An ode to Australia's most cherised female athletes

An ode to Australia’s most cherised female athletes

Victress

When professional surfer Stephanie Gilmore was a young girl, there were no posters of female surfers in magazines. As much as she searched, there were no images of women surfers to stick on her bedroom wall.

Instead, she used to cut out the faces of other images of women, and pin them onto her wall to replace the plethora of surfing men featured in posters.

Things have changed and these days there’s no shortage of women in surfing magazines, with Gilmore, one of the most dominant surfers in history, helping to pave the way.

This is just one of the many unheard anecdotes that made its way into Corinne Hall and Michael Randall’s new book, Victress: Women who paved the way in Australian Sport.

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Corinne Hall is a Hobart Hurricanes Big Bash cricketer and she wanted to create an ode to some of Australia’s most cherished female athletes, who she says have paved the way for future generations of women.

Hall has used her artistic talents to create stunning drawings of a number of sportswomen including legends Dawn Fraser and Cathy Freeman, to the new breed of powerful sportswomen like Ellyse Perry and Tayla Harris. The drawings accompany stories of how each of the women featured have left an indelible mark on the growth of women’s sport in Australia.

“The athletes’ graceful and enthusiastic response to being included in the book highlighted what an extremely supportive sporting landscape we have for women in Australia,” Corinne told Women’s Agenda recently.

“One woman’s success is very much every woman’s success.”

Below, Corinne tell us how the idea for her book came about and shares some of the most memorable stories included from some of Australia’s most well-known athletes.

The portraits of the sportswomen in the book are striking. Can you tell us about the drawings included?

Thank you! There is a total of 35 portraits of Australian female trailblazing athletes’ multiple sports and generations. I am a self-taught illustrator, so I don’t have any technical prowess, instead I try and capture something significant about the person through the composition, colour choice and mood of the illustration.

For example, to me Sam Kerr is electric, you can’t take your eyes off her because you don’t want to miss a moment of greatness. She’s like a superhero so I tried to create that theme in the way I chose to draw her.

Ellyse Perry loves Test cricket so I drew her accepting her baggy green, Cathy Freeman is a proud indigenous woman so I have referenced her heritage in the illustration and for me, Dawn is the godmother of Australian sport. I drew her in black and white to try and convey the royal esteem in which she is held.

Any standout or memorable stories included in the book that you’d like to share?

There are too many to name! From meeting my childhood hero Sharelle McMahon, playing with and against Ellyse Perry (you know which one I would prefer), my claim to being the first to tweet the Barty Party hashtag way back when Ash first competed at the Australian Open.

Then, there are the many hurdles athletes like Anna Meares, Louise Sauvage, Lydia Lassila and Caroline Buchanan overcame to reach greatness, and understanding the immeasurable mark Sam Stosur has had on Australian Tennis. That’s just to name a few.

Something I will never forget is how the Victress athletes have been so gracious with their time and support of this project. Lauren Jackson, Leisel Jones, Louise Sauvage, Lisa Sthalaker, Belinda Clarke, Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning and Dawn Fraser all took time out of their busy schedules to attend our book launch.

The Victress athletes are so humble and genuinely passionate about supporting and celebrating each other and progressing women’s sport as a whole which is so inspiring.

Many of the women included in the book have been pioneers for women’s sport, paving the way for future generations. How did you highlight this effort in the book?

We tried to highlight the athlete’s achievements whilst they were competing, the effect those performances have had on shifting the sporting landscape for women and also the work they are currently doing to advocate for women’s sport.

 I have given an insight into my own personal experience of how these athletes have in some way influenced my journey in sport, whether that be through an encounter or simply being inspired by a performance or attribute they displayed.

We have told stories which even some avid sporting fans wouldn’t know, like when Stephanie Gilmore was a little girl there were no posters of female surfers in magazines, so she used to cut the faces of the few smaller images of women and tac them onto her wall. Also, that Heather McKay is one of our greatest athletes only losing 2 matches in her 20-year squash career. We’ve tried to capture different elements of these athlete’s stories to depict their true influence on women’s sport. 

We love the kindness theme and that proceeds will be directed back to grassroots women’s cricket and The Kindness Factory. Why did you make this decision?

Before Victress I hadn’t shared my artwork with many people. I knew the 25 athletes I drew deserved to be celebrated but I didn’t want this to be about me and I was apprehensive about sharing my work, so I needed the book to have an extra purpose.  I wanted the book to benefit as many people as possible and donating to grassroots cricket was my way giving of back to a sport which has given my so much.

I have been an ambassador of the Kindness Factory since it was established in 2015 and their vision to make the world a kinder place is something I believe in wholeheartedly. The foundation was established by my best friend Kath Koschel who had experienced an astounding amount of trauma over a 3-year period, including breaking her back twice and losing her partner to suicide.

Throughout that time Kath attributed kindness to saving her life. It wasn’t just the many acts of kindness that she received but also the self-worth she gained from passing that kindness forward. The Kindness Factory is just about to launch their Kindness Curriculum in schools which has a real opportunity to create generational society change, so I couldn’t be prouder to be associated with the foundation.

Where do you see women’s sport headed over the next 5 years?

Women’s sport is in the best position it has ever been in Australia. That’s not to say that we don’t have a long way to go in terms of pay equality and exposure of all our sports, but now, pursuing a career in sport is a real option for young Australian girls.

Over the last 5-10 years we have seen netball set the standard by professionalising their game which then inspired Cricket Australia to raise the benchmark with full time salaries for contracted Australian players, whilst also supporting female domestic players with state contracts. We have recently seen the AFLW become a powerhouse sport, the Matildas achieve pay parity with the Socceroos and the Australian Women’s Cricket team become T20 world champions in front of a record crowd of 86 174 at the MCG.

All this progression has taken a lot of time and many sacrifices, so I hope post Covid-19, women’s sport doesn’t slip down the priority list because it’s a growing business worth investing in.

Victress: Women who paved the way in Australian Sport by Corinne Hall and Michael Randall is published by Wild Dingo Press www.wilddingopress.com.au.

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