussain

Rana Hussain is an Inclusion and Diversity specialist, currently working for the Richmond Football Club. She is a podcaster (Our Stripes, The Outer Sanctum Podcast), radio regular, presenter and writer. 

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