One Hundred Plus for Women’s Lacrosse in Australia

The first photo of womens lacrosse as shown in the Sun Pictorial
The first photo of womens lacrosse as shown in the Sun Pictorial  

It has generally been understood that women's lacrosse was introduced into Australia from England in 1936 when Nell Rawlins, Director of the YWCA in Melbourne, called a meeting of people interested in starting the game for women.  The meeting took place at the YWCA on the 18th May, 1936 and was attended by members of the YWCA and girls and women connected with the Williamstown Lacrosse Club.

An introductory coaching session was arranged for Saturday 6th June 1936 and women's lacrosse got underway in a manner similar to the start made by men sixty years earlier - initially two teams practicing each week in Albert Park. The coaching was provided by Nell Rawlins, YWCA Director and Miss E. Ellis, Physical Education Director of the Presbyterian Ladies College.  Both were former England representatives in lacrosse.

The "Sun Pictorial" newspaper printed an action photograph of the first official match in Victoria which was played between YWCA and Williamstown at Lauriston Girls' School in Malvern on the 26th September 1936.

What has not previously come to light is that women's lacrosse was played for some years by girls at the Melbourne Church of England Girl's Grammar School (Merton Hall), dating from circa 1904.  Miss Gwynneth Morris, a physical education teacher at Merton Hall, introduced the sport as part of the school's commitment to team sports.  She had been exposed to lacrosse when she studied physical education in London under Madame Osterberg, the famed physical educationist and women's suffrage advocate. On returning to Melbourne, Morris became the pioneer of the Swedish "gymnastic system" in Victoria.  The school adopted the policy of organized games as an important part of the development of a girl's character, promoting self-reliance, self-control and teamwork.  The Argus newspaper on 14th April 1928 reported on the 25th anniversary of the school and noted the following from the formative years of the school:

" In those days the girls played lacrosse and cricket in front of Old Fairlie, the old wooden bungalow with heavy wooden shutters which stood next to Merton Hall, and had been acquired as an overflow house for boarders"

In South Australia, in a manner similar to Merton Hall, the Girton Girl's School in Adelaide experimented with lacrosse for its pupils in the late 1920's and the Adelaide Advertiser ran a headline on the 14th August 1931  "Lacrosse for Girls Next ?". Lacrosse by this time was played in all the best English girls' schools with some 134 schools and 19 colleges affiliated with the All-England Women's Lacrosse Association.  The South Australian Lacrosse Association Executive discussed the question of introducing women's lacrosse at a meeting in 1931 and agreed that this would be a good thing, but it was not until the YWCA conducted a physical education conference at Mount Lofty in 1936 that moves to establish the sport for women bore fruit in South Australia.


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