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"After a really good game you come off the court .>feeling terrific." Picture: ERN McQUILLAN.

Australia's most popular sport for women

Picture: ERN McQUILLAN.

It's a rough, tough

game but the women

of Australia love it

- and are good at it,

says

JANE CAMENS

THE loudspeaker boomed out

across the 34 netball courts, k'Have

you got your score sheet Court 14?""

A moment later a bell rang and 448 girls in scant box-pleated uniforms took last

mouthfuls of lime cordial and sucked oranges before hurrying back to their

courts.

A whistle blew - and play began.

Every Saturday during the winter season as manv as 200.000 girls throughout Australia compete in netball matches like this one held by the Sutherland Shire Netball Association in Sydney. Il is now the biggest sport for women in this country .

"People think it's played onlv by young girls, but women of all ages compete," said Mrs Dorothy McHugh. a member of the All Australian Netball Association, "and ifs all free."

Netball used to be called "women's

basketball," The name was changed seven years ago and this year marks the golden anniversary of the game's official establish-

ment in Australia.

Anniversary celebrations will start in August at the National Netball Tourna- ment in Tasmania and finish in August 1978 at the National Championships in Sydney. Trinidad has already accepted an invitation to send a team along. The

Australian Netball Association hopes other teams from the 25 playing countries will be able to raise funds to come this year.

On the Sutherland Association's courts

(one of 17 associations in the Sydney metropolitan area) 34 games are contested

at the same time.

"'Come on Maggie." yelled a male voice from the side lines. Someone explained that Maggie was not a girl, but an entire team called the Magpies.

The Eagles, the Sharks, the Comets and the Thistles are just a few of the teams who compete regularly in tournaments in New

South Wales. Their names and uniforms

are as colourful as any rugbv team - and the competitors much more attractive.

"1 think a lot of fellows sell this game short." said the Magpies' enthusiastic male supporter. "The girls are good with the ball and most men come away impressed bv how fit they are."

Today, netball is a hard, fast, serious game. "You've got to be fit to play. The girls go through some incredible training because they've got to be tough," said Mrs Lois Hole, a 42-year-old mother who plays netball because "it keeps me young."

An umpire blew a whistle on Court 14 of the Sutherland courts. One girl had "hit" the ground. Possibly another broken leg. "We get an average of 30 casualties here on Saturdays," said Mrs Agnes Ellis, senior vice-president of the Association.

Yes. it can be a tough game, but as Mrs McHugh from the All Australian Netball Association says. "You're supposed to remember that you are ladies, and not go out to hit people on purpose."

1 asked one young plaver about this genteel ruling. She laughed. "Plentv of pushing goes on."

In summer, indoor night tournaments are held for married women, although women of all ages can play in the Saturday winter games.

Australian teams have won almost

ev erv international tournament they have participated in.

"To come off the court after a really good game - that's a terrific feeling." said

one teenager sitting on the sidelines after . her match, "lt's a shame more people don't come along to find out what it's about." CZ7

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