Overview of women’s rugby league in New South Wales and Queensland, 1907–93: an examination of the extent and context of women as players’
The topic was subsequently changed: The Inaugural Match of the NSW Ladies Rugby Football League
On 17 September 1921, two female rugby league teams, the Metropolitan Blues and Sydney Reds, played their inaugural match before a crowd of between 20–30,000 people at the Sydney Agricultural Showgrounds — in all likelihood the biggest crowd to attend then a women’s sporting event in Australia. Perhaps surprisingly, the NSW Rugby League (NSWRL) had been initially supportive of women playing the game. The League Secretary, Horrie Miller, even went so far as to organise Friday night training sessions for the women under electric lights on the Sydney Sports Ground. Just three days before the match, however, the NSWRL moved to place a ban on any member or affiliate participating in the women’s event, on the grounds that it was being funded by a private promoter — the successful sporting equipment retailer, Mick Simmons Ltd. The NSWRL’s ‘Czarish threat’ was strongly criticised in the Sydney press and their edict was subsequently defied by combined teams of the Sydney and Country Juniors, who played the curtain-raiser, and the code’s most celebrated pioneer player, Dally Messenger, who launched the famous Dally M Football at the match. Newspaper reports suggest that there existed significant resentment amongst affiliates and grassroots supporters of the game towards the NSWRL’s draconian action. For example, a charity carnival, hosted by the Eastern Suburbs Rugby League Football Club in competition to the women’s match (on a neighbouring ground on the same day) attracted a mere 2000 people. This was despite the club staging a schoolgirl’s game, later disparaged in the Daily Telegraph as a ‘burlesque’. The women’s match, in contrast, was reported in generally positive terms, including by some popular sports newspapers who had previously derided the initiative. The crowd favourite was 15-year-old Maggie ‘South’ Moloney, the younger sister of a South Sydney player, who scored four tries and ‘exhilarated’ spectators with her ‘remarkable pace’ and ‘sound knowledge of the science of the game’. The public face of the NSWRL’s ban was the League Secretary, Horrie Miller, who had previously been the women’s strongest advocate. The women claimed that he had even encouraged their signing with a private promoter. Although the NSWRL had itself been kick-started on the back of private promoters in 1907–09, in 1921 this was clearly a controversial move that appears to have led directly to the NSWRL placing the ban on the women’s match.
The story of the inaugural match of the NSW Ladies Rugby Football League (NSWLRFL) is potentially unique amongst women’s football histories. Historically, most women’s football initiatives have occurred on the margins of the men’s games. The NSWLRFL, however, is an anomaly to this general pattern. Instead, the initiative achieved significant engagement from the wider rugby league community. As such, it offers a distinct opportunity in the historiography of football. Most code-based football histories typically focus upon the men’s games. In doing so, they tend to relegate women’s histories to separate chapters or side-notes (if they are covered at all). This tendency both reflects the marginal status of the women’s game, and exacerbates it. My research sought to counter to this tendency by centralising the story of the NSWLRFL within a broader code-based history of rugby league. In particular, it sought to bring the history of the women’s game in from the margins and, simultaneously, open up the men’s game to the historical participation of women as players.
I am currently a doctoral candidate at Victoria University, Melbourne. The doctorate will focus on a 1921 exhibition match between the Metropolitan Bl;ues and the Sydney Reds at the Sydney Showground.
The Greatest Game’, Hindsight, ABC Radio National, 15 March 2009
‘The 1921 Peak and Turning Point in Women’s Football History: An Australasian Cross-Code
Perspective’ in Rob Hess & Nikki Wedgwood (eds.), Women, Football and History, Maribyrnong Press.