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Evonne Goolagong Cawley and his columnist, playwright / director Andrea James

posted by Jeremy Eccles | 09.17.20

07.10.20: 10.10.20

Almost everyone knows Evonne Goolagong Cawley AC, MBE is the greatest Aboriginal tennis player Australia has ever produced. But how many know that she is Wiradjuri?

Remember, it is even possible that this specific identification did not matter much to Goolagong herself, as her bio online states: in the United States to reside in Australia.

Who would have thought that this Australian legend, winner of 92 professional tournaments, finalist of 18 Grand Slam singles tournaments, winner twice at Wimbledon, the Australian Open four times and the French Open once? , chose to live in America ???

Well we’ll all learn a lot more about it ‘Sunshine Super Girl’ In the coming year, a show by that name is spinning courtesy of Performing Lines after it opens next month in Griffith – Central Wiradjuri, home to Yarruwala Wiradjuri’s first cultural festival and “teeming with Goolagongs” according to Andrea James, author and director of this play. “This story just vibrates in Griffith,” she continued, “so I’m excited but incredibly nervous, because it’s not just a woman’s story, it’s latent in the community.”

Because Evonne literally came into the world in a hut on the dirt floor without running water or electricity in the unpromising community of Tharbogang. Luckily, his hardworking shearer father impressed his boss, who helped move the family to a larger house in Barellan on the other side of Griffith. There they were the only Aboriginal family in town, who surprisingly for regional Australia in the 1950s embraced them – especially when three of Goolagong’s children wandered into the back of their house in the tennis club. of the city and showed a lot of talent. And that support came despite the fact that Evonne’s first tennis dress was made of a sheet worn with borrowed shoes and racquet.

“The humblest origins in tennis history,” said the International Tennis Hall of Fame upon her appointment – though James insists the legend that she trained to hit a ball against a wall with a frying pan is one myth too many!

What is astonishing is not Goolagong’s talent at tennis, but his ambition to succeed in the sport despite these unpromising origins and the complete lack of an indigenous role model among tennis players.

According to James, Evonne was only seven when she was inspired to read a ‘Princessmagazine story about a young non-native player who went to Wimbledon. At the same time, there were frequent reports of a Margaret Smith (later Court) coming from just down the street in Albury. At 14, she headed for training in Sydney – although the less tasty side of that relationship isn’t part of the play. For her, the significance of this move was the sacrifice made by the rest of her family – 8 children who were not so fortunate – and the difficulty in staying in touch with her roots.

Andrea James admits that creating her piece was always going to be tricky, “dealing with a national icon”. But playwright Yorta Yorta and Gunnakurnai had a few advantages. Her father had grown up in a similar fringe camp for fruit pickers outside Shepparton, and she and Evonne have ancestors dating back to the incredible William Cooper, the man behind the National Day of Mourning in 1938. , the League for the Advancement of Aborigines, numerous petitions and countless walk-offs. This DNA may have spurred Goolagong to aim to become number 1 in the world – as she was in 1971 and 1976 – and gave James a political streak that leads him to call himself an “Indigenous performance specialist.” “. This means that she is trying to find a way to incorporate complex First Nations cultural notions into all of her stage work, “especially our disrupted ceremonies, which cannot be compromised”, forcing her predominantly non-Indigenous audience “to come forward. with us – cop! ”.

It also helped that James was also a tennis fanatic. Which meant she knew she had to bring Goolagong’s graceful physique to the stage somehow. “Not by mimicking the action of tennis,” she insisted, but by employing aboriginal choreographer Vickie van Hout to find that grace through a pair of dancers. Well-known actor Luke Carroll, in an all-Indigenous cast, also turned out to be a former tennis player.

I wonder if the wonderful all-black cast playing white people in the American musical, ‘Hamilton‘- coming to Sydney next year – recently criticized by purists, will be discussed re’Super Girl Sun”?

But how did it all go with the icon? Negotiations continued throughout the process. While this Sydney coach was away, a racist incident in White City when she was called by the N word must have occurred; just like the reference to the paternalistic media of his time. And criticism of Evonne’s insensitivity to preparing to play in apartheid South Africa.

“But it was always nerve-racking to bring Evonne and Roger (Cawley, her England-born tennis professional husband) to a rehearsal,” admitted James. “I thought it was vital that she saw the physical nature of the show, as this heightened magic couldn’t pass through the pages of the script. Fortunately, they were delighted – Evonne even in tears at the end. What a great relief! “.

I hope I can make a Griffith report after Super Girl Sun world premiere on October 7; and also bring some of the flavor of the Yarruwala festival – art exhibitions and film screenings, more theater in Warangesda, the former mission where many Wiradjuri were taken for “assimilation” and cultural visits to the sites. from Wiradjuri to Narrandra, Jerilderie and Leeton. It all ends on October 17 with a ‘Celebration in Barellan‘, the home of young Evonne Goolagong and the infamous Big Racquet which overlooks the city’s famous tennis courts!


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Evonne Goolagong in his prime


‘Sunshine Supergirl’ star Kate Beckett matching Goolagong’s smile, pictured by Luke Currie-Richardson

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