Looking back at tennis glory

Evonne Goolagong -Cawley on her triumphant return to the Narrandera Shire after winning at Wimbledon. The young girl from Barellan went on to make history and was one of the Shire’s sporting greats. A giant tennis racquet now stands at Barellan as a memorial to her achievements.

One of the Narrandera Shire’s most famous Aboriginal residents and sportspeople was no doubt Evonne Fay Cawley (nee Goolagong) so it is timely with Wimbledon 2018 now over to reflect on her remarkable career. Evonne was born on July 31 1951 at Griffith but lived at Barellan in the Narrandera Shire. She was the third of eight children from an Australian Aboriginal family. Her parents, Kenny Goolagong (an itinerant sheep shearer) and Melinda were members of the Wiradjuri people.

Ms Goolagong-Cawley as she was later known played tennis in Barellan from childhood thanks to a resident Bill Kurtzman, who saw her peering through the fence at the local courts and encouraged her to come in and play in 1965. Vic Edwards, the proprietor of a tennis school in Sydney who conducted coaching clinics at Narrandera Tennis courts many years ago, was tipped off by two of his assistants and travelled to Barellan to take a look at the young Evonne and immediately saw her potential. He persuaded her parents to allow her to move to Sydney, where she attended Willoughby Girls High School. Here she completed her School Certificate in 1968 and was at the same time coached by Edwards and lived in his household.

Ms Goolagong-Cawley won seven Grand Slam singles titles in her career, reaching a total of 18 Grand Slam singles finals. During the 1970s, she played in 17 Grand Slam singles finals, a period record for any player; man or woman.

Between 1973 and 1978, she reached the final of almost every Grand Slam singles event she entered. There was only one exception, Wimbledon, where she played in only two finals in that period, 1975 and 1976, losing both. She lost in 1973 to eventual champion Billie-Jean King in the semi-finals, in 1974 to Australian Kerry Melville at the quarter-final stage, and in 1978 to eventual champion Martina Navratilova in the semi-finals.

She did not enter in 1977, the year her daughter was born. Also in 1974, Ms Goolagong-Cawley teamed up with Peggy Michel to win the Ladies’ Doubles title. She won the Women’s Doubles Title at the Australian Open five times and the French open once, as well as mixed doubles at the French Open once. Married to Roger Cawley in 1975, she had a daughter in 1977. She won the 1980 Wimbledon title.

Ms Goolagong-Cawley reached four consecutive US Open finals, but lost them all. She is the only player in the open era of the event to have lost four consecutive finals and the only woman to do so in US championships history. She made seven consecutive finals at the Australian Open, winning four titles in a row, both records for the open era, although she did not compete in the January 1977 event. Despite reaching the final at her first two appearances in 1971 and 1972, after 1973 Ms Goolagong-Cawley did not compete at the French Open championships for a decade. She returned in 1983 for her final Grand Slam singles appearance which she lost to Chris Evert and did not compete in any further Grand Slam singles events.

Her last appearance at Grand Slam level came at the following 1983 Wimbledon Championship when she partnered Sue Barker to a first round defeat in the doubles, having withdrawn from the singles event earlier.

The National Museum of Australia holds the Evonne Goolagong-Cawley collection of memorabilia. This includes Evonne’s 1971 and 1980 Wimbledon singles trophies, the trophy from her 1974 doubles win and two racquets used in these tournaments. The museum’s collection also includes a signed warm-up jacket and a dress with a bolero style top, designed by Ted Tinling in the early 1970s.

Ms Goolagong-Cawley was ranked number one in the world for two weeks in 1976, although it was not reported at the time because incomplete data was used to calculate the rankings. This was discovered 31 years later in December 2007.

Tennis was a strong sport in Narrandera in earlier years and the Narrandera Argus edition of April 15 1949 reported record postwar entries for its Easter Tournament, which was a big event on the tennis scene. Play commenced on Friday and continued on the following three days, concluding Easter Monday afternoon. Over 200 entries were received for the 1949 event and among the competitors were visitors from Griffith, Lake Cargelligo, Morundah and Sydney. The Sydney entry was Percy Bean, a well known former identity of Narrandera who brought a Sydney player or two to the tournament in prewar days.

The club’s eight courts were prepared and in excellent order. Among the entrants whose names will be remembered in Narrandera were: Keith Turner, Kevin Anderson, A Willis, George Ditcham, Bruce Rich, Percy Bean, H Warren, N McKay, Keith Russell, Reg Russell, Roy Russell, R Hutchison, Ken Kiesling, Reg Crowe, G Lockhart, Les Watkins, Les Perry, H  Kirk, A Humphries, J Dawson, Fred Maxwell, K McAuley, A Smith, B Davies, F Nuttall (Morundah), Tom Lake, E Kay, D Stewart, J Foster, Jack Duncan, J Turner, Mrs Bea Pirani, Miss Campbell, Mrs Molloy, W Crawford, Miss Baldwin, R Russell and Miss O’Meara, R Crowe and Mrs Howe , F Barnes, P Hudson, D Oxley, E Kay, A Smith, K Nicholson, K Williams, Jim Angel, Jim Bliss, W Freeman, J and F Pickett, A McNamee, R Molony, A and J Willis and J Fletcher.

Women players who took part in the tournament included included Miss Bull, Mrs Phyllis Howe, Mrs Molloy, Miss Shirley Beggs, Miss N Baldwin, Miss J Bell, Miss Marsh, Miss P Baldwin, Mrs Barnes, Miss M Campbell , Miss Kay, Miss P Spencer, Mrs F Pickett, Miss O’Meara, Miss Cusack, Miss Rae Stewart, Mrs Rich, Miss Hands, Mrs Eve, Mrs Butters, Mrs Lake and Mrs Ditcham, Miss Spencer, Mrs Whitford.

Miss Florence Evelyn Adams was one of the Narrandera Tennis Club’s well known tennis players and administrators of that era. Her obituary in the Narrandera Argus February 1953 stated that she was 83 years old and the eldest daughter of the late Mr and Mrs Henry Adams, who played an important part in the early history of Narrandera.

She was born at Wagga on November 16 1869 and came to Narrandera at an early age. She attended the first public school in Narrandera and also attended other academies for pianoforte lessons, singing, art and fancy work. Her interests extended to church work, sport, Red Cross and other charitable work. For years Miss Adams was a member of St Thomas’ Anglican Church choir and a member of the old Narrandera Musical Society, taking part in many Gilbert and Sullivan operas. In sport she was a keen tennis enthusiast and a member of the first Narrandera Tennis Club and one of its leading players.

During the first World War she was a member of the local Red Cross and held a certificate from the head body in appreciation of her services. Miss Adams was an accomplished horsewoman, riding sidesaddle in the days before women adopted riding breeches. She was also a very capable needlewoman. She was survived by two brothers, Henry Bradley Adams (Twynam Street) and Ernest A (West End, Larmer Street, Narrandera), where she resided during her long residencein Narrandera.

1 Comment on "Looking back at tennis glory"

  1. Great story. The Ash Barty of her generation.

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