Goolagong, Evonne

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Evonne Goolagong


Australian tennis player

Evonne Goolagong's 1993 memoir, Home! The Evonne Goolagong Story, released just a few years after she returned to her native Australia, became a bestseller in her home country. The book's ability to capture the attention of so many people indicates just how popular this Aboriginal Australian was to her fellow citizens. As a tennis champion, Evonne Goolagong captured the Australian Open four times and won Wimbledon twice (with victories coming almost a decade apart) and, by the time she retired from professional tennis, had amassed a record of a record of 285 victories, with 19 career singles titles. Coming from a background in which this type of success was unheard of, Evonne Goolagong has used her star status to fight for other causes, advocating for Aboriginal rights as well as spending time establishing tennis development programs for Australian children.

Growing Up

Evonne Fay Goolagong was born on July 31, 1951, in the town of Barellan, in New South Wales, Australia. She was the third of Kenneth and Linda Goolagong's eight children. Though they were not fully Aboriginal, each parent had native Aborigine ancesters. Evonne grew up in a poor but happy family. Her father was a farm laborer, performing tasks such as sheep shearing and fixing farm machinery, while her mother stayed home and took care of Evonne and her seven brothers and sisters (Evonne was the third of the eight children).

Evonne's mother instilled in her children a fear of being taken away from home. At this time in Australia (the fifties) there were crusades undertaken by some Australians who wanted to take Aboriginal children away from their families and raise them elsewhere so they could give the children a life free from poverty and what many in white Australian culture assumed to be a better education. "I remember when I was little," Evonne told Stephen Lamble in the Adelaide, Australia Sunday Mail, " whenever a car would come down the road, my aunty and my mother would say, 'You kids better go away and hide. The welfare man will take you away.'"

Goolagong invested her early energies into tennis and never gave up. Her introduction to the sport came early, and at the age of five she had become a ball girl at the Barellan War Memorial Tennis Club, where she earned some change retrieving balls, a task that no doubt helped contribute to her quick reflexes and helped develop her agility and create her court speed. By the time she was six, Evonne had acquired her first tennis racqueta gift from her auntand left behind the bat and rubber ball that she'd been using to practice with.

Though the tennis club was not the best in Australia, it did attract people who knew the game. By the time Goolagong was ten, she had caught the eye of Vic Edwards, who was then one of Australia's best known tennis coaches. According to Edwards in Contemporary Authors, the young Goolagong's "most impressive quality was her grace around the court. And she could hit that ball really hard, right in the center of the bat. She had a homemade shot, a backhand volley, and it was a beauty."

But Edwards did not live in Barellan, so Goolagong and her family had a tough decision to make. Evonne could work with Edwards, and he would exercise her natural abilities and help develop her into a fantastic player. Yet in order to do so Evonne would have to sacrifice her home life and Aboriginal culture. So, at age 11, Evonne Goolagong moved into a Sydney suburb with Edwards and his family. Her family in Barellan and the people of the town realized this was a great opportunity for the young Evonneand that there was no way she would achieve tennis fame by staying in her home-townso together they raised enough money to help her buy the new tennis equipment she would need to fit in and compete at Edwards's tennis school. Edwards in turn became her legal guardian.

Moving into the new lifestyle was not easy for the young Goolagong, however. "I cried nearly every night," she told an Australian newspaper decades later. "I remember being very shy and scared when I first started." But she remained and trained hard, rising to become one of Australia's top tennis players.

Becoming a Tennis Star

Pulled out of one culture and thrust into another, Goolagong had some major adustments to make. Edwards was from a relatively affluent suburb of Sydney, and he encouraged Evonne to attend finishing school so that she could, according to Contemporary Authors, "learn elocution and poise." After finishing school, it was on to business college, where she learned secretarial skills in the event that her pro career did not pan out. Of course, her career in tennis did take off, and after winning several of the important Australian amateur championships, Goolagong left Australia at the age of nineteen to begin her first international tour in 1970, winning seven of the 21 tournaments she played in that year. She played Wimbledon as well, but was eliminated in the first round. The exposure to a venue such as Wimbledon, however, prepared her for the future.

A Professional Tennis Player

Goolagong turned professional in 1971, wasting no time after gaining her pro status. She beat Helen Gourlay in that year's French Open. Then, just one year after that first round upset at her first Wimbledon, she returned to center court and defeated fellow Australian Margaret Smith Court in the finals, the first of her two Wimbledon victories.


1951Born July 31 in Barellan, New South Wales to Kenneth and Linda Goolagong
1959Begins playing tennis when she's eight years old
1961"Decides" she's going to win Wimbledon. Vic Edwards, well-known Australian tennis coach, becomes her coach and mentor
1965Moves to Sydney permanently to concentrate on her tennis career and live with the Edwards family
1968Enters New South Wales Championship at fifteen and plays in the Australian women's singles championship. She's ranked as the top junior in New South Wales
1968Completes her schooling at Willoughby Girls High School and receives her certificate; enters "secretarial studies" at Metropolitan Business College
1970Starts playing tennis on the international tour
1971Turns professional and wins Wimbledon; also wins French Open
1972Wins French Open Mixed Doubles with Kim Warwick
1973Wins Italian Open; also wins U.S. Indoor Championship (repeats in 1979)
1974Begins string of four consecutive Australian Open championship victories
1974Wins Virginia Slims Championship (will repeat in 1976)
1975Marries Roger Cawley on June 19
1975Severs relationship with coach Vic Edwards and moves to United States
1977Gives birth to daughter, Kelly, born on May 12
1979After time away from competition, she returns to competition and surpasses $1 million in earnings
1980Wins 2nd Wimbledonthe first mother since 1914 to win a Wimbledon singles victory
1981Gives birth to a son, Morgan, on May 28
1982Makes a brief comeback attempt but abandons it after little success
1983Announces official retirement from professional tennis
1991Returns to home country and takes up residence in Noosa, Australia
1993Publishes her biography, Home
1995Becomes board member of Australian Sporting Commission
1997Appointed Sporting Ambassador for the Australian Sporting Commission
2002Announces thatin addition to the work she does for the organizationshe's including The Salvation Army of Australia in her own will and testament

In her home country Goolagong became a dominant force in the Australian Open, winning the Grand Slam event four consecutive times between 1974 and 1977. She also took home the Australian Open doubles title four times during that decade (1971, 1974-76). Goolagong also became an important part of Australia's Federation Cup team, helping her fellow Australians to victories in 1971, 1973 and 1974 (they also reached the finals in 1975 and 1976).

Though she flirted with a second Wimbledon title several times throughout the decade, Goolagong just could not seem to win the final match. She made the Wimbledon finals three times in the 1970s, but it proved elusive, because she lost to Billie Jean King in 1972 and 1975, and then to Chris Evert in 1976.

Not Done Yet

As the 1970s wound to a close, Evonne's major victories seemed to be disappearing. Many critics of her game cited her two weakest aspectsa poor forehand volley and her "walkabouts" (the Aboriginal term Goolagong herself used to describe her wandering on the court)as reasons she was losing her control of the game. In spite of her tenacious play, some people simply thought that her desire to achieve another Grand Slam victory had dissipated.

But in 1980, Goolagong returned to Wimbledon, this time as a wife and mother (she had married Roger Cawley of Britian a few years earlier), and stunned the crowd, picking off great player after great player as she climbed her way into the finals against Chris Evert to win the only Wimbledon singles finals round to end in a tie-breaker. Goolagong was also the first mother to win the title in 66 years. When she chose to retire from the world of professional tennis in 1983, Goolagong had 285 victories and only 72 losses, along with 19 career singles titles. She also left with nearly $1.5 million in prize money.

The Goolagong Impact

The International Tennis Hall of Fame elected Evonne Goolagong into its organization in 1988. Her greatness on the court, in spite of some dry years, was indisputable. But Goolagong used her tennis career as a springboard to go on and work at making the world she knows a better place. Ever since she turned pro, Goolagong had been in the spotlight. As a black woman in a sport that then consisted mostly of the white upper-class, Goolagong stood out. When she was a young starlike many young athletes of color often doshe chose to let her work on the court speak for itself and remaine mostly silent when the microphones where in her face. At the time, Goolagong was not interested in the political implications of being an aboriginal black in a predominately white game.

She stirred controversy more than a few times, however, such as in 1972 when, after being invited to play in a segregated South African tournament, she agreed to participate. Goolagong had been given the classification of "honorary white," for the event, and many people were irritated that, in addition to the tournament being segregated, Goolagong agreed to play in the first place. When asked why she chose to participate, she simply replied, "Of course I'm proud of my race, but I don't want to be thinking about it all the time."

In the years since her retirement, however, Goolagongwho for some time has gone by the name Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, adding her husband Roger's surname to her ownhas returned to her origins and, in an attempt to know herself better, has become a student of her people and her native culture. Looking at the world differently now than she did at twenty, Goolagong has a different take on her background. "I would like more people to come out and say they are not racist," she told the Adelaide, Australia Sunday Mail. She worries about the silence of people and how it gets overpowered by those who are racist. "I can feel the tension in the wider community," she said.

After moving to the United States in the 1970s and living in America for almost two decades (first on Hilton Head Island, then in Naples, Florida), Goolagong, along with husband Roger Cawley and their two children, daughter Kelly and son Morgan, returned to Australia in 1991. They bought a house in Noosa, Queensland. "I realized that I had spent too much time away," she told Sports Illustrated 's Jeff Pearlman. "I wanted to know who my parents were, who I was I never knew what it really meant to be an Aborigine. Then two Aborigine elders invited me to particpate in a ceremony, one where you looked deep into yourself. It was the first time I felt truly home."

Goolagong's influence on the budding tennis stars of her home country is strong. "Tennis brought me out of myself and that's why it's been a great education for me," she told the Adelaide, Australia newspaper The Advertiser. This once shy girl now helps other young girls gain ground in a great sport. Goolagong runs the Evonne Goolagong Getting Started program with Tennis Australia.

Awards and Accomplishments

Member of Winning Australian Cup team: 1971, 73-74. When Goolagong retired she had a record of 285 victories, 72 losses and 19 career singles titles
1971Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year
1971Wins French Open singles; Wimbledon singles; Australian Open doubles
1971-76Member of Australian Federation Cup Team
1972Named "Australian of the Year"
1972Appointed Member of the British Empire (MBE) for services to tennis
1972Wins French Open mixed doubles
1972-73Wins Canadian Open singles and Canadian Open doubles
1974Wins Wimbledon Open doubles
1975-76Wins Australian Open singles and Australian Open doubles
1977Wins Australian Open singles
1979Wins U.S. Indoor Championship singles
1980Wins Wimbledon singles
1980Wins Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award
1982Receives the honor of the Order of Australia
1988Elected to International Tennis Hall of Fame
1989Inducted into Sudafed International Women's Sports Hall of Fame

Great for Game and Country

Evonne Goolagong is creating quite a legacy in her homeland of Australia. As a tennis champion, she has instilled the love of the game for generations of young girls who look up to her as the model for what they want to become. For Australia's poor she is working to make their lives better through her work with the Salvation Army; and, as an advocate for herbal remedies for menopausal women she strives to ease the suffering and help prevent cancer in thousands of women.

Goolagong captured the Australian Open four times and won Wimbledon twice (with victories coming almost a decade apart), and by the time she retired from professional tennis, had amassed a record of a record of 285 victories, with 19 career singles titles. She has truly risen higher than most people would have expected of a girl coming out of Barellan, New South Wales. Her kind of success was, in her native culture, unheard of before Evonne Goolagong made it so.


Address: c/o IMC, 1 Erieview Plaza, Cleveland, OH 44114.


(With Bud Collins) Evonne! On the Move. Dutton, 1975.

Where Is She Now?

Since her retirement from the professional tour in 1983, Goolagong has remained in the public eye as an ambassador for the game of tennis, as well as being an advocate for her native people's rights. She works hard to bring the issues of race to the forefront. She has also been a consultant to the Australian Sports Commission's indigenous sports program, serving as an ambassador, and since 1997 has competed on the Virginia Slims Legends tennis tour.

Goolagong also works with Australia's Salvation Army as their spokesperson, recently signing over her Will to the organization as a way of urging others to do so as well (the money goes to help fight poverty, homelessness and hunger). Additionally, she consults with the company Herbal Creations in their development of an herbal tablet to help women through menopause. "I've always had an interest in natural herbs," she told the Melbourne Sunday Herald Sun, "and when I came back to Australia I wanted to learn more about my people and part of that was learning about natural herbs." Her mother suffered terribly through menopause, and due to the hormone heplacement therapy drugs, Goolagong's mother is now battling breast cancer, as well. It's something that Evonne Goolagong's determined to fight, just like she fought on the court.

(With Phil Jarrett) Home! The Evonne Goolagong Story. Simon & Schuster, Australia, 1993.



"Evonne Goolagong." Great Women in Sports. Visible Ink Press, 1996.

Frayne, Trent. "Evonne Goolagong." Famous Women Tennis Players. New York: Dodd, 1979.

Goolagong, Eve and Bud Collins. Evonne! On the Move. New York: Dutton, 1975.

Goolagong, Eve and Phil Jarrett. Home! The Evonne Goolagong Story. East Roseville, Australia: Simon & Schuster, Australia, 1993.

Herda, D. J. Free Spirit: Evonne Goolagong. Milwaukee: Raintree Editions, 1976.

Lichtenstein, G. A Long Way Baby: Behind the Scenes in Women's Pro Tennis. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1974.

Sullivan, George. Queens of the Court. New York: Dodd, 1974.


The Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia) (September 11, 1996; August 10, 1997; December 14, 1998; August 22, 2001).

Hansen, Jennicer. "Tales of a Modern Woman." Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia) (August 11, 2002): 106.

Leavy, J. "Evonne Goolagong: playing winning tennis again." Ms. 7(1) (July 1978): 49-51.

Life (July 16, 1971).

Newsweek (July 5, 1971; July 17, 1972; March 19, 1973; June 30, 1975; April 26, 1976).

New York Times Biographical Edition (July 8, 1971; August 31, 1971).

New York Times Magazine (August 29, 1971).

Pearlman, Jeff. "Evonne Goolagong, tennis champion: April 26, 1976." Sports Illustrated (May 25, 1998): 17.

Sports Illustrated (February 15, 1971; July 12, 1971; March 20, 1972; August 7, 1972; October 28, 1974; April 26, 1976; October 17, 1977; March 27, 1978).

Time (March 1, 1971; July 17, 1972; June 30, 1975).


"Evonne Goolagong Cawley." Tennis Corner. (January 21, 2003).

Hannan, Liz. "The Latest Goolagong Chapter." (January 21, 2003).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren