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Inspirational woman of influence builds opportunities for young people
02 May 2014
Who am I?
I am the third of eight children. I was born in 1951.
My father was a hard-working gun shearer and when my mother died in 1991 it prompted me to return home from my base in the US to be close to my family having spent many years abroad for my career. In my formative years I also worked as an usherette at the NSW Open when the tournament was played at White City in Sydney.
I did not travel overseas to compete in my chosen sport until I had finished my schooling, which I believe is important for all kids to do. I gained secretarial skills after school – shorthand and typing qualifications – which I never had to use again but which were there as a back-up.
I have two children and one grandchild. (The birth of my first child was to lead to an unusual honour being conferred upon me.)
Aside from that honour I have been Australian of the Year, have an MBE, an AO, and have the interesting statistic of being the only female to reach the finals of the US Open four years in a row and be the runner-up.
There is a body of research which indicates that no matter your level of natural talent, if someone is to reach the top of their game in their field of endeavour it involves hours of practice. 10,000 hours to be precise.
If that research is true then Evonne Goolagong Cawley (below and above with PLC Sydney Foundation students), one of Australia’s great tennis players, must have played 24 hours of tennis a day every day for approximately 60 weeks, and that, it would be fair to say, would have just been the minimum.
“I was never bored or tired of it. I never thought of tennis as a chore,” Evonne admits happily, going on to say, “I think my story explains why.”
When Evonne was about four years old her father cut a paddle from a wooden apple crate. It was for her older sister and brother to hit a ball against the wall.
Evonne quickly decided that paddle and ball were hers.
“I took them and for the next few years I played against every wall and water tank I could find.”
One game involved hitting the ball against the wall to see how many times she could do this with one bounce and without making a mistake.
“I’d write the highest score in the dirt and come back the next day and try and beat that score. When we moved to Barellan that was when I saw my first tennis court,” Evonne recounts.
At around eight years old, Evonne remembers reading a Princess magazine story about a young girl who was “discovered, trained and taken to this place called Wimbledon to play tennis on this magical centre court.
“I didn’t know the place existed then,” she says, going on to remember how she mentioned the story to someone at the time and they told her, “That place is for real. It’s in London, England.”
“After that, every time I hit the wall I’d pretend I was there, and at night I’d dream about playing on that magical centre court.”
What began with a ball, a wall, and a wooden paddle, literally became Evonne’s dream.
It’s stories such as these that Evonne uses in her work with the Evonne Goolagong Foundation to motivate and engender interest among Indigenous youth in having a dream, whatever that may be, and following it.
“In a nutshell,” says Evonne, “we use tennis as a vehicle to attract Indigenous kids and support them to strive for a high quality education and better health through diet and exercise.
“Our programs are designed to identify kids who display enthusiasm, determination and a willingness to improve themselves given half a chance.
“It’s something we’ve actually been doing since we returned to Australia in 1992,” Evonne says, referring to the flagship Goolagong National Development Camp (GNDC) held in Melbourne during the first week of the Australian Open which her husband Roger Cawley and she began when they returned from America to live in the Queensland town of Noosa.
Having secured federal government funding for the past twelve years and in the past 12 months formed the Foundation, the scheme has been able to develop its program and reach. Supported by the Australian Government ‘Learn Earn Legend’ initiative, the Foundation’s national program has Come & Try Days for children 5 to 15. From there, students are chosen for coaching and mentoring. If they attend school and their coaching lessons they are then eligible for selection to a Goolagong State Development Camp with the best going on into the GNDC.
“Our National Projects Manager and our Head Coach / Project Coordinator are graduates of our program,” Evonne proudly says.
About 25 Aboriginal young people, all of whom have come through the program, work with it as it moves around the country. It provides employment and peer group role models. The Foundation also secures scholarships to top schools for children and has eight under graduates in University this year.
“Along the way,” says Evonne, “we’ve also discovered some pretty good tennis players. We work with Tennis Australia and the Kooyong Foundation to help them realise their potential.”
Recently, out in Griffith at a Come & Try day, Evonne decided to take a drive out to Barellan where she grew up to see one of the townspeople, Dot Irvin.
“Clary and Dot Irvin would drive me around to country tournaments. The president of the local tennis club, Mr Bill Kurtzman, also drove me to tournaments. In fact, I have a feeling the whole town put in funds to buy me my first real racquet and paid for my suitcase, clothes, everything to go to Sydney. Without that initial support I would not be here, today. It’s why I am trying to help Indigenous children around Australia achieve their dreams.”
Evonne Goolagong married Roger Cawley in 1975. Her daughter Kelly was born in 1977. She won the 1980 Wimbledon title giving her the honour of being the only mother to have won the Wimbledon title after World War I.
Evonne is the Chairperson of the Evonne Goolagong Foundation and her husband, Roger, is the CEO.
The Foundation and its work, supporting Indigenous children achieve whatever their dream might be – “ to be a tennis star, a doctor, a lawyer or an Australian Prime Minister” - is Evonne’s second dream. Something she’s living as successfully as she did her first.