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School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism

NETBALL IN AUSTRALIA:

A SOCIAL HISTORY

by

Tracy Taylor

Working Paper No. 2

2001
SCHOOL OF LEISURE, SPORT AND TOURISM

Faculty of Business
University of Technology, Sydney

The Working Paper Series is published by the School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism, UTS, to
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Australia

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ii
Contents

1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

2. Australian netball . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

3. Development up to 1970 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

4. Development of the code . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

5. Tracing the growth and development of women's basketball . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4


State Level . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
National level . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

6. Firstly feminine – a game for <girls'? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7


Built for comfort not speed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Looking like ladies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Social dimensions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
No men allowed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
A new era . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

7. More than just a name change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11


The winds of change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Netball NSW's response . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
National organisational change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Fighting for recognition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

8. Commentary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

iii
1. Introd uction

This working paper discusses the development of to this there was a great deal of confusion
the sport of netball in Australia. The admin- surrounding the exact nature of game, as it was
istration, politics and playing of netball are being played under different names and rules
examined within a socio-historical framework that around the country due to the ad hoc nature of its
incorporates a discussion of gender and social introduction into schools, church competitions and
relations. It will be argued that netball was community leagues. In this paper the nomenclature
designed, promoted and promulgated to enhance that was used during the particular period under
the ideals of a <compliant femininity', a premise discussion is utilised. However, it should be noted
that provided a socially legitimated foundation for that some of the authors quoted in the paper use
netball and positioned it as an accepta ble activity the term <netball' instead of women's basketball
for women and girls. The paper explores the even when referring to the pre-1970 period.
debates surrounding the early development of the The contemporary sport of netball has the
game and its progress, proposing a conceptual highest level of female participation of any team
framework in which to situate netball's emergence sport in Australia. In 1991 a study of national
as the number one team sport for women in this sports participation found that over 185,000 girls
country. and women participated in netball on a weekly
basis and 240,000 participa ted on a monthly basis
2. Aus tralian netb all (Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment,
Tourism and the Territories, 1991). These data are
Netball is played in schools, in community and complemented by a 1995-96 study, which found
state competitions and at representative and that 287,000 females aged 15 years, and over
professional levels across contemporary Australia. played netball in 1995-96 and 285,800 in 1997-98
While growing numbers of men and boys have (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1998). It has been
become involved in netball, it has been historically further documented that netball has increased its
dominated by female involvement in all aspects of participant numbers by 49 per cent between 1975
the game, from players to umpires, coaches and and 1998 (Commonwealth of Australia, 1999).
administrators. Netball is traditionally a winter Table 1 outlines the position of netball in relation
sport in Australia running from April to to other sports played by females aged over 15
September, but there is also a substantial number years.
of summer and night competitions. At the élite
level there are annual national championships each Table 1. Most popular sports/physical
year, in 17 years and under, 19 and under, 21 and activities, females 15 years & over, Australia
under and open age-groups as well as a National Sport 1995/6 1997/8 Change
Disabled Championship. Recently a national <000s
championship was instigated for male teams. An Aerobics 566.3 896.2 +329.9
annual Austra lasian Schools Netball Champion- Netball 287.0 285.8 - 1.8
ship and an International Test Series complement
Tennis 207.2 474.2 +267.0
these events. Netball has operated as a professional
Swimming 153.8 896.0 +742.2
sport since 1997 when the National Netball
League, a female-only competition, commenced. 10-pin bowling 111.1 217.3 +106.2
While the sport is now commonly and Source: ABS, 1998
officially termed netball, this has been a relatively
recent name change from women's basketball. The While these figures may seem to suggest that
title change officially occurred at a 1970 meeting netball has lost popularity and other sports have
of the Council of the All Australia Netball soared in participa tion, it should be noted that the
Association (AANA) in Brisbane (Jobling and data are not directly comparable between the two
Barham, 1988). When the national association collection periods due to a change in data
approved the new na me of netball in its title, all collection procedures. Prior to 1997 <sport' was
member states followed suit and the sport became defined only as organised activity, from 1997
officially known as netball across Austra lia. Pr ior onwards the Australian Bureau of Statistics
2 Tracy Taylor

changed the definition to include all non-organised netball achieved this position of dominance in
activity, so the data included recreational pursuits female team sports is discussed in the following
as well. Many more women informally participate sections of the paper.
in activities as recreation rather than sport. This
explains why recorded participation levels in 3. Development up to 1970
sports such as aerobics, swimming and tennis
increased substantially fr om the 1995/6 to the In seeking to determine the historical course of the
1997/8 figures. development of netball in Australia it was revealed
Australian Bureau of Statistics (1998) data that there is limited research or critical document-
has indicated that, for young girls aged 5-14 years, ation about the game's development. This seemed
netball and swimming were by far the most surprising, given netball's dominant place in the
popular sports or physical activities, with construction and practice of women's sport in
participation rates of 20.5 per cent and 15.0 per Australia. A similar situation has exist ed in New
cent respectively. T he next most popular sports Zealand, where netball is also the largest female
were basketball (8.3%) and tennis (7.7%). It was participation team sport. As in Australia, there has
further estimated that if informal play and been little attention paid to the New Zealand game
competitions are counted that some 750, 000 or one either sociologically or historically (Broomhall,
in seven females (of all ages) in Australia play 1993). General histories of netball, which provide
netball (Otago, 1991). On its official web-site (last descriptive narra tives of key events and person-
updated on March 2000) Netball Austra lia claimed alities in the game, exist but these have focussed
a national membership of over 350,000 and 541 on providing a factual documentation of the game
affiliated associations. Totalling all of the rather than social critique (see Dunbar, 1989;
registered numbers of Netball Australia, there are Netball Victoria, 1994). A socio-historical series
an estimated 1.2 million netball players in of articles about netball was authored by Jobling
Australia, a substantial increase from the 1991 and Barham (1988, 1991, 1992), but these public-
estimates. Internationally netball is played in ations were limited to a generalist overview of the
approximately 50 countries, 45 of which are sport’s development until the 1980s.
affiliated with the International Federation of The lack of netball-specific literature is
Netball Associations (IFNA). compounded by its non-inclusion in general sport
A detailed profile of netball was developed texts. Many of the early works on the history of
for the Austra lian Sports Commission from the Australian sports made little or no reference to this
ABS 1995-1998 Population Survey Monitor game or its participants; instead they focussed on
surveys and related to people over the age of 18 established male-dominated sports, such as the
years. The study concluded that netball various football codes and cricket. When women
participants are predominantly female, Austr alian- were discussed the comments typically focussed on
born, have never married and are employed full- women's achievements in Olympic sports. In
time and on average are aged between 18 and 24 respect of the lack of academic discussion about
years. Australian-born players comprised 91.8 per netball, Darlison (1985) expressed concern that
cent of netball participants (Australian Sports women's netball teams have been hugely successful
Commission, 2000). over the years but their efforts have been largely
Netball is also a major sporting attraction unnoticed outside the netball community. Netball
with over 312,000 estimated spectators attending clearly has been a success story in terms of
netball matches in 1995 (Australian Bureau of national team supremacy. The national Australian
Statistics, 1998). Netball was the only sport for side won the inaugural World Championships in
which significantly more females than males 1963 and dominated the ensuing championships,
attended games (33,600 females and 11,700 males) but received little media or public recognition until
in 1995-96. In the same year, it was estimated that the 1990s. While it could be argued that this
$76.7 million was spent on netball and that the circumstance may be predicated on the narrow
average cost per participant was $233 per annum bases of netball, as it is a sport which is primarily
(Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1998). Just how played in a selected number of Commonwealth
Netball in Australia: A Social History 3

countries, or the fact that it is not a recognised gymnasium exercises. Smith College, an institution
Olympic sport, this argument fails to explain the for women 20 miles from Springfield, intr oduced
amount of attention paid to male sports such as a female version of basketball in 1892. Women's
Australian Rules football which is even more basketball spread across the USA and into Canada
territorially limited than netball. Netball's fight for but its development followed a somewhat different
media attention is discussed in detail later in the path from women's basketball in England and
paper. Australia. The North American game started off
The ensuing discussions outline the historical with netball-like rules but it then evolved to mirror
development of netball in Australia , with a the men's game.
particular emphasis on New South Wales, the state The Australian version of netball traces its
in which the subsequent case study is located. The roots to England. Some sources attr ibute the
information for this section has been obtained from development of women's basketball in England to
primary and secondary sources, including archival an American, Dr Toll, who was visiting Marina
records, newspaper reports, letters and oral Bergman-Osterberg's Physical T raining College in
histories of women involved in the game. This 1895 (Martin, 1977). Madame Osterberg,
material offers comments on the general apparently an autocrat who controlled students'
development of netball. It will also suggest why activities in pra ctica lly every detail, believed that
and how netball became the most popular women's a girl's education should be gear ed to her
team sport in Australia, why men were excluded subsequent role as a mother. She promoted sport
from all spheres of the game for so many years and as training for motherhood and for the delivery of
why women from ethnic minority backgrounds healthy children (Hargreaves, 1985). The modified
have had only a marginal presence in netball. game of women's basketball appealed to her as it
These issues are located within their social context could be played in a manner that retained
and discussed in relation to values and ideologies femininity and decorum. The sport restricted
present in Australia during the corr esponding time physical movements and involved no body contact
period. and therefore was not perceived as a threat to a
woman's reproductive function.
4. Development of the code Another theory on the introduction of
women's basketball to England has suggested that
In the following historical sections the term two English women watched a game of basketball
<women's basketball' is used to refer to what was to at Springfield College and returned home to,
become <netball' in 1970. The precise timing of the <develop a set of rules more suitable for the less
introduction of women's basketball into Australia robust female competitor who, in those days was
is uncertain and largely based on speculation. regarded as a rather frail and timid person' (Smith
Previous research has traced the history of the and Humberstone, 1978:11). Rules were sub-
game in Australia to the tur n of the century, when sequently devised to accommoda te the restrictive
it was thought to have been introduced into female dress of the day, as women's long skirts
primary and secondary schools by teachers from made dribbling the ball and lengthy passes
England (Jobling and Barham, 1988). While the difficult. In consequence, the playing court was
historical roots of women's basketball are divided into three equal parts, with players based
imprecise, it was most certainly derived from the respectively in one of these three sections. The
men's sport of basketball and is a modified form of rules did not permit players to travel the full length
the game. The origins of men's basketball are well of the court. A women's basketball team initially
documented; it was first played in 1891 and comprised either seven or nine players (this varied
codified in 1892 in the USA at Springfield College, between competitions) compared to the five
a physical education training institute in required for men's basketball. T he number of
Massachusetts. Its inventor, a Canadian, Dr James players was increased for the women's game as a
Naismith, was a Young Men's Christian practical way of dealing with the mobility
Association (YMCA) instructor who developed the restrictions faced by women playing the sport in
game to increase the interest of his students in their long skirts and restrictive attire (Dunbar, 1989).
4 Tracy Taylor

Women's basketball arrived on Australian a post 3.05m high. To score, the ball was to be put
shores in various forms, as it had not been through the ring by either the Goal Shooter or Goal
formally codified in England. The first recorded Attack from within the goal circle. A match
women's basketball game was played in 1897 in consisted of four fifteen-minute quarters for
Victoria and included much improvisation; women women and four ten-minute quarters for
used broomsticks for posts and wet paper bags for schoolgirls, with a two-minute break between
baskets (Netball Victoria, 1994). Another early quarters and five minutes at half-time. Teams
variation included the use of washing baskets on change ends after each quarter. Each player has a
poles for goals. A separate pole was then used to designated area on court, determined by his or her
tip the basket to allow the ball to be removed from playing position. A player could catch the ball with
the basket after a goal was scored (Netball one or both hands and had to pass it or shoot for
Victoria, 1994). goal within three seconds (Brown, 1978). Netball
The genesis of women's basketball varied was defined as a non-contact sport, however, in
markedly because the rules were not formally reality there was some physical contact even
documented - they were largely passed on by word though no player was allowed to come into
of mouth. While the early versions of the rules personal contact with an opponent in a way that
varied considerably, women's basketball was would interfere with the opponent's play.
primarily played indoors as it had been in England
(Jobling, 1994). However, by 1899 the game had 5. Tr acing the g rowth and
moved outdoors as indoor playing space was develop ment of w omen's b asketba ll
limited and outdoor play suited the Australian
climate. Due to the uncertainty about the rules, the
State Level
Ling Association of England revised and published
The earliest developments in women's basketball
the first set of rules in 1901 and also changed the
were in the state of Victoria. In Melbourne,
name to netball as the baskets had been replaced
Victoria, girls in primary schools were informally
by rings and nets (Jobling, 1994). Meanwhile in
playing women's basketball by 1913 (Cashman,
Australia the game retained the nomencla ture of
1995). The game spread to secondary schools, and
women's basketball and regional variations
the Young Women's Christian Association
continued with little notice being taken of the
(YWCA) courts, which opened in 1920, recorded
English codification.
hosting formal competitions from their inception
The size of teams varied to include nine-aside,
(Netball Victoria, 1994). The YWCA were to play
seven-aside, six-aside and five-aside versions. As
a critical role in the promotion and development of
a result, attempts to standardise started to occur at
women's sports associations and in encouraging
the national level as early as the 1930s
physical activity during the early part of the
(AAWBBA, 1931). However, these early attempts
twentieth century. Along with independent girls'
by the national association to regulate formal play
schools, the YWCA supported numerous women's
and competitions in each state or association were
sports, from basketball to cricket, providing
only partially successful. Women and girls played
women with the impetus to form independent
by varied sets of rules up until the 1960s. While
associations as well as pr oviding actual sporting
New South Wales officially used the seven-aside
facilities and organising sports competitions. T he
rules, many schools and community groups
ethos underlying this move for greater involvement
playing netball in the state were not formal
of girls and women in sports was based on the
members of any association and various versions
<muscular Christianity' belief that team sports
of the game continued.
could be used to develop upstanding mor al values
National rules were finally established in
and ideals of citizenship. Sports participation was
1963 at the time of the first World Championships.
also accompanied by physical benefits. These
It was decided that netball would be played on a
beliefs were to remain firmly in place for decades
court measuring 30.5m x 15.25m, by teams of
to come; evidenced in 1942 in an article in the Age
seven players. Scoring was to be achieved by
(5 September 1942), in which a sports mistress
shooting a ball through a 380mm ring attached to
Netball in Australia: A Social History 5

from a Melbourne girl's school was reported similarly focussed girls' and youth clubs, also
outlining the importance of schoolgirls' basketball joined together to form competitions.
as a good way in which, <to build good character In Queensland, nine-a-side women's basket-
and make solid citizens who can contribute to this ball was played from 1920 under the banner of the
nation'. Queensland Ladies' Basket Ball Association, which
Women's basketball was an ideal sport for was based in Albert Park, Brisbane (Jobling and
women to play. Being played only by women, it Barham, 1991). In 1929 the Queensland Women's
failed to contest pre-determined male terrain in Basketball Association was set up as a competitor,
either psychological or physical terms. While offering seven-a-side basketball along with a
women's basketball required some physical skills women's cricket association that drew most of its
the sport initially did not require the use of players from the basketball and hockey assoc-
excessive strength, aggression or overt physical iations (Cashman and Weaver, 1991). It is likely
exertion and therefore did not challenge per- that this alliance was formed to provide women
ceptions about the player's femininity. In the early with the opportunity to play a winter sport and a
years games were played on asphalt courts, school summer sport within the same club. In the
grounds and tennis courts, and in church and drill Australian Capital Territory, the first women's
halls. In using these venues for their sport girls and basketball association, called the Canberra Netball
women did not have to compete with male- Association, formed much later, in 1942. This
dominated sports for ovals used for cricket and the association later divided into two district
various codes of football. In keeping women's Associations, Canberra and South Canberra; both
basketball separate from male sports the game was were affiliated with the New South Wales Netball
able to develop independently, unlike many other Association (ACT Netball Association, undated).
sports which women played and that were In a development phase similar to the other
controlled by men's associations. states, women's basketball in New South Wales
While some states adopted the game earlier was initially associated with girls' schools and the
and more enthusiastically than others, women's YWCA in the early 1910s, moving into women's
basketball soon spread across Australia. In leagues in the 1920s. In 1923 the City Girls'
Victoria, Louise Mills and Nonie Hardie from the Amateur Sports Association of New South Wa les
Melbourne Residential YWCA took the first steps became the first recorded association to run
to formalise women's basketball when they formed competitions in Sydney (Hyland, 1987). The
the Melbourne Girls' Basket Ball Association in popularity of the game grew quickly amongst
1922. An active sportswoman, Louise Mills was women and the association rapidly expanded. The
also instrumental in founding the Victorian New South Wales team emerged victorious in the
Women's Cricket Association in 1923, and later first Annual Interstate Basketball competition in
played a role in establishing the Australian 1926 (Hyland, 1987).
Women's Cricket Association (Cashman and Just as the rules and regulations of this
Weaver, 1991). The Melbourne Girls' Basket Ball relatively new game were modified and changed to
Association went on to become the Victorian meet the needs of players and society alike, the
Women's Basketball Association in 1928 when the structure of its administration also evolved to meet
game's popularity spread beyond the confines of the demands of the times. In the 1920s and 1930s
Melbourne into other areas of the state. the New South Wales competition was comprised
In South Australia the game developed of teams and clubs from around the state and
slightly later than in Victoria but by 1937 there games were played in both Saturday and week-
were over 100 teams registered with the South night competitions. In Sydney, the main
Australian Women's Basketball Association, with competitions were played at Moore Park, the
a further 80 teams playing in the United Church Domain and Sydney University. In 1928 there were
Association (Daly, 1994). Independent girls' 43 clubs listed as competing in four grade
schools supplied the largest numbers but other competitions (Dunbar, 1989). On 4 July 1929 the
organisations, such as the YWCA and other City Girls' Amateur Sports Association changed its
name to the New South Wales Women's Basket
6 Tracy Taylor

Ball Association to reflect the prime focus of its National level


activity. At this time the association had some 41 While matches between state representative teams
teams registered (Hyland, 1987:28). The amalgam- had commenced in 1924 and formal interstate
ation into the new association also included competitions were in place by 1926, the creation of
fourteen other teams from the YWCA and an an Australian association did not occur until a few
unspecified number from the Sydney Ba sket Ball years later. The All-Australian Women's Basket-
Association, making a total of approximately 60 ball Association (AAWBBA) was formed in 1927
teams (Dunbar, 1989). Women's basketball was a with the first All-Austra lian championship held in
growing sport for both girls and women. 1928. New South Wales was one of the foundation
In the 1940s and 1950s, as Sydney's pop- states, joining the AAWBBA for its inaugural
ulation expanded westwards, associations at meeting in 1927. Following this na tional alliance,
Parramatta (now Parramatta-Auburn) were interstate carnivals were held each year from 1928,
formed, followed by Manly-War ringah to the except in 1937 when the carnival was cancelled
north. The growth in the ga me further accelerated due to a polio epidemic and in 1940-45 due to
and in 1949 there were 142 teams (with World War II (Dunbar, 1989).
approximately 1400 player s) in the Sydney Although most competitions were pla yed on
metropolitan area. By 1959 this number had Saturdays, states such as New South Wales had
increased and 180 teams were affiliated with the quite active night competitions as well. Night
New South Wales Women's Basket Ball Basketball Associations were initially separate
Association (Dunbar, 1989). from the day associations; however in some states
The New South Wales state association was these were controlled and organised by the parent
restructured in 1968, adopting a new constitution association and others were officially affiliated.
that established districts across the state. Prior to Night Basketball Associa tions also had their own
this only the metropolitan clubs were allowed to constitutions. The Queensland Women's Basket
hold full membership in the New South Wales Ball Association offered both night and day
Women's Basket Ball Association, all other groups competitions. The South Austr alia Night
being classified as associates. These changes Association was a subsidiary of the day
meant that all district associations were now association, New South Wales' Night Association
eligible for full membership and were given equal was an associated member of the day association,
representation on the New South Wales Council. and Victoria operated under two separate bodies.
In New South Wales women's basketball has The day parent association president and secretary
historically been sensitive to and inclusive of were automatically the president and secretary of
women with differing physical abilities. For the Night Association but were not affiliated with
example, deaf women have had a long-standing AAWBBA (Night Carnival Minutes, 1932). In
involvement in the game. Women's basketball was 1940 AAWBBA proposed that Night Basketball
played in the 1930s a t Darlington Deaf School and should be controlled by AAWBBA, with a sub-
there was a team entered in the 1944 New South committee consisting of one member from each
Wales Women's Basket Ball Association state having a night association. A Night
competition (Dunbar , 1989). Originally called the basketball tournament was to be held every year in
NSW Deaf Basket Ball Club, the club changed its the same state as the All Austra lia tournament and
name to the Sydney Deaf Netball Club in 1977. either immediately before or after the All Australia
Additionally, in 1959 the Eastwood Ryde tournament. AAWBBA was adamant that
Association began training the first blind netball constitutions for Night Associations must be drawn
team (Dunbar, 1989). The ball used had a bell up and approved by each state (Night Association
inside, not unlike the popular sports of goal ball Minutes, 1940).
and blind cricket. A separate competition was also A unique aspect of women's basketball in the
organised from the 1960s for girls and women with world of Australian sports was the control that
intellectual disabilities and many hospitals and women had over its management a nd delivery. Men
institutions entered teams. were excluded from holding any formal positions
in the association either as players or
Netball in Australia: A Social History 7

administrators. The female executive of women's the title from a field of eleven countries (Blanch
basketball held steadfast for many years and did and Jenes, 1982). The second tournament was held
not allow men, in any state, to be umpires or hold in Australia in 1967 in Perth and New Zealand
official positions. In 1940 the Queensland won the world title, Australia placed second.
association requested tha t AAWBBA allow two Australia regained the world crown in 1971 in
men to keep their life members badges for their Jamaica and won it again in New Zealand in 1975.
informal service to the sport. A majority voted that At the fifth world tournament in Trinidad in 1979
the men be allowed to keep their badges, however, there was a three-way tie for first place between
they were not to take part in the future Australia, New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago.
management of the Queensland Association. It was Australia won again in 1983 in Singapore and
decided that no other badges would be issued to finished tied for second with Trinidad and Tobago
men in the future (AAWBBA, 1940). When the in Scotland in 1987 with New Zealand taking first
Northern T erritory representative body applied to place. Demonstrating their recent dominance of the
AAWBBA for either state or associate member- game Australia won the world title in 1991, 1995
ship in 1950 the council minutes documented the and again in 1999.
discussions about the Northern Territory
Association's application. It was a contentious 6. Fir stly fem inine – a ga me for
application because the organisation was a
combination of both men's and women's teams and
<girls'?
men held office. AAWBBA therefore suggested
Women's basketball carved out a unique place in
that the Association be informed that only if they
women's sport, particularly until the 1970s. From
ran the women's competition as a separate body,
its introduction to Australia in the late nineteenth
controlled by women officials, would the council
century women's basketball rapidly gained in
give consideration to their status as a state or
popularity in the first part of this century. The
associate member (AAWBBA, 1950).
game was defined as non-contact; the skills
The lack of uniformity in the construction of
required to pla y were perceived as simple and not
the game was soon brought home when Australia
too strenuous and the uniforms were respectable
began to play in overseas competitions. During the
and quintessentially feminine. Middle class women
1948 Austra lian team tour of New Zealand
instilled the sport with qualities that were highly
Australia was forced to compete in both seven-
valued during this epoch (Kirk, 2000).
aside and nine-aside games in Timaru (Rotorua
Consequently, it met with general public
Post, 1948). Austra lia travelled to England to play
acceptance as women's basketball was a sport that
in 1956 and again rule variations caused conflicts
conformed to expectations of the times about
when matches were played between the two
women and sport, as it was not seen as overly
countries. It was not until 1957, in London, that a
competitive or masculine (Jobling and Barham,
meeting was called to try and develop consistent
1991).
international rules and work out the differences as
In her examination of the history of women in
England, USA, Australia and New Zealand were
sports Stell (1991) contended that women's
each operating under different codes. Northern
basketball was introduced to Australia as a more
Ireland, South Africa and Wales were also present
feminine alternative to field hockey, which was
at this historic meeting (AAWBBA, 1957). In
regarded as boyish and rough and therefore not
1960 the first conference of the International
suitable for women or girls. Women's basketball
Federation of Netball Associations was held in
was played in a ladylike fashion and the players
Ceylon. This inaugural conference adopted an
were supposed to be co-operative rather than
international code of rules and resolved to meet
overtly competitive. Such considerations about
every four years afterwards, at which time a
desirable femininity and acceptable behaviours
council meeting and international tournament were
reflected societal attitudes of the era; if women
to be staged (AAWBBA, 1960).
were going to play sport they were best to engage
The first World Championships were played
in a game that accounted for their delicate nature.
in England in August 1963 with Australia winning
8 Tracy Taylor

These arguments are explored in the following cover a large pitch and thus the level of aerobic
sections. exertion could be quite high. The lower level of
strenuous physical activity and absence of any
Built for comfort not speed sanctioned body contact was perceived as a distinct
In pursuing the line of argument about the societal advantage for women's basketball, which was
acceptability of women's basketball, Nauright and viewed as graceful and ladylike.
Broomhall (1994) have suggested that the sport Women's basketball was structured to
was a prime example of a sport that Australian and emphasise teamwork and co-operation, attributes
New Zealand women have been <allowed' to play. that were considered socially appropriate for
This social acceptability was evidenced in the women. Only certain player positions were allowed
widespread approval of women's basketball as a to shoot for goals and players could only have
suitable sport for female players in schools, possession of the ball for a restricted time limit.
churches and industrially sponsored competitions. <Netball because of its rules, ensures, that in the
Nauright and Broomhall asserted that while end, the team reigns a bove the finest individual'
women were involved in designing and promoting (Smith and Humberstone, 1978:12). The team
the sport it was mainly middle-class Anglo-Celtic sport philosophy was evident in the rules that
women, operating under the presumption that assigned each player a role and defined space on
women's basketball should retain its compliant the court so that no one player can dominate the
feminine character who dominated the game's game. Recent rule changes have eased on these
development. Furthermore, they contended that requirements, just as general society has become
public permission to participate in this sport was more flexible about restraints on acceptable female
readily forthcoming from its beginnings because behaviour.
women's basketball was seen to complement the Dimensions of co-operation and support,
dominant conceptions of proper female physical along with the absence of sanctioned body contact
activity. It did not constitute a challenge to the and uniforms that were designed to retain a definite
gender order or conventional perceptions of feminine quality, were used by promoters of the
femininity. It has also been suggested that women game throughout the decades to encourage a wide
played the sport merely for enjoyment, for physical variety of <mainstream' women to play women's
activity, to obtain some independence and to secure basketball. These specific considerations were
a break from household activity (Muir and employed to keep the game aligned with popular
Romanos, 1985). These analyses suggest that conceptions of middle class femininity. As an early
women's basketball gave women the space to play publication on the game stated, <good temper,
sport while remaining within the confines of a pluck, determination, extreme agility of mind and
<compliant femininity'. body, are traits universally found among Net-Ball
The argument of this paper is that initial players, and best of all perhaps, that inexpressibly
design and the premise of being a sport specifically happy attitude, espr it de corps' (Grieve, 1916:32).
for women shaped the subsequent growth in There were some gaps between the passion
popularity of women's basketball. This design was and commitment of the early organisers to develop
based on meeting the perceived needs of women the game within an acceptable and respected
but staying within the confines of their social middle class fr amework of expectation and the
context. It is quite evident that the game's designers practice and perceptions of women's basketball.
and advocates aimed to explicitly address the These were between the stated ideal and practiced
requirements of middle class women who wished to reality. Despite organisers' attempts to quell public
publicly engage in physical activity. The appeal of disquiet about women playing sport through the
women's basketball was clearly located in the design of a game they felt met societal
description of the para meters of the game, <it lasts expectations, early attitudes about female
only 30 minutes, that is less than half as long as
hockey: so that many girls who find hockey beyond
their strength benefit by, and thoroughly enjoy it'
(Martin, 1977:2). Field hockey required players to
Netball in Australia: A Social History 9

sportswere tinged with scepticism. A newspaper 1 shout and carry on while engaging in the sport.
headline from 1926 proclaimed <Women play The rules of the game were changed to meet
basketball result: Four taken to Hospital'. The text expectations about proper conduct of women in a
of the article implied that playing sport was a public forum.
dangerous preoccupation for women and those
who played did so at their own peril. Two years Looking like ladies
later a 1928 circular from the Sydney City Girls Starting with the first ga mes played, the public
basketball competition included this statement appearance of players and the associated dress
about the expected behaviour of female players in requirements of women's basketball were taken
a public place: very seriously by officials and standards were
rigorously applied. Photographs from the 1920s to
A Warning: Any girl speaking to onlookers the 1930s show the players' uniform as compr ising
in the Domain will be asked to leave the Field a stylish broad headband, belted tunic falling to the
… There will be a policeman present to knee, a white blouse under the tunic and dark
prohibit any conversation by onlookers. stockings. In Victoria, the initial uniform was a
navy blue tunic that fell below the knee, a blouse,
Such sentiments were an indication that the tie and black stockings and in the 1940s the
organisers of the game felt that the moral stockings were replaced by socks (Netball
reputation of women playing sport needed to be Victoria, 1994). The Women's Night Basketball
closely guarded. Women and girls were allowed to Association of Victoria (WNBBAV) stipulated
play women's basketball but within the confines of that uniforms must be eight inches above the
societal expectations. Steps were continually taken ground when kneeling and that, <all girls must wear
to ensure that an acceptable feminine aspect of the a blouse and matching underwear ' (WNBBAV,
game remained intact. 1960). Each local and state association had its own
The 1930 minutes of an Executive meeting of rules about colour and length of skirt, which were
the AAWBA stated that, <our girls should always strictly enforced. The regulation of proper and
be well presented and demonstrate good manners acceptable attire was central to the sport's image
in public'. The <girls'2 referred to in the minutes and was subject to much debate and discussion
were actually women players. It was common in throughout the century. The game's central
this era to refer to women players as <girls', thereby administra tion held a conservative line until the
maintaining the authority of the organisers. In a late 1980s when a move into commercialism
1931 executive meeting of the AAWBA a motion signalled a monumental shift in its ideological
was passed that requir ed players to be silent during stance.
the course of a game. The documented discussion, While the official unifor m rules were
which accompanied the motion, affirmed that the inherently conservative, it has been noted that there
executive felt that women's basketball should be was some player resistance to strict compliance.
designated as a silent game where only the captain The Age (1961) reported that a number of Perth
was allowed to speak. The executive stated that residents had complained about the length of the
they did not think it was <lady-like' for players to players' uniforms worn in a local competition. As
a result, the Western Australian Women's
Basketball Association took action the following
1
week; armed with tapes they measured every
The article was included in archival participant's uniform at the competition.
material of the Queensland Netball Association with
no reference to the newspaper title. Representatives checked the uniform length for the
regulation seven inches from the ground when
2
This terminology is common whereby the kneeling. In response to the public criticism the
official administration documentation refers to Association's president reported, with apparent
women's basketball and th en netball players as <our distain, that <of the 150 teams measured yesterday
schoolgirls' or <our girls' un til the 1980s, only 10 were passed'. She was clearly upset by the
symbolising that players should be subservient to many breeches of dress protocol.
officials.
10 Tracy Taylor

Bushby and Jobling (1985) have suggested clearly evident that many of the women involved in
that during these years looking like a <lady' was women's basketball took their par ticipation and the
essential for women's basketball players. Debates competitive side of the sport quite seriously. These
about the appropriateness of the attire worn by women did not consider playing women's
women engaging in sport and physical activity had basketball a mere diversion from their <womanly
plagued every sport since women first took to the responsibilities' and a number of committed women
playing fields. The cumbersome outfits that women dedicated their entire lives to playing, coaching and
were expected to wear in the late nineteenth and administering the game.
early twentieth centuries severely restricted their However, it would appear that the majority of
participation in many sports and inhibited their women who played women's basketball were
movement and competitiveness. These restr ictive attracted to the sport because it had an obvious
dress requirements were the prime reason the game recreational component and it was a game that
of basketball had been modified for women in the fitted comfortably into middle class social
first place (Cashman, 1995). The prescriptive acceptability. Players did not need to be outwardly
dress regulations that were evident in the athletic or overtly strong to play in social
regulation of women's basketball were not competitions. It has been suggested that, <netball is
dissimilar to cricket (C ashman and Weaver, 1991), a game that can be played by women of all shapes,
cycling associations (Hess, 1998), golf (Stoddart, sizes and aptitudes ... netball is the game of a
1995), surf-life saving (Booth and Tatz, 2000), lifetime you can start at eight and still be playing
swimming (Raszeja, 1992), tennis (Kincross- in your fifties' (Smith and Humberstone, 1978:14).
Smith, 1995) and other sports. Cashman and In addition, women's basketball was only played
Weaver (1991) observed that more media words by females and this provided the game with a
have been written on the clothing of women broad appeal. It meant that girls and women
playing cricket than their sporting ability in the players did not face the same social resistance to
initial years of women's cricket. This public playing women's basketball that confr onted women
fixation and control of appropriate female attire in who played less conventional female spor ts. As
sports has been the subject of much feminist many women discontinued playing women's
analysis and related to issues of self-identity, basketball when they had children it was not
oppression and exploitation of women in sports (as perceived as interfering with their family or
previously outlined in Section 2.5.3). The domestic responsibilities (Broomhall, 1993). In
dissension caused by female dress requirements interviews with players from the 1920s and 1930s
has been the focus of detailed gender relation it was reported that young single women
analyses (Simpson, 1993). It has been suggested dominated the game, and many women entered into
that during the initial years of Australia n sports the teams that were supported by their church, school
sporting attire worn by women also acted to or place of work (Duncan, 1994). This structure of
symbolise their inferiority as well as contributing involvement facilitated a large decline in player
to their restricted activity (Stoddart, 1986). numbers as women made the transition from
Therefore, while women's basketball strictly school to work and from work to marriage and
regulated the attire of its players the stipulations children.
were neither more conservative nor more liberal Although obviously influential, the early role
than those found in most other sports of the era. of workplace-based teams in the development of
women's basketball has been lar gely
Social dimensions undocumented. It is evident from the records of the
Bushby and Jobling (1985) have suggested that, New South Wales Women's Basket Ball
for the majority of Australian women, sports were Association on Sydney competitions that a
perceived to be a pleasant social outing or a substantial number of businesses supported teams
diversion from home-making duties until the from the 1940s onwards. Companies such as
1970s. However, exploring the archival documents Myer, Unilever, Rothmans, Esanda and Fletcher
of the state sport associations of women's Jones appear to have regular ly entered teams in
basketball spanning the years up to 1970, it is competitions, and encouraged their female
Netball in Australia: A Social History 11

employees to be physically active. Many A new era


workplaces required women to resign when they Women's basketball was faced with a different set
married and this impacted on the basketball of challenges when a new era of heightened
involvement of women who played for work teams. awareness about gender issues in sports emerged in
In general terms, workplace teams appeared to be the 1970s. Sporting opportunities for women
much more prominent in larger cities. Country and increased and a lar ger ra nge of physical activities
rural areas fostered club systems and church-based became accessible. This, combined with the
competitions. Club, church and work teams were growing professionalisation of sports, meant that
all exclusively female. women's basketball was forced into a new phase of
development. It had to adapt to the changing
No men allowed environment or lose its position as the number one
The official exclusion of men from women's female team sport in Australia. A substantial
basketball was ingrained in AAWBBA's con- component of the game's early success was
stitution and underpinned its ideological stance. attributable to the limited opportunity for
Despite constant pressure to change the AAWBBA schoolgirls and women to choose other sports that
executive held steadfast to a women-only policy were regarded as acceptably feminine. However,
for over 50 years. It was not until the 1970s that these limitations disappeared as the women's
men were allowed to hold formal positions within movement gained momentum and women began to
the member associations. This female-only policy make choices that contested long-standing notions
made women's basketball unique, as it was of gender relations. Sports orga nisations also faced
exclusively female from its players through to its a period of striking change. Many sports shifted
top coaches and administrators. In retaining its their focus from amateur based, grass-roots
gender exclusivity women's basketball was able to philosophies and began to adopt professional and
offer girls and women the rare opportunity to market-driven approaches. The intersection of
control and shape the direction of a sport. these ideological shifts produced a nexus that
Although it could be argued that women's softball would dramatically reposition women's basketball
found itself it a similar position, softba ll never as a <new' sport called netball.
achieved the level of mass pa rticipation achieved
by women's basketball. 7. More than just a name change
The women who organised and directed the
development of women's basketball positioned it in The 1970s signa lled the beginning of a new era for
the mainstream. The sport was reliant on its social women's basketball as it moved away from its
acceptability for continued growth as it had aligned roots as an amateur and volunteer-run organis-
the rules, dress and ideological basis of the game ation, and began to restructure into a profess-
within a framework that did not directly challenge ionally administered spor ting organisation.
social mores or male superiority in sports. Women's basketball administrators moved to
Women's basketball perpetuated an image of promote the sport's image and profile to a broader
acceptability through public compliance to section of the community. During the early part of
femininity expectations within its performative the 1970s Australian sports had the possibility of
spaces. While general discourses of sports are securing funds from a substantially increased
dominated by male superiority claims, women's federal government-funding scheme. However,
basketball was able to create its own discourse that each sport had to demonstrate that it had both
acted to largely exclude men. In managing the lines national appeal and the potential to grow if it was
of connectivity between actions and justifications, to attract any of these funds. Male-dominated
women's basketball was able to capture and retain sports appeared better positioned to capitalise on
female constituents from <middle' Australia and in the new funding opportunities due to their high
doing so increased its member base beyond that of levels of media exposure. Women's basketball did
all other female team sports. not have a national club competition, they had few
corporate sponsors, and it was not an Olympic
sport. The focus over the previous 70 or so years
12 Tracy Taylor

had been the grass roots participation of women began with six courts in 1969, but six months later
and girls in the sport, and while the Australian the number of courts used doubled to
team were extremely successful in international accommodate demand and by the end of 1970 there
competitions, the media coverage they received were 18 courts in use. The Ku-ring-gai District
was minimal (Dunbar, 1989). Women's basketball listed 63 teams and 520 player s when they
was in danger of becoming marginalised in this commenced competition play in 1969. By 1978
new economically-based, globally-focussed sports there were 235 teams with 1,600 players and by
environment. The administration recognised that a 1987 some 2,700 players were registered (Dunbar,
change in operations was necessary if netball was 1989). This growth was repeated across the state
to successfully manage the change process (Jobling where the game attracted record numbers of
and Barham, 1988). One response was a na me players.
change instigated at the 1970 Council meeting in The massive increase in players, clubs and
Brisbane; the sport became known as the All competitions facilitated a change in the way netball
Australia Netball Association (AANA). All was administered. The <kitchen table' approach of
member states immediately followed suit and years past could not cope with the increased
changed their official titles to <netball' in place of demands that were being placed on the previously
women's basketball (Jobling and Barham, 1988). all volunteer-run administration (Hyland, 1987).
The change of name was to mark the start of more Netball moved into a new period of expansion and
dramatic changes to netball's amateur structure professiona lisation tha t not only marked a shift in
and focus. the administration but also a change to the public
image and promotion of the game. The Victorian
The winds of change Women's Basketball Association was among the
The feminist movement of the 1970s cha mpioned first to introduce salaried staff positions when it
the cause of women's rights and greater equality of hired a full-time salaried secretary at the state level
opportunities for women. In response, governments in 1969 (VWBBA minutes, 1969). The national
at both the state and federal level instituted policies office soon followed suit and in 1978 Helen
to encourage greater female involvement in sports. Edmunds-Jones was hired to the newly crea ted
The Australian Sports Commission established a post of National Development Officer. This was
Task Force for Women in Sport in the 1980s that the beginning of a huge paradigm shift in netball
provided the basis for a number of government operations. While many women involved in netball
initiatives concerned with increasing the level of welcomed the change, it was strongly resisted by
female sports participation. These were followed others and a number of power battles were soon to
by the Department of the Arts, Sport, the envelop the sport.
Environment and Territories, Access and Equity
Plan 1991-1992 to 1993-1994 and the Australian Netball NSW's response
Sports Commission (ASC) Access and Equity As the first step in the change process the New
Plan 1991-1994 and the Active Women: National South Wales Women's Basketball Association
Policy on Women and Girls in Sport, Recreation officially changed its name to the New South
and Physical Activity, 1999-2002. Wales Netball Association in 1970. This coincided
Substantial growth in women's sports with the national body's name change and provided
occurred as public funds were made available for the organisation with a new sense of purpose and
the development of new facilities across the direction for state netball (Hyland, 1987). The
country. In particular, new housing estate areas association began a program of change that
were built with community sporting facilities as comprised three initiatives. First was the
dictated by changes to state planning legislation. identification and development of talented players.
These were quickly filled with netball teams and An elite level Inter-District competition was
competitions. In New South Wales alone the introduced in 1970 with six associations
number of districts affiliated with the New South represented. In 1978 this was expanded to two
Wales Netball Association grew from 41 in 1968 grades, and by 1985 four divisions were in
to 98 by 1979. The Ca sino District, for example, operation. Second, the association moved to
Netball in Australia: A Social History 13

replace the older women who had controlled the support many of the new directions and tensions
game for many years with new younger, prof- were apparent between the old and new guard. The
essional administrators. Organisational changes All Australia Netball Association (AANA) decided
were made at a rapid pace after nearly 50 years of to pursue a strategy of commercialisation,
relative stability in the administration of the game sponsorship and expansion of netball into the new
and for the first time men were permitted to professionalism of sports in 1978. In this
assume official roles in netball organisations. This restructured administration the AANA employed
meant stalwarts such as Anne Clarke were their first Executive Officer and opened a national
encouraged to retire to make way for a younger office. The first salaried National Executive
and more professional cadre of sports Director hired in 1978 r esigned not long into her
administra tor (pers comm. Dunbar, 1997). Anne term because of problems with the commitment of
Clarke had been the driving force behind the New the Management Committee to the new direction
South Wales Women's Basket Ball Association and over concerns about her contract (AANA, Feb
and an influential figure in the game since 1929. 1980). Long-standing official Dorothy McHugh
She had held various positions in the association recalled the many challenges faced by the first
and was an office bearer with netball for 50 years executive officer:
until 1979. After a 29-year term as President of the
New South Wales Association she was forced to ... when she (the Executive Officer) got out
resign due to an age clause in the Companies Act there in the corporate sector, they didn't know
(Hyland, 1987). The end of her term coincided what netball was about. It took her six
with the end of an era of volunteer administr ation months to build up an awar eness of netball.
and organisation. Well once that started to roll, we didn't ever
The third platform of change was to re- look back. You needed the professional paid
position netball in the commercial sphere of sports. people there, and in turn, All Australia
The New South Wales State Association exploded, and the states couldn't keep up with
headquarters, along with other state sporting it, because they were all working in a
bodies, moved into Sports House in The Rocks in voluntary sort of way (in Duncan, 1994:56).
July 1978. The association became incorporated as
a company limited by guarantee in February 1979. The vote was taken during debate about the contr ol
In September of that same year the Minister that the newly appointed administrator was
responsible for sport, Ken Booth, laid the exercising over the sport and the direction that
foundation stone for the State Netball netball was heading. The job descriptions of the
Headquarters at Wyatt Pa rk, Auburn. The Anne National Secretary and the National Executive
Clarke Netball Centre was officially opened on 11 Officer were revised to ensure that key decision-
October 1980 with over 800 people in attendance making power was not placed in the hands of
(Dunbar, 1989). New South Wales Netball sala ried staff members. The National Secretary
Association then hired its first paid employees in was deemed responsible for day-to-day admin-
1980; these included an Executive Director, Peter istration and operation of the AANA office,
Epov; Manager, Robert Whitton; and Director of supervision and performance of office staff,
Coaching, Margaret Corbett. It was the first time prepar ation of submissions for government and the
men had been appointed in an official capacity in co-ordination and evaluation of approved
the New South Wales Netball Association. These programs. The National Executive Director was to
initiatives shifted netball away from its origins as control finance and sponsorships, media liaison,
a totally volunteer-administered female sport a nd prepar ation of development programs, represent
repositioned it in the new era of global sports the Association at events, assist member assoc-
organisations. iations and manage AANA Sport Trading.
Although the impetus for these decisions was not
National organisational change apparent from the Council minutes a financial
At the national level the transition process was not crisis was reported in 1982 and this appeared have
smooth. The National Council members did not facilitated the restructure. In a report to the
14 Tracy Taylor

Management Committee, sub-titled <Financial the All Australia Netball Association Helen
Crisis' (AANA, 1982), the National Executive Edmunds-Jones (1982:3) elaborated on this media
Director expressed concern about the current challenge:
financial operations.
Initia tives and strategies to instigate change ....it soon become evident that, to a large
were pursued. A former player Keeley Devery extent, future success of our five year
commented, <It's getting more professional, it development plan did rely heavily on
certainly needs to, and I guess its becoming more publicity and sponsorship. To a virtually
of a business, and it certainly has to when you're unexposed sport, this meant that media
talking million dollar sponsorships. You can't people had to be impressed, educated in the
operate like a tea and scones brigade' (in Duncan, fundamentals of the game and inspired to
1994:15). Sponsorship deals were actively sought report to readers, viewers and listeners.
to fund the new initiatives. However, gaining
greater sponsorship funding seemed to elude While the commercial strategies of AANA
AANA and they blamed this failure on the lack of achieved limited results, the perceived legitimacy
media coverage (AANA, 1983). AANA were of netball as a sport was further advanced in 1981
especially disappointed at the media coverage for when the Austra lian Institute of Sport in Canberra
the Sixth World Tournament in Singapore (1983 selected netball as one of the eight sports to receive
Minutes of Management/Finance Committee April federal government funding for a new sports
15-17, 1983). The Australian press did not send scholarship scheme. Furthermore, in 1984 AANA
any reporters to cover the event and it was left to proposed the creation of an indoor competition,
the Reuters Bureau in Singapore to send stories Super League, to promote netball throughout
back to Australia. AANA decided that local Australia. The teams suggested were New South
pressure on media cha nnels was needed and Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia,
member associations were to begin media Western Australia and the Australian Institute of
campaigns. As the minutes recorded (1983:232), Sport. ESSO Australia was the first major sponsor
<letters, telephone calls from State, District, of the competition. It was decided to test the
associated associations, clubs, teams and competition in 1985 after the Nationa l
individuals are essential to convince the media Championship to create spectator interest and gain
moguls (mostly male) 3 that a World Netball greater television coverage (February 1985,
Tourna ment is a sporting event worth reporting'. Management Committee minutes). In recognition
Efforts to lobby the media did not yield many of the growing need to support and develop elite
dividends and netball continued to be considered a level netball players AANA also established trust
marginal sport in terms of media coverage. Anne funds for players in 1986, enabling players to
Sargeant (1989), a player in the 1983 competition, retain their amateur status and allowed them
reflected on the lack of media and public attention access to financial assista nce when playing
when the team returned victorious from Singapore commitments impeded employment. The first-fully
and stated that she felt very upset at the time. funded Director of Umpiring was hired in 1992.
Netball Victoria (1994) subsequently commiss- Adding to its enhanced status, and some twenty
ioned research on the media coverage of netball years after lodging its first application, netball was
and found that just 17.5 hours of netball was recognised by the International Olympic
shown on ABC television in 1986. AANA were Committee allowing national association access to
worried that the low level of media coverage would membership of their country's National Olympic
be a major barrier to the sport's progress. It began Committee in 1993. At the 1998 Commonwealth
a concerted effort to rectify the situation. Games in Kuala Lumpur, the Australian netball
Reflecting on her role as the Executive Director for team competed in a full medal sport for the first
time.

3
This note about males was in the original
document.
Netball in Australia: A Social History 15

Fighting for recognition netballers to be recognised for their skill and


The new place of netball in Australian and world athleticism and was opposed to suggested changes
sports provided the incentive for a determined to the uniform that incorporated lycra bodysuits
campaign to obtain greater media coverage the and colourful patterns (Smithers and Appleby,
sport. Those involved in the game felt that it was 1996). The game's administr ator s however
unfair that netball lost out to the dominant male otherwise and introduced tight-fitting uniforms.
sports, especially as the Australian netball team The publicity campaign exploited feminine
was consistently in the top three countries in world sexua lity to a moderate degr ee.
championships and had an extraordinary lar ge Evidence of such moves to make the game
player base. However, inadequate media coverage and its players more appealing was a photograph
was not just limited to netball; women's sport in of the Australian netball team in black dresses with
general was receiving little attention. As a response a single leg exposed, captioned as <Belles of the
to this problem the Australian Sports Commission (net)Ball' and accompanying text asks: <Who are
published Women, Sport and the Media (1985) a these leggy ladies? Are they international models
report that called for greater coverage of women's set to knock Elle Macpherson off the catwalk?'
sport. Australian media coverage of Australian (The Advertiser (Adelaide) 19 May 1992:53).
netball finally came of age on 13 July 1991 Linda Pearce of the Sunday Age (7 March
(Smithers and Appleby, 1996). This was when 1993:39) reported in her article <Netball looking to
Australia won the World Netball Championships bright year' that pr ofessional make-up artists,
over New Zealand before a Sydney crowd of hairstylists and fashion designers were brought in
12,000. This was netball's fir st achieved to glamorise the national players. Netba ll
breakthrough in terms of national identity, pride magazines, such as Netball NSW and Netball:
and greater national media coverage. In a reflective Australia's National Magazine, have since been
article on the media coverage of netball Sunday introduced and focus attention on both the
Age reporter Linda Pearce (8 May 1994) observed technical ability of players as well as the more
that the inter est of her sports-writing colleagues social elements of their lives. Despite these media
about netball was usually minimal, however this advances, the overall coverage of netball remained
situation changed after the 1991 World Champion- limited compared to sports such as racing, cricket
ship final. Former player Keeley Devery remarked, and the various football codes. In their study of
<After the Wor ld Championships it really turned sport marketing Shilbury, Quick and Westerbeek
around. I mean certainly we are not getting the (1998) noted that netball, along with other sports
coverage that we think we should be getting, but as such as hockey and bowls, receive irregular media
far as women's sport goes in Australia we're coverage in Australia. Cashman (1995) further
looking pretty good' (in Duncan, 1994:9). The pointed out that netball, despite its large player
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) began base, has str uggled to get television coverage yet
regular match coverage with the Mobil Super has continued to grow without its assista nce. This
League in 1991. Netball finally received sustained lack of media coverage was not dissimilar to
media exposure. In 1995, the national association softball, another sport dominated by women. The
adopted the business name of Netball Australia. evolution of media coverage for netball parallels
The name change was to facilitate an update of that of softball, which was almost nil until the
netball's media image and to increase its 1996 Olympics when <the United States won the
marketability. first Olympic gold medal for women's fast pitch
The constant struggle for greater media softball but through the media Australia won the
coverage caused a great deal of internal dissension world' (Embrey, 1997:74). Softball has achieved
in the netball ranks. It was felt in some quarters some benefit from its status as an Olympic sport,
that the game needed to be <sexier' if it was going though increased media exposure has been largely
to gain wider public attention. However, long-time confined to the Olympic year.
advoca tes such as the then national coach Joyce Not all media coverage of netball has been
Brown felt there was little need for the use of frills positive. In an article in the Sydney Morning
and lace to promote netball. She fought for women Herald Lisa Olsen provided a scathing attack on
16 Tracy Taylor

netball. She asked the question <What is this sport became increasingly crucial to its continued
still doing in the 90s?' and answered it by saying <It viability. Netball officials recognised that the sport
looks like a chapter straight out of that ridiculous needed to make itself more marketable. Geary
new book, "The Rules, on how to catch a man". (1995) has debated whether moves to
Somewhere between Rule 3 (Don't Stare at Men or commercialisation would ultimately benefit netball
Talk Too Much) and Rule 17 (Act Dumb Even If or women's sport. She speculated that profess-
You Know the Answer), I expect to find a new ionalising netball might help challenge traditional
rule: If You Must Sweat, Choose a Non- structures, which have reinforced sport as a site of
threatening Activity Like Netball or Cheerleading.' exploitation and subordination of women. On the
Although Olsen was wrong when she attributed the other hand there was a danger that such moves
rules of netball to Dr James Naismith4 she did would represent conformation to a male model of
offer some observations about the game that reflect sport and merely perpetuate a masculine hegemony
its status as a sport favouring a <compliant of capitalist rationality and female discrimination.
femininity'. Broomhall (1993) argued in favour of the latter,
that in striving for greater internationalisation,
I may be wrong here, but it seems to me that aiming for Olympic competition, and trying to
this is a sport that was conceived by a man, attract sponsorship, women have moved netball
natch, who believed females were weak and
fragile dolls, ones that didn't perspire, but closer to a male model of competitive and
glowed. They obviously didn't have the aggressive sport.
stamina to run full court, so this man, the Another perspective on professionalisation is
esteemed inventor of basketball - divided it the corporate reinforcement of a women's sport
into three parts in order to prevent those that promotes feminine qualities. A case in point
sweet young things from becoming too
exhausted. was when the Queensland Netball Association
(QNA) announced a $1 million deal with Chevon
They weren't co-ordinated enough to move and Furnishers in 1991. Chevon stated that their
shoot at the same time, so he decreed they would philosophy in supporting the QNA was that they
have to come to a full stop before aiming at the <felt the community lacked a structure which
goal, thus guaranteeing a lifetime of knee injuries. encouraged the social development of young
They were too delicate for all that bumping and women' (Brisbane Courier Mail, 1991). The
jostling, so he decided a defender must stand arms company obviously felt that netball was an avenue
length from a shooter, thus guaranteeing about as for girls to learn and demonstrate appropriate
much action under the net as a knitting contest. feminine behaviour. Also, as Keely Devery has
Stereotypical comments about netball and its pointed out, <our Mobil league is a flashier
standing as a real sport have not been infrequent. competition so that teams have come out in new
Adair and Vamplew (1997) suggested that many gear, flashier gear … I guess that's made us look
Australian males believed that netball is a female more appealing, without losing the femininity of
game that requires little commitment or courage the game … you can still stay very feminine, and
and did not see it as serious sport. However, Adair be a sportswoman' (in Duncan, 1994:7).
and Vamplew (1997:59) contended that this In moving netball into the professional sphere
stereotype is far r emoved from reality as, <netball the national body has had to make decisions that
may be a non-contact sport but particularly at have not always been popular within the sport as
international level the game is highly demanding, has been the case in many other sports. Netball
both physically and mentally'. Australia fuelled a huge debate in 1996 by
As netball became more reliant on proposing changes to the existing national league.
sponsorship and headed to professional sport the Newspaper headlines such as <Clubs in turmoil
amount and type of media coverage it received amid fierce backlash against radical changes'
(Sydney Morning Herald 22 March 1996:16) and
<State League future hangs in balance' (Herald Sun
27.3.96:80) typified the coverage. These sent-
4
The origins of the spor t are outli ned iments were fuelled by an AANA announcement of
earlier in this chapter.
Netball in Australia: A Social History 17

a 1997 National Netball League of eight teams Netball has also been resistant to other tr ends
playing two preliminary r ounds and a final series. in merchandising female sexuality in sports. In
This signalled a move away from club to state recent years both male and female athletes have
teams with all teams were to be named after birds, posed in rather revealing photographs for books,
Adelaide Falcons, Adelaide Ravens, Melbourne such as in the black and white Atlanta Dreaming
Kestrels, Melbourne Phoenix, Perth Orioles, (1996) publication and the Golden Girls of Sport
Queensland Firebirds, Sydney Eagles and Sydney Calendar (1994), which were produced to provide
Swifts. The responsibility for revenue and Australian female athletes competing in Atlanta an
marketing was allocated to The National Netball entrée to media coverage. These publications have
League (NNL) Pty Ltd. The choice of team names been the source of academic debate and analysis
may lend support to the contention that the game about gendered bodies a nd the social construction
seeks to retain its association with feminine images of masculinity and femininity in the media.
of the sport, which at the same time stress grace. Mikosza and Phillips (1999) concluded that the
However, it is unfortuna te that the term <birds' is Golden Girls calendar articula tes a masculine
an unflattering Australian slang term for women versus feminine dichotomy that works against
and girls. The justification for bird names was sportswomen, denigrates their athleticism and
based on the argument that other sporting codes reinforces stereotypical feminine models of sport.
have not over-exposed this grouping. Netball In late 1999 the Australian women's soccer
Australia claimed that <Birds also displa y grace, team, the Matilda's, followed the golden girls' lead
speed and strength, attributes displayed by elite and posed in nude for a calendar to promote their
netballers'. While it can be reasoned that using bird sport. Sports Today (27 November 1999) quotes
names gave the NNL Pty Ltd the opportunity to one of the players, Amy Taylor, as saying that she
establish identifiable team logos, mascots and appeared in the calendar to prove to people that
merchandising, the overexposure claim is difficult female soccer players are not necessarily all butch
to substantiate. Within Australian sport there are and masculine. This is further evidence of the
the Sydney Swans, Adelaide Crows, the former pressure on female athletes to prove that they are
manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, Wollongong Hawks, not <masculine' and that they fit mainstream
Gippsland Falcons and Newcastle Falcons, societal expectations of femininity. In the same
spanning men's Australian Rules, rugby league, magazine article netball player Liz Ellis
soccer and basketball. commented that it was a shame that female athletes
In other domains of women's professional had to go to such lengths to prove their femininity.
sport the Australian Women's National Basketba ll Ironically, in early 2000 the Australian netball
League has chosen to use a mixture of names such team refused an offer to remove their clothes for a
as Adelaide Lightning, Perth Breakers, Dandenong calendar. It was reported that the team had voted
Rangers, Melbourne Tigers, and the Sydney decisively against such a move (Sydney Morning
Flames. Netball New Zealand's teams include the Herald, April 2000). The Age (May, 2000) ran the
Otago Rebels, Southern Sting, Canterbury Flames, headline <Taking a stand for skill over skin this
Auckland Diamonds, Northern Force and the calendar year'. A Sports Today (21 April 2000)
Waikato Wildcats. These are all names that are article claimed that a number of the players were
seemingly much less <graceful' and convey less pressured to pose in the nude during the calendar
feminine images than those the NNL ha ve settled shoot. The sessions had to be re-shot when netball
upon. It may be that netball is remaining true to its officials stepped in to veto any nude pictures.
roots in choosing names that portray a softer more
feminine image that is also competitive without 8. Commentary
being masculine or overtly aggressive. Or netball
officials may have preferr ed a coherent set of In chronicling the history of netball in Australia it
brand symbols, whereas other sports have a motley has been argued that the structure and delivery of
assortment of birds, animals, vehicles, place this sport can be broadly interpreted as symbolic of
names, colours and even saints. societal expectations of women and sports.
Societal conventions have governed both appear-
18 Tracy Taylor

ance and actions of women in sports, the sports abilities, not just as players, but as coaches,
they played and how they played these sports. The umpires and administrators.
rules of netball, its administration and development Herein lies the paradox of netball, has it been
have all promoted the social practice of a an avenue of emancipation or one of restriction or
<compliant femininity'. According to the rules of both? Have its participants contested societal
the game, players were constrained to a certa in expectations of women in sport or accepted a
space and cannot roam the whole court; they can compliant adherence by restricting the game to
only take two steps and then must pass the ball. women only for so many years? Have the players
Although they may be in full flight, running hard, accepted and agreed with conservative official
they must abruptly stop when they reach the rules and regulations or have they been able to
defined boundaries they are allowed to operate develop a form of resistance from within the sport?
within. Players are required to contribute their fair This thesis suggests that to categorise netball
share to netball's operation by umpiring other participation in one extr eme position or another
games in the competition. Dress requirements are would oversimplify the complexities of the sport
still strictly prescribed. Furthermore, netball was and ignore the fact that women and girls may
defined as a silent game, players were encouraged appropriate netball in various ways.
not to shout or be overly loud when playing. The Netball players do not necessarily believe that
negotiation of these boundaries and the way in they are playing a <soft' sport that is par ticularly
which women have used the spaces created by their less athletic or competitive. Within the boundaries
netball participa tion make for compelling analogies of the game these women and girls have been able
about the place of women in Australian society and to negotiate a position that does not directly contest
the social construction of gender relations. societal expectations but provides women with the
It is too easy to simply categor ise and even space to enjoy the benefits and enjoyment of sports
dismiss netball as an extension of prescribed social participation. In the world of sports women have
practices, a sport that promulgated the subord- typically been allotted to subordinate positions but
ination of women and reinfor ced the existing social within netball woman have not had to contend with
order. This categorisation would suggest that all male claims of superiority. Netball has changed
women who played netball favoured <compliant over the past decades from a gentle form of
femininity' and did not challenge or resist socially exercise to fast-moving, highly athletic a game that
constructed ideals of femininity. Conversely, the is even occasionally a rough and violent sport.
female domination of netball could be interpreted On its own terrain netball has gone some way
as a statement of independence, a form of to reconstructing gender and breaking down the
resista nce to the normative model of sport and an binary distinctions between masculinity and
act of female solidarity. Netball created an femininity. However, in public domains netball has
acceptable avenue for women to strive for physical reinforced and supported those very distinctions.
excellence within the established social order by The female ownership of netball as a sport is
reassuring that the dress, and behaviour of its juxtaposed with a broader societal perception that
players was appropriate. This constant reinforce- netball is just a <girl's game' and therefore it is
ment of femininity ultimately served to define unofficially ranked below men's sports in the
netball from other sports and provided a space in sports hierarchy. Rules that ensured particular
which to applaud women's achievements instead of posture and movements that were distinctly
measuring women against male standards. Jobling feminine have reinforced such notions of
(1994) contended that netball has been the inferiority. And while the boundaries wer e often
antithesis to traditional domination of men in sport, reached, and sometimes even nudged, netball did
as it has allowed females to become elite athletes not break through and set new standards for female
and manage their sport at all levels of part- sport. Netball administrators purposefully worked
icipation. As such, netball has had the unique to retain a feminine aspect in the game's playing
opportunity to challenge hegemonic definitions of attire and movements, cognisant of public image
masculinity in sport. Netball was able to provide a and opinion. Netball was seen as one avenue for
sport that women could feel free to express their women to stake a claim on sports participation and
Netball in Australia: A Social History 19

still be viewed as ladies. In this way it has been appearance, image, dress and behaviour. These
serendipitously used to socialise women into sex- elements combine to present the qualities of co-
based, socially acceptable roles. Ironically this operation, fair play and camaraderie as essential
strong image of femininity associated with netball qualities for a netball player. But can this
has served to entice several gay men to take up the stereotyped image be applied to all netball players?
sport and enter teams into competitions thus Most likely not, as many girls and women have
reinforcing the gendered nature of netball (Duncan operated outside these confines in their
and Weatherburn, 1997). participation in netball, shortening their skirts,
On the other hand netball has been a playing aggressively and using physical strength
significant institution in the constant struggle by and endurance to their advantage. These forms of
women to change public opinion and exercise their resistance were aligned with other tensions faced
right to participate in physical activities. In this by netball administrators and players in trying to
role netball has contributed to the acceptability of promote a game that would appeal to women and
women playing sports. At a societal level it could also support prevailing community values and
be concluded that netball has both facilita ted and attitudes.
stereotyped women's participation in sports. Its
conservative approach has constrained female References
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