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Posted on Speeches by · March 17, 2014 12:39 PM
I rise today with pleasure to pay tribute to a sport that has delivered enormous social good for over a century in communities across our nation. Netball taught me, and thousands like me, the importance of team, the thrill of winning and the lows of defeat from a contest-by-contest as well as game and season perspective. It taught us about fitness and about persistence; it taught us to work hard and to work together. It taught us about volunteering and about community. It provided local role models—women who played hard on the court and ran a very successful and inclusive association, of which I am honoured to say I am a life member. Women like Jenny Toohey, Irene Cooney, Wilma Ryan, Dulcie Harvey and Alison Purdon were involved from their girlhood through to their 60s, and Kerin Flaherty, today in her 70s, is still umpiring multiple times a week.
In the years I grew from junior to senior, netball grew from a sleeping giant to having the highest participation rates of any sport in the country for girls, and with it came more opportunities for those involved. When I was a kid I lived for stories of Melbourne University Blue and North Melbourne. These were serious clubs where state reps learned their craft and donned the Victorian navy blue in the national championships to play arch rivals New South Wales and South Australia. Today we have a trans-Tasman competition with international players from around the world televised weekly, adding to the media coverage of international competitions such as the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games and annual Tests.
I want to pay tribute today to a lady who was critical and pivotal in building the profile of this great sport: the great Joyce Brown. Joyce Brown OAM was a Victorian player, captain and coach. She was an Australian player, captain and coach. She was a double-A badged umpire and developed the national coaching accreditation programs still used today. She is a great Victorian and great Australian. It was women like those in my community and like Joyce Brown who took their love for the game and built what we have today.
What is so special about netball? Let me explain. It is a true team sport. It is a game of specialised positions that are limited to populate only certain parts of the court. It therefore takes more than one player to move the ball from one end of the court to the other. Teams have alternating possession from the centre, so one team cannot dominate the game the same way they can in soccer or hockey or football or basketball. This creates one-on-one contests all over the court for every possession, which means it is about strategy. It is about creating and closing down space and doing it in a cohesive way, using intricate moves and counter-moves all over the court. The uninitiated soon learn that, although the rules say it is a no-contact sport, it is all about contact in the contest, move and counter-move. It is also like dancing—it has a rhythm that is hypnotic and players rely heavily on kinetic awareness and peripheral vision.
For my netball friends and I, who also played lots of other sports together, netball is the only thing—the sport that provides the tightest physical contact with the perfectly threaded pass, the exquisitely timed lead, the crafted moves that open up just the right space and the 'aha' moment, when limbs and mind combine and a great intercept is taken and the player and ball move smoothly through the air. Playing the game is theatre and concert. It is elegant and graceful. It is demanding and exhilarating. It is the most aerial of sports, combining the perfect one-handed passes, the high hard to a leading player and the sweet arch of the lob, these juxtaposed by the double-handed give-and-gos and tight bounce passes delivered around corners at lightning speed.
In a Commonwealth Games year, I wish another great Victorian, Lisa Alexander, and her charges in the national team all the best in their selection and preparation across the next six months and a great tournament in Glasgow. I, like all netball fans, look forward, as ever, to watching the Diamonds play. I also congratulate all involved in the ANZ Championships, particularly, of course, the Vixens. I commend the motion to the House.