The early days of women’s cricket

The early days of women’s cricket
Sylvia Black

With the MCG within its boundaries, East Melbourne has more than its fair share of sporting stories. One that is probably not so widely known is the foundation of women’s cricket as an organised sport.

Women’s cricket had been played sporadically since 1874 as a social game, often as a charity fundraiser. Some churches and schools formed their own teams and St Peter’s Eastern Hill was one of these.

The vicar at St Peter’s, Canon Ernest Selwyn Hughes, was a keen sportsman involved in many sports but especially cricket. His verger, Patrick Francis (Frank) Gooley, was equally enthusiastic. With their support a women’s cricket team was born. It went by the name of Coldstream (named apparently after the Coldstream Guards, and nothing to do with Coldstream, the township).

It was at St Peter’s in July 1905 where representatives of some of the social teams met to form the new association, to be called the Victorian Ladies’ Cricket Association (VLCA).

Vida Goldstein was elected first president. Although not a cricket player herself she was keen to advance women’s opportunities in any field.

However, Frank Gooley played the more active role of chairman of meetings as well as taking on coaching, umpiring and team management roles. Meetings continued to be held at St Peter’s Hall. In the VLCA’s first year Coldstream won 17 of its 18 matches.

East Melbourne resident and a St Peter’s parishioner, Lilla Brockelbank, was a founding player in the new St Peter’s team. Lilla was described as very short in stature and was compared to the English all-rounder Wilfred Rhodes: “At the wickets she uses the right-handed stance, and when in the attack bowls a slow to medium left-hand break”.

Lilla was also a clever young woman. At the end of primary school, she had been awarded one of only 10 government scholarships to continue her schooling. She matriculated in 1899.  She worked initially as a clerk, then as an architect’s assistant. Later, after further study at the Working Men’s College, she felt able to call herself an architect.

The old VLCA was disbanded at the outset of the war because of the extra demands on women it had brought. After the war it was Lilla who was instrumental in the establishment of the revitalised Victorian Women’s Cricket Association (VWCA). It was she who drummed up new interest, placing repeated recruitment ads in the newspapers calling on ladies’ cricket teams to join the new association.

It finally came to fruition in 1924. Its headquarters remain in Jolimont, not far from where it all started. •

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