Diving into the incredible history of women's baseball in Australia!
Credit: By Tanith Harley
The Early Years
Women and girls of Australia have been playing the game of baseball as far back as the early 1900’s. American’s favourite pastime was introduced to Australia on the goldmines of Ballarat during the 1850’s and by the time of the first Australian Baseball Championship in 1910 reports of a girls’ state school tournament in Tasmania had taken place. Other states soon followed and in 1915 Victoria introduced baseball as a school sport for girls’ and the following year The Girls Public School Association Baseball Competition was introduced. Teams across Greater Melbourne, including Geelong Church of England Girls Grammar School, Lauriston Girls School and Methodist Ladies College competed for the Austin Cup for over 20 years with Geelong taking home the honour for over a decade. Many notable players would come from the alumnae of the schoolgirls’ competition, such as Betty and Gwen Hornabrook, Winnie South and Mollie Alexander, setting a strong foundation for women’s baseball in Victoria.
Through the 1920’s baseball was becoming a more recognized and popular game amongst women across the country and teams were popping up in schools, universities and independent organisations in each state. By the end of the decade, NSW and QLD had independent teams forming from organizations such as David Jones, Nestles and Arnotts creating their own league of competition.
Image 1 - Winning team. 1928. Photo courtesy of The Hermitage, Geelong Church of England Girls Grammar School archives collection.
Image 2 - N.S.W and Victorian State Teams. 1933. Photo courtesy of the Hornabrook Family private collection.
Image 3 - Batswoman strikes out. 1934. Image Sam Hood/The State Library of New South Wales.
First Australian Interstate Championship
With the new decade saw the continued rise of popularity of women’s baseball, in September 1930 the first Women’s baseball association in Australia and possibly the world was formed in Sydney. Public interest grew and over 4000 spectators witnessed the opening day games of the New South Wales Women’s Baseball Association at the Domain in Sydney.
Queensland soon followed and in 1931 the Queensland Women’s Baseball Association was formed.
By the start of 1933 the Victorian Women’s Baseball Association was formed and talks began to hold the first inter-state competitions. March 1933 the first interstate games were held in Brisbane with QLD competing against N.S.W. Over 1600 spectators turned out for game 3 of the series witnessing N.S.W taking the series with a 5 run win over QLD. To complete the interstate series, NSW travelled to VIC where in a 3 game series VIC proved too strong for their rivals taking all three games.
It was during these interstate games an agreement was made between the three states to form an Australian Women’s Baseball Association, with the view to hold the first national women’s baseball carnival in 1934. They began work on drawing up the framework for the constitution and rules of the national body so that formation could occur before the 1934 series.
The All-Australian Women's Baseball Association
April 16th, 1934, history was made when the All-Australian Women’s Baseball Association was formed and on April 17th the first ever game of the All-Australian championship was held at University Square in Sydney. N.S.W, VIC and QLD took part in the championship and at the conclusion of the tournament an All-Australian team would be selected giving the chosen players the highest honours in women’s baseball in the country.
N.S.W took home the inaugural women’s championship on a point score system with VIC coming in second. Kath Drennan, captain of the winning side was selected as the captain of the first All-Australian squad, with 6 of her fellow teammates making the side. Along with 4 Victorian players and 1 Queenslander.
The series concluded on April 21 with an exhibition match between the newly selected All-Australian team and the “Metropolis” a representative team chosen from Sydney’s Women’s Baseball community. The afternoon fixture which was the highlight of the series opened with Kath Drennan batting for her Australian team, she was the first to cross home plate and Winnie South the next to drive in a run. Metropolis could not handle the deliveries of Mollie Flaherty, despite 2 runs in the first innings did not score for the following 4 innings. The Australian team continued to bring in the runs and proved too strong for Metropolis beating them 23-5.
Australian Team -
Mollie Flaherty NSW Pitcher
Eve Bond NSW Pitcher
Dorothy Kelly NSW Catcher
G Taylor NSW Catcher
Joan Lewis VIC 1B
Kath Drennan NSW Captain 2B
Winnie South VIC SS
Ida Dillon NSW 3B
Marjorie Hederwick VIC OF
Toppy Howell NSW OF
Donna Kulick QLD OF
Gwen Hornabrook VIC OF
The interstate series continued until 1940 with Victoria dominating the annual series taking the most titles.
Despite the best efforts of the A.A.W.B.A to engage with overseas countries to compete in international tournaments, the impended war shut down the majority of sports in Australia and baseball was strongly affected. Various clubs and leagues across Australia continued to play throughout the war years but women’s baseball would not see another interstate championship until 2000.
The 1990s saw a resurgence in girls and women wanting to play baseball, with t-ball being offered as a school sport in many schools around the nation. In the mid 90’s Melbourne launched their own Women’s baseball league with other states soon to follow. The first Women’s Nationals were held in 1999 in Melbourne, VIC and it was not long before the Australian Baseball Federation introduced the Australian Women’s Championships which have since bene held annually since 2000. Teams from VIC, QLD, NSW, NSW COUNTRY, ACT, WA, AND SA compete in the yearly nationals. In the 22 year history of the championship VIC holds the most titles at 13, with NSW taking home 7 and WA holding 2.
Following the success of the Australian Women’s Championships in 2000 an Australian Team was selected in 2001 with the intention of participating in the international arena. The Australian Team know known as the Emeralds have had enormous success over their 22-year history having competed in all eight Women’s Baseball World Cups and are currently ranked 8th in the world.
With a wealth of talent involved since its inaugural year, Australia has produced some of the world’s best women baseballers including the likes of All-Star players Katie Gaynor, Chelsea Forkin, Shae Lillywhite, Amy McCann, Laura Neads and Tahnee Lovereing. As well as coaching greats Simone Wearne, Lisa Norrie and Samantha Hamilton and International sporting superstar Jacinda Barclay.
Women's World Baseball Series
As Women’s national teams gained traction internationally, the governing bodies from Japan, USA, Canada and Australia joined forces to create an annual international women’s baseball tournament. In 2001 the inaugural Women’s World Baseball series was held at the Toronto Blue Jays SkyDome in Toronto, Canada with the above countries participating.
Australia performed exceedingly well claiming bronze in the series with USA taking home gold.
In 2002, Australia, Japan and the USA competed in the World Series held in Florida USA. In an outstanding performance, Australia was victorious winning the series against Japan 7- 4 taking home the gold.
2003 saw the World Series being played on home soil. In August 20023 Australia hosted the World Series on the Gold Coast, Queensland. Once again, Australia, Japan and the USA competed with Japan taking the series and Australia taking home the silver.
In 2004 the World Series saw enormous growth with 8 teams competing in the tournament. With teams from Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, India and Korea competing. Japan yet again took home gold with Australia coming in at fourth place.
Women's World Cup
In 2004 the Women’s World Series became the Women’s Baseball World Cup after it was sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation. Creating a biennial world cup that is now under the guidance of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).
The inaugural World Cup was held in Canada 2004, with Australia coming in at fourth place. A position they would hold until they took home the silver medal in 2010 when they eliminated the host side Venezuela in the semi-final to play against Japan in the final. Continuing their success in 2014 beating Canada to bring home the bronze medal.
Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic the World Cup has not been competed since 2018. In 2021 the WBSC announced a new format to the tournament changing from a 2-year cycle to a 4-year cycle.
Having last appeared in 2018 under the managerial guidance of Simone Wearne
the Emeralds have their sights set to continue their success in the 2024 World Cup.
With a view to create a professional women’s baseball league in Australia, Baseball Australia opened an opportunity for players to be part of a national showcase of the top women players in the country. After postponements due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2021 the inaugural Australian Women’s Baseball Showcase was held in Adelaide, SA. With the country’s top players and best up and coming talent represented from 5 states and territories, competing in a showcase of two teams the Adelaide Giants and Brisbane Bandits. In an exciting display of talent over a 4 game tournament, the series was tied in an exciting final seeing Brisbane Bandits win after falling to Adelaide in the past two games. The Showcase was broadcast to an international audience with Amy McCann becoming the first woman to commentate an ABL Women’s game.
Following the success of the 2021 showcase, it was again presented in 2022 in Geelong, VIC. With a showcase of 3 teams, the Victorian Aces, Brisbane Bandits and Adelaide Giants, Australia’s best players alongside international talent such as WBSC MVP Ayama Sato from Japan, Allison Schroder and Claire Eccles from Canada and Anna Kimbrell from the USA. Again, the series was broadcast to an international audience with former Emerald Amy McCann once again behind the commentary mic. Managing the teams were Lisa Norrie, Samantha Hamilton and former Japanese women’s head coach Risa Nakashima. Victorian Aces took out the showcase beating the Brisbane Bandits in an exciting gold medal final.
2022 saw the inaugural Barclay Cup tournament on the Gold Coast, QLD, in honour of Australian Emerald Jacinda Barclay, who sadly passed away in 2020. The national tournament for youth girls aged between 13-16 provided a new opportunity for players to participate at an interstate level with coaching guidance from some of Australia’s top women baseballers. The Barclay Cup will again be held in 2023 in Perth, WA.