Karla Matua (nee Clay) memories (and personal experience)

Karla is Wallaroo #1, she is from the Northern Territory and her first cap was in 1994 v NZ.
Here is her story:
I’m a true blue Kiwi girl and was in the right time at right place to put the Wallaroo jersey on. A few things I recall below, and remember I’m coming from a very different background eg. Kiwi!

· First off I made the team in my first year of ever playing rugby in a new country playing a new game. Having played every sport available in NZ and reps in various codes moved to Oz to recover from a knee injury sustained in netball while playing reps in Auckland I think it was 1990. But I think all my sporting skills and competitive nature and size allowed me to play rugby quite easily and I enjoyed it being something new to learn and play… I watched my FIRST EVER game of live rugby while in Australia!! I grew up in Auckland with a family steeped in Rugby League and never had the need or opportunity to watch the 15s game.

· I made the Wallaroos team after Nationals that were held in Newcastle (1993), had my parents there to watch and present while the squad was named at prizegiving, they were both happy and shocked that their daughter would be wearing the green and golds. As was I the prospect didn’t even enter my head!

· Made the team with two fellow Club / NT team mates, Kerry Davis and Ang Doige we trained our butts off and went down to training camp at Institute of Sport determined to make the final cut, starting line up and an impact.

· One of my vivid memories is the amount of money ARFU had invested in the team in terms of camp, resources (Phil Kearns etc), clothing, gear that we received which totally blew me away!! Having been part of many rep sides in NZ that was never a key focus, and a tracksuit was a bonus and budgets were always shoestring so to see the amount of money invested in the team was really cool and I was thankful for everything we received right down the the sponsored bras, drizabones, make up kits etc have never experienced this again before. In NZ the focus is more on performance on field / court everything else is a bonus but not a necessity.

· I also remember a core of the team were Kiwis and we naturally bonded together – this may sound biased but I also believe we were some of the better players in the team, being more physical and I thought mentally stronger than the others which I learnt were key qualities in being a gd rugby player, not just speed and fitness. We laughed about playing against the Black Ferns and whether our team would have a shot, which in honesty I knew from training with the girls would not be up to standard but it was a gd start and a way to gauge how much more develop was needed.

· One thing I noticed about the make up of the team that differed from other rep teams I’d played in at home was the girls came from ‘educated’ backgrounds and hardly any had kids or were really young. They were teachers, PT’s, elite athletes in other sports, specialists speedsters etc… my other teams were just your normal working Mums, wifes, everyday women who played a sport and were good at it, that was a big difference I thought in make up of a team. Had it’s pro’s / con’s sometimes school of hard knocks goes a long way esp in this game!

· I remember I secured the No 1 jersey to start in that 1994 test and was rapt. Playing at North Sydney (league ground) was big for me as I was such a league fan!! That was the first thing I told my family back home and it kinda meant more the the game itself, so much history and being on that field that such league greats had played on was special to me – again rugby put to the side.

· Kick off came and the build up was exciting, we sang the anthems and of course I sang the NZ Anthem it didn’t even cross my mind that I wouldn’t do that – after all it was who I was and where I’d come from and part of the reason I was standing there. I got a growling post match but didn’t care they could kick me out of the team I didn’t mind. I didn’t know the words to the Ozzie one but stood bound with my team out of respect of course – I do remember they all sang it flat though!

· The game was hard and physical and I knew a few of the girls from Ferns team from home and ended up playing against and alongside again after I returned home. During the game it was obvious we lacked in lots of areas especially the physical part of the game, experience and decision making, knowledge of the rules etc but I was really happy with the fulltime score 30 something nil I think? It was better than what I thought it would be. I remember a comment made post match at the function that we (Oz) looked like air hostesses and the Ferns looked like waitresses, it was in reference to what gear we were wearing – I felt sad to hear it but it was true but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you look like but the scoreboard that counts!!

· We left Oz to go and live in England the year after this test which was hard for me because I really wanted to stay and it was purely because of the rugby! I wanted to play in the World Cup and believed I could improve my game more and have something to offer the Wallaroos in future but that was it for me after that. I returned to Darwin and donated my jersey to my club University Pirates where it still hangs to this day.

· I had my daughter in 1996, prior to this played two years of Rugby League which I loved… since 1997 I have been playing rugby and still am, rugby Sat’s and league on Sun’s over here. I have coached at local schools, Managed, played rep’s for Counties Manukau / Auckland Storm, NZ Maoris and been playing for my club for last 13 years having brought through schoolgirls to making the Auckland club final last year which is a massive achievement considering we are playing against teams stacked with Black Ferns – we now have 3 within our team so been a very rewarding journey all started from those early days in Darwin.

So this is my Wallaroo story albeit and short one! I’m rapt to have the No1 cap at home and will always keep it as a testament to that day vs Black Ferns and an opportunity I had to play…

The Emergence of the Wallaroos
A personal experience

Angie Fairweather (Wallaroo #15)

My interest and involvement in rugby had started a few years before. As a young tomboy in a rugby league heartland I had played league with the boys at school during lunch time until I was forced to stop when I turned 13. I continued to play soccer at representative levels through high school and into uni. When I joined the Army and went to the Australian Defence Force Academy in 1986 I was caught up in the rugby culture that pervades the Armed Services in Australia. I followed the Wallabies and was enchanted by the “game they play in heaven”. I supported my close male friends who played each weekend and went on their trips away. I played touch football when it started up in the late 1980s and found I was pretty good at running, passing and catching. I loved playmaking and running the ball and with my kicking skills learnt from years of soccer I so wished I could get out there and play rugby.

The first time I heard about women’s rugby I was driving in an Army vehicle on my way to an exercise at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland. It was 1993. ABC radio was interviewing a lady who was talking about starting women’s rugby in Queensland with a view to sending teams to the next National Championships in Newcastle the following year. There was also a mention of forming an Australian women’s team to take on New Zealand later that year for the first time. I was so excited. I decided there and then that I was going to play rugby for Australia.

As soon as I got back to Brisbane I got in touch with the group that was trying to start up women’s rugby. Together we went around to each of the major Brisbane clubs and held information nights and “come and try” sessions. Soon we had teams in each of the major Brisbane Rugby Clubs, with the exception of Brothers, and were ready to start a competition. Fortunately for us the Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) saw the value in having a women’s competition and supported our efforts. We faced little opposition, except from the old and bolds who believed a woman’s place was not on the rugby field. We were able to gain sponsorship and we would compete for what was known as the Mazda Cup. Because we lacked the skill and strength it was decided that we would play under modified U19 laws for safety reasons.

We started the 1994 season off with some sevens and ten-a-side trial matches before getting into the competition. Initially there was more enthusiasm than skill, and the contact was tentative, but once the girls got used to it there was no holding back. I naturally played half back given my skills and love of the position and wanted to be as good as my hero Nick Farr-Jones. I played for Souths and we were thrilled to play a ten-a-side exhibition match at the hallowed Ballymore ground as a curtain raiser for a Super 10 Rugby match.

Seven teams from Queensland made the trip to Newcastle for the National Championships, which included invitational teams from New Zealand. It was here we saw firsthand how much more advanced they were than any Australian players. We learnt the NZ girls had been playing for over six years, and had even contended in a World Cup in Europe. They were coached by some of the best rugby minds in New Zealand. My team South Brisbane finished third in the competition behind Christchurch and an ACT side. Seven of our players were selected in the first Australian Women’s Squad which was named after Australia’s first-ever constituted Rugby club in 1870 – the Wallaroos.

The excitement of being named in that squad was one of the greatest highs of my life. I felt a mixture of great satisfaction in achieving a goal but also a sense of unworthiness. I knew a lot of boys have the dream of playing rugby for Australia and spend their whole lives training hard to get into the team. And yet I had achieved it in less than a few months and with less than a dozen games under my belt. I was determined to make sure I served my country well and did my very best. I threw myself into a heavy physical training regime, watched rugby videos and read everything I could about being a half back from greats like Gareth Edwards and Ken Catchpole. I even got to meet John Hipwell. I fretted about getting injured and missing out but in the end realised it was nothing I could prevent and just tried to enjoy my games.

Eventually the time came around to go off to Sydney for our camp. The Queensland players flew down in our brightly coloured training tops to join the rest of the squad. First stop was ARU headquarters to be kitted out. This was better than any Christmas as a child. The reality of representing my country sunk in as we tried on our green and gold training jerseys, shorts, socks with two gold bands and tracksuits. Back in those days representative jerseys and shorts were embroidered with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) logo while those for public sale had an ARU cloth badge sewn on. I expected we would be given the public ones as the poor cousins to our male counterparts but it wasn’t the case. Not only did we get embroidered gear but it had Wallaroos written where Wallabies usually appeared. We were being taken seriously. We were also measured for our blazers and impressions were taken for our mouthguards. New boots, training gear, formal wear and individually numbered kit bags completed the picture.

The next day saw the start of our training camp at the NSW Institute of Sport at Narrabeen. Our first day of training included a game against the NSW U16 boys at Rat Park, Warringah. Talk about diving in the deep end! We had no idea 15yo boys could be so huge. The first half was a disaster and we did not even provide a challenging training run for the boys. For the second half it was decided the boys would swap their forwards and backs but even this did not help us. We were way out of our league. We were happy to escape the encounter without any serious injuries.

The rest of the week involved training sessions at Narrabeen and time off to enjoy the sites of Sydney. We were privileged to be mentored by Wallaby greats Phil Kearns and Tony Daly who finetuned our scrum. We had a motivational talk by coaching legend Bob Dwyer. All was on track for the test match against the Kiwis. It was clear we needed to make up for a lack of skill, experience and game play with enthusiasm, determination and mental toughness. My preparation was thrown into disarray the morning they announced the run on team for the test. I was approached by the coaches and asked how I felt about playing fullback. They explained they needed someone with my kicking and receiving skills in that position. I was quite taken aback as I had never played the position before and my dream of playing halfback for Australia was under threat. However, I knew the team’s needs must come before my own and accepted the challenge. I managed to get a hold of a coaching video by Gavin Hastings on playing fullback and spent extra training time kicking and receiving balls. That was the sum total of my preparation.

The day of the test was nerve wracking. It was hard to know what to do with your time and how best to prepare. We eventually headed off to North Sydney Oval where we were presented with our green and gold jerseys in the dressing room. It felt so good to finally pull it on and I swear I grew an inch in that moment. We stood opposite each other in the middle of the field while the national anthems were played and sized each other up. Apart from their tall, solid winger, Louisa Wall, they were not all that big. We soon found out that they were compact, fit, skilled, well drilled and tough as nails. If not for the reduced halves of 25 minutes the score would have been a lot more embarrassing than the 37 nil result. Yet at the end we were far from devastated. It had been an awesome experience and we had come through it with our pride intact. Our coach was delighted with how doggedly we had played and our never give up attitude. It wasn’t pretty but you have to start somewhere. In a few short years women’s rugby in Australia would be a force on the international stage.

Rachelle Pirie (Wallaroo #77)

Ashleigh Hewson (Wallaroo #105)