26 February 2021

Louise Bilston steps back from netball after 36 years

| Tim Gavel
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Coach Louise, with her daughter's netball team at Maddies

Louise (back, left) coaching her daughter’s netball team at Maddies Netball Club. Louise’s daughter, Grace, is Wing Attack (front row). Photo: Supplied.

Louise Bilston’s involvement in the sport of netball is extensive, from player to coach, administrator, board member and president.

When Netball ACT faced the possibility of insolvency a few years ago, Bilston drew on her long career in project and business management to help save the sport in Canberra from going into administration.

The impact of COVID-19 on Canberra sporting organisations and those who volunteer their time to ensure they stay afloat can’t be underestimated.

While Netball ACT emerged from the pandemic virtually unscathed, the same can’t be said for its president.

“We have had a stressful few years. We went close to insolvency and the board had to work operationally for many years. We stayed solvent and put the organisation in a solid financial position with stronger pathways and more opportunities for members,” she said.

“Then along came COVID. We went back into crisis management and got through, but it has taken its toll. I don’t have the energy required any more, and it’s best for me to make room for someone with time and energy to devote fully to the role.”

But she’s given more than time and energy, despite other competing demands on her life.

Following her aunt and sister’s deaths to cancer, she is now caring for her father who is battling melanoma.

Louise’s son was married last year, her two daughters are also getting married, and her first grandchild is on the way.

In the end, something had to give, and of course, family comes first. That’s not to say that netball hasn’t been an important part of her life; in fact, at times, it had become all-consuming.

So how did netball play such a dominant role? This is particularly unusual as her passion growing up was track and field.

“I started playing in primary school,” says Louise, “I started coaching junior teams while I was playing in high school and continued playing while I was at university.”

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After 12 years of playing and coaching, she pursued experiences in netball management and committee involvement as a volunteer.

“Basically, my involvement in management and netball committees started when my kids were in primary school, and it went from there. I worked in project management and business management in the construction industry in Canberra, and I was able to apply those skills to helping run sporting clubs.”

Louise wrote business plans and risk management plans and put structures in place to ensure the stability and growth of clubs such as Maddie’s and the Tuggeranong Netball Association (TNA).

During her time as the president of Tuggeranong, the club launched a fundraising carnival to support Bosom Buddies and Lifeline to ensure a tangible connection to the wider community.

Louise is a big supporter of the not-for-profit sector. The connection with Bosom Buddies and Lifeline proved to be an incredibly successful venture, lifting the profile of the charities and raising funds at the same time.

Louise, Benita Bittner (CEO), and Cassandra Stewart (BNA president)

Louise Bilston, Benita Bittner (CEO), and Cassandra Stewart (BNA president) at a Belconnen Netball Association function supporting ‘Give for a Goal’ fundraiser for Netball Australia Confident Girls Foundation. Photo: Supplied.

In 2012 at the annual charity fundraiser, Louise met her partner of nearly nine years, Greens leader Shane Rattenbury.

“He put a team in the Tuggeranong Netball Association marathon game, and we hit it off from there.”

From president of TNA, Louise took the next step to the Netball ACT board before becoming president.

The most challenging time was in 2017-2018 when Netball ACT faced a financial crisis. For many, it was hard to believe as the association boasted over 10,000 registered players.

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Along with then CEO Benita Bittner, Louise set about putting new systems in place, including a financial risk management committee. It may sound dry, but it proved to be vital in keeping the sport solvent.

Now post-COVID and with Netball ACT working with Netball Australia on a State of the Game review, as well as plenty of work on governance, Louise says the time is right to move on.

Giants netball players with Louise and Cathy Toze, NACT

Taking Giants netballers out into the district. Kim Green (Giants player), Louise, Cathy Toze (NACT director), and Sarena Guthrie (Giants player). Photo: Supplied.

“Netball has been a large part of my life for such a long time, but now is the right time for me to make room for someone else to devote fully to the role as NACT moves into the next stage of its history,” says Louise.

“I am looking forward to having more time with my family and perhaps coaching NetSetGo again one day for my granddaughter in the future.”

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As to the future of the sport in Canberra, Louise thinks there’s no reason why Canberra can’t have a Super League team.

“NACT recently established the Capital Darters after securing a licence in NNSW Premier League, which is the pathway for our member’s to the ANL. The next opportunity for our members should be Super League. However, there’s a lot to do before that happens,” says Louise.

“But I believe we should have a team in the Netball Super League. We have teams in the NRL, W League, WNBL and Super Rugby, why not the Netball Super League?”

Louise may be stepping away from her role as the leader of netball in Canberra, but it’s obvious her passion for the sport remains. And she leaves the sport confident that it is in a strong position and will continue to be a part of so many people’s sporting life for years to come.

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