For the little girl who grew up hitting a tennis ball with a wooden paddle made from a milk crate, Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s dream was to one day play on the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon’s centre court.
Honing her skills by hitting the ball against any wall she could find, the passionate tennis prodigy spent countless days hitting the ball with her wooden paddle before she was gifted a racquet at the age of nine.
It wasn’t till her family moved to Barellan that she saw a tennis court for the first time, but she still chose to hit the ball against the wall.
“I would play tournaments against the wall to see how many times I could hit the ball without making a mistake,” she told Region Media.
“I would write the score in the dirt and come back the next day to try and beat that score.”
One day, the 11-year-old read a story in a magazine about a young girl who was discovered, trained and taken to a place called Wimbledon, where she played on this magical centre court and won.
“I didn’t even know that it existed until somebody told me that it was real and that it is in London, England,” she shared. “So from then on, when I was hitting against the wall I pretended I was at Wimbledon and playing on that magical centre court.
“I used to dream about it every night.”
It was local policeman Burt Hammond, who took a hat around to the local community to raise money for Goolagong Cawley’s suitcase, clothes and trip to Sydney, who helped her take her first steps of chasing her dream.
Perhaps Mr Hammond saw in her the makings of a world champion, because within a couple of years, the Griffith native went on to be a world No. 1 tennis player, winning seven Grand Slams in singles, six in women’s doubles, and one in mixed doubles, including her first Wimbledon title against her idol Margaret Court as a fresh-faced 20-year-old.
With one childhood dream realised, Goolagong Cawley turned her focus to her second: giving back to the Indigenous community.
“I told my husband Roger that I wanted to do what the townspeople did for me, so we created the program and formed the Evonne Goolagong Foundation 22 years ago,” she said.
Using tennis as a vehicle to promote better health, education and employment, the program has awarded school scholarships, produced university scholars, tennis players, coaches, and sports administrators and has helped with employment placement.
Since 2012, under the auspices of the Evonne Goolagong Foundation and in conjunction with the Australian Government, the Dream, Believe, Learn, Achieve programme has conducted Tennis Come and Try Days nationwide, giving access to Goolagong State Development Camps.
The Foundation has handed out 67 scholarships to quality education institutions around Australia, with 17 students going to university.
Goolagong Cawley and the foundation visited Melba Tennis Club earlier this week to put on a free Indigenous Tennis Come N Try Day, for Indigenous children aged between 5 to 15-years-old. Their message was threefold: stay in school, be awesome role models in their community, eat healthily and be active.
Flanked by 113 kids from 14 schools across the nation’s capital, this is the place where Evonne Goolagong Cawley feels most at home.
“I am now living my second dream in days like these,” she shared. “We weren’t expecting these many kids to turn up today. In all the different places we go, 70 is about right for the number of coaches we have so they are going to be very busy today.
“I am just trying to do what the townspeople did for me in the very beginning.”