2012 : Looking through the fence

Jul 24, 2023, 5:24:52 PM

Evonne Goolagong fights for the Aborigines

Evonne Goolagong’s life changed the day she looked through a fence when she was 10 to watch her neighbour Bill Kurtzman play tennis. He invited her to play when he saw how intrigued she was. This kind of situation was not so common in Australia in the 1950s. The third child from an Australian Aboriginal family, the future 7 Grand Slam title winner had to abide by the White Australia Policy, a racist regime which favoured white European immigrants at the expense of native communities. “Aborigines could not even have a glass of wine in a bar nor go to the swimming pool past a certain hour in most Australian cities. They could not even apply for a job due to discrimination,” says Aboriginal history specialist Peter Read. For instance, when Goolagong returned to Australia after her Wimbledon triumph in 1971, she could not celebrate her victory properly: “I wanted to go to a nightclub in Brisbane with two Aboriginal friends of mine, but we were denied access due to the colour of our skins.”

Racial segregation was abolished two years later; it was essential, but not enough in Evonne Goolagong’s opinion as she knew clichés and inequalities against her people remained. After years spent working on the promotion of sport for the Aborigines, she started her own foundation in 2012. Since then, it has provided 6,000 children from native minorities with tennis courts, instructors, and introduction camps. Her action has been backed by the Australian government; it has granted scholarships and job opportunities to many of its members. It has also trained tennis instructors, sports administrators, as well as academics like 19-year-old Tiarna Williams who said in a 2021 tennis.com interview how important the programme had been in her personal and academic development. “I have had the pleasure of knowing Evonne for about seven years and since then I have been heavily involved in her foundation. In 2018, I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Evonne Goolagong Cawley Scholarship for academic and sporting achievement, which enabled me to attend Pymble Ladies College (a prestigious private school in Sydney) and study law at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales. I can’t thank Evonne enough for everything she has done for me and the amazing experiences I have enjoyed thanks to her. She is truly an inspiration to not only Indigenous Australians, but the entire world.” Goolagong keeps travelling and promoting her foundation in person. Over 60 years after she saw a man play tennis for the first time, she has not gotten tired of watching tennis. The only difference is that she does not have to hide behind a fence anymore.