This article was first written for and published by Siren Sport.
From the first game to developing pathways, Mary Konstantopoulos explores the story of women’s cricket in Tasmania and the new book that tells the tale.
The first game of cricket played between two women’s clubs in Tasmania was played between Oyster Cove and North Bruny Ladies Cricket Clubs in 1894.
But for the women competing in this match, it wasn’t as simple as getting into a car and driving to a neighbouring club. The Oyster Cove team went across to Bruny Island on a yacht in order to compete against the women from North Bruny.
Much of the information about this match and in particular, who got the wickets and scored the runs can be pieced together through local newspapers from the time. Lily Poulett-Harris was undefeated on 64 in her second innings and it is said she was able to hit the ball around quite a bit. The North Bruny captain, who was a wicketkeeper, also took several wickets during this game.
Former Tasmanian player, coach and administrator Jacqui Triffitt, has spent the last four years writing a book about the history of women’s cricket in Tasmania and this match in Kettering was a historic moment.
“The game was pioneering in its nature,” Triffitt said. “There was women’s cricket played in a lot of other places prior to that, but it felt to me like most of it was centred around novelty and charity.
“There were also instances where it was disorganised and teams did not have enough players to compete.”
This was in stark contrast to the match played in Tasmania where from the newspaper clippings from the time, Triffitt got a sense that there was a sense of respect for the women’s game.
“These women were the founding women of organised cricket in Australia as I see it,” Triffitt said. “They were wanting to play cricket in the long term and have more than just a game here or there.”
Seeing cricket go full circle
For Triffitt, what struck her the most about writing this book was that whilst plenty has changed over the period her book covers, particularly in terms of the opportunity women now have to play cricket professionally for their state and their country, there are some things that have stayed the same.
“The descriptors have stayed the same,” said Triffitt. “The women are out there playing, but I always got a sense of how much the women are enjoying themselves.
“I know we have shifted to more professional cricket, but you always feel like the women are having a great time. Even the photo of the Aussie women on stage with Katy Perry, that moment added so much to what was already an incredible occasion.”
As a player herself, Triffitt had the opportunity to play through several decades of the era in which her book covers. The challenges faced by Triffitt and her teammates are familiar to those faced by many female athletes of the past and still faced even today, despite the developments which have happened in women’s sport.
In the 1980s and 1990s, women were raising money themselves through the selling of raffle tickets and were still contributing to their own trips away. Whilst Triffitt acknowledges that this was probably what was happening across the board in women’s sport, it is such a tremendous difference to the state of play now.
“I’m so lucky to have seen cricket go full circle,” Triffitt said.
For many of us interested in the history of women’s sport, there is a sense of appreciation for the women that came before us and who have paved the way for the more professional era we find ourselves in now. There is a sense that women persisted and persevered even when it was difficult. But for Triffitt, in writing this story and being part of those integral eras, there was never a sense of it being too hard.
“We did what we did, enjoyed it and continued to play. Women took the opportunities that were presented, whether it was playing against the men in a novelty match or raising money to get the state team across to play national championships,” Triffitt said.
“I also never got the sense that it was too hard. It was just what women did.”
Ensuring the pioneers are not forgotten
The story of the rise of Tasmanian women’s cricket is different to the story of New South Wales or Victoria because of the small group of players that Tasmania had to draw from. At points, there were at least five Tasmanian players in some sort of representative training squad; quite incredible figures considering the small talent pool that Tasmania had to draw on and for a state that was only intermittently attending state championships.
A lot of people ask Triffitt whether she wishes she could have played in the current era.
“A part of me says yes. Imagine being good enough and having the chance to play cricket as your profession,” Triffitt said. “But another part of me is pleased to have played when the scrutiny that exists now wasn’t part of the game.”
For Triffitt, what is a crucial part of this book is the opportunity to share the stories of these pioneering women and ensure that their names are not forgotten in history.
“A lot of times when names are mentioned in history, they will only share a first initial or you had a situation where women took the last names of their husbands,” Triffitt said. “I’ve spent so much time trying to locate the actual names of these women so that they have some identity. It is so important.”
Triffitt’s work will ensure that the women who started the revolution in Tasmanian women’s cricket will not be forgotten. But the story does not finish in 2010. The baton has been passed on to the next generation of women where the story continues.
Building the future
One of these women is Salliann Beams who has been head coach for the WBBL Hobart Hurricanes and Tasmania’s WNCL team since 2018. When Beams arrived in Tasmania, the state had a reputation. It was not a place where players were enthusiastic about going if they had aspirations of playing for Australia. For the last three years, Beams and her team have been working hard to change that perception.
Just prior to Beams arriving, a decision was made that all Tasmanian female cricketers had to be based in Tasmania. Prior to that decision being made, there were a lot of women flying in to play. What was lacking was a proper program operating in Tasmania. For Beams, this was a line in the sand. It announced that if Tasmania were serious about becoming a powerhouse state, that it had to be done properly.
For Beams, whilst the results have not yet necessarily come on the field, particularly in the WBBL, in the space of about 18 months, the perception slowly began to change about the type of player that could flourish in a Tasmanian based program.
“Players like Nicola Carey, Maisy Gibson and Belinda Vakarewa were the start of the change happening,” said Beams.
“It’s important to have a good balance in your team in terms of players. You want to have players who are trying to play their best cricket and very passionate about the Hurricanes as well as players who want to play for Australia.
“Both types of players are important in raising the standards of what you want to do.”
Vakarewa in particular has been a player that has gone from strength to strength since arriving in Tasmania. Not only was Vakarewa awarded WBBL Player of the Tournament at Cricket Tasmania’s Awards night in 2020, but since moving to Tasmania, Vakarewa has gone from being the 12th player for the Thunder, to taking a starring role with the Hurricanes. She has also been recalled into the Australian Women’s Cricket team in 2020.
An incredible journey so far
For Beams, success for Tasmanian women’s cricket is about more than just success at the top level. It is also about creating a state pathway which supports the next generation of cricketers coming through.
Whilst Tasmania’s size is often thought of as a disadvantage, as it results in less players, Beams also sees the advantage. In states like New South Wales and Victoria, their size means that for young girls from the country, often the opportunities to participate in a pathway are less because of accessibility.
Tasmania does not have that problem.
“Our biggest challenge is our numbers, but I still want to create something spectacular in a pathway,” said Beams. “Everyone here is essentially within an 1 hour radius, so we have a great opportunity for more contact time with our players.
“I truly believe that if you create something special that is a great experience for a young girl, your numbers will grow.”
For Beams, whilst the Tasmanian teams are not yet getting the results on the field that she is aiming for, she is still proud of what has been achieved in a short space of time.
“It feels like it’s been a long three years because at times it’s been hard to demonstrate to players how much improvement there has been without measurable outcomes on the field,” said Beams.
“But I work with an incredible group of women and staff who are pushing to be high performing.
“We are not there yet, but it’s been an incredible journey so far.”