A SIGNIFICANT chapter in the history of women’s sport in Bendigo has come to an end.
After three decades of supporting female athletes and advancing their cause across the region, the Bendigo Sportswomen’s Association has regretfully voted to fold.
Its final meeting was held at the Golden Square Hotel on May 7.
Co-founder and life member Judy Scarrott says it was an emotional but inevitable decision caused by dwindling membership numbers.
“In the early days, we had a limit of 75 members,” she says of the organisation that was born in 1981 of a desire to promote the achievements of local sporting females, young and old.
“And we had the full 75, with others on a waiting list.”
But towards the end, there were only about 20 members on the books – with an average age of around 60 – and it was rare for them all to attend meetings.
“The last meeting was a good one and almost everyone turned up and we were all regretting it very much,” Scarrott says. “But times have changed and that’s just the way it is.”
The 83-year-old was one of four prominent local sportswomen who met after a tennis function in 1981 and discussed establishing a formal group of like-minded ladies.
One of the association’s biggest contributions to the local community was through its quarterly sports star award, presented to a female athlete who lived or competed in the region.
Winners received a prize cheque, sash, perpetual trophy and a write up in the Bendigo Advertiser to highlight their achievements.
The inaugural winner in May 1983 was Diane Murphy, a junior tennis star from Dingee who was rated Victoria’s best under-15 female player at the time.
Other recipients have included Olympians Kristi Harrower (basketball) and Annmaree Roberts (clay target shooting), Australian netballer Caitlin Thwaites, world champion water skier Emma Sheers, cycling rising star Imogen Jelbart, and national race-walker Jessica Rothwell.
Basketballer Nina Cass was honoured, as were Erica Wilkinson (swimming and triathlon success) and Eliza “Karley” Hynes, who represented Australia at netball, volleyball and beach volleyball.
Jaclyn Wilson, who has gone on to win many world BMX titles and is still racing internationally, first won a quarterly award as an 11-year-old in 1988 and was again successful in 2011.
“We were there to support people and share our experience and knowledge about running sporting organisations, and to learn from each other,” Scarrott says.
“In those days, women in sport got very little kudos and this was an opportunity to draw public attention to the fact there were a lot of female sports people in Bendigo who deserved recognition for what they were doing.
“It was a very male dominated society when we started.
“So our greatest achievement was pointing out there were lots of women in Bendigo doing great things in sport.”
The association met four times a year to enjoy a meal, listen to a guest speaker and share sports talk.
Guests throughout the years included pioneering sports journalist Peg McMahon, Australian hockey and softball representative Midge Nelson, tennis legend Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, national netball coach and administrator Joyce Brown, sports dietitian Karen Inge, sprinter Raelene Boyle, Olympic administrator Julius “Judy” Patching and jockey Alan Trevena.
“One time we had a girl who was a rower and had deferred her medical studies to go to Perth and train with the Australian team ahead of the Olympics,” Scarrot recalls.
“But that was the year Russia hosted the Games and the whole team didn’t go (because of the international boycott).
“She was brilliant to listen to... she was one I took to heart more than anyone because she gave an enormous commitment to her sport, only to have a political decision kybosh the whole thing.”
Bronwyn Tweed, who joined the association in 1988, says it was becoming increasingly hard in recent times to get good guest speakers, making it difficult to attract members to the quarterly meetings.
“We had some wonderful speakers over time who basically did it for nothing,” she says. “They might get to stay overnight with one of us and a free meal, but that was all.
“Now to get anyone of any note, it costs thousands of dollars, which we just didn’t have.”
Tweed, who has been in charge of the quarterly sports award for many years, says one of the association’s final decisions was what to do with its remaining funds of about $7000.
Under its constitution, any assets and income had to be put “towards the promotion of the objects of the association”: promoting women’s sport throughout the Bendigo district.
The ladies voted to direct the money into the Maxine Crouch Trust Fund, which provides a financial grant to a young female athlete from the region each year.
The fund honours the late sports administrator Maxine Crouch, a much-loved member of the association who served as president from 1993-95 and was a committed supporter of women’s sport both locally and further afield.
Winners are selected by the Bendigo Advertiser-WIN Television Sports Star of the Year Award judging panel.
Tweed says association memorabilia – including paperwork, scrapbooks and the quarterly award winner’s trophy – will be looked after by the Bendigo Sportsmen’s Association.
She paid particular tribute to local screen-printer and athletics coach Frank Barr and his daughter Sharon, a former quarterly award recipient, for donating the award winner’s sash for many years.