Broken Hill women kicking for 100+ years
Last week, the Sydney Swans were assured an AFLW berth in the 2022/2023 season, joining AFLW foundation club, the GIANTS.
The announcement is confirmation of the huge growth of football for women and girls across the country, with 18 teams to vie for the AFLW premiership in 2022/23. There were just eight teams contesting the AFLW’s first season in 2017.
This is incredibly exciting for all football fans, who will get the chance to follow their team in winter and summer through the men’s and women’s competitions.
There are around 110,000 women and girls participating in AFL matches and programs in NSW and the ACT annually, a number which has risen by more than 550 per cent in the past decade.
What some might not realise, is that women have been playing footy in NSW for than 100 years.
On our Digital Road Trip, AFL NSW/ACT wanted to take a look at some of the earliest instances of women playing organised football in this state. It led us all the way to Broken Hill, some 1,148 kilometres away from the SCG’s hallowed turf.
Women’s footy raises funds for the Red Cross
It was during World War I when two women’s teams assembled on Broken Hill’s Western Oval. One represented the local hospital and the other, Pellew and Moore, a local department store.
The match was staged as a fundraiser for the Red Cross with proceeds forwarded on to help those supporting the soldiers at war.
The players’ uniforms consisted pinafore dresses with knee length bloomers and stockings, with most wearing caps to keep their hair out of their eyes.
It is reported that the game was played fiercely and although the teams had neither played nor trained before, there was a strong sense of competition.
Back again in 1941
The next time women played in Broken Hill was during World War II, in October 1941.
This time it was a grander scale, with the specially formed Spitfires taking on the Bombers at Jubilee Oval, the city’s main football venue today. The teams used more up to date uniforms with each borrowing a set of jumpers from the North and South Broken Hill clubs.
The Spitfires wore the red and white of the South club and the Bombers, blue and white of North.
A large crowd gathered to watch the match, with £32.14.0 gate takings (roughly $2,500 today).
It was a high-scoring match with the Spitfires victorious 8-8 (56) to 4-5 (29).
So buoyed by the experience, the Bombers called for a rematch the following week. It was a close encounter, but they went down again, 8-3 (53) to 7-6 (48).
Comparisons to today
You can draw a conclusion that there’s no coincidence the earliest recorded women’s football matches in Broken Hill were played during the World Wars. Back then, weekend sport may have been restricted to men only. When they were away, the women could have their moment on the field.
In 2021, AFLW begins in December and runs through until March. The 14-team competition will expand to 18 next year, with the season’s prestige and following growing with each minute.
Broken Hill sits within the GIANTS’ recruitment zone, but no doubt every player in town would have been excited about the inclusion of the Swans, Hawks, Power and Bombers and the opportunities they bring to give more talented women and girls a shot at the elite game. Who knows, maybe some of their forebears have already played for the Bombers.
Thank you to the NSW Australian Football History Society for allowing us to adapt its article on women playing football in Broken Hill.
AFL NSW/ACT is heading on a road trip…digitally! Look out for us in a town near you.