Goolagong Cawley, Evonne (1951—)

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Goolagong Cawley, Evonne (1951—)

Australian Aboriginal tennis champion who ranked among the world's best women players for 15 years. Name variations: Evonne Cawley; Evonne Goolagong-Cawley. Pronunciation: Eve-on GOO-la-gong CAW-lee. Born Evonne Goolagong on July 31, 1951, in Griffith, New South Wales, Australia; daughter of Melinda Violet Goolagong and Kenny Goolagong (a shearer); completed high school at Willoughby Girl's High and secretarial course at Metropolitan Business College in Sydney; married Roger Cawley, on June 16, 1975; children: Kelly Inala Cawley (b. May 12, 1977) and Morgan Kyeema Cawley (b. May 28, 1981).

At age 12, began entering major tennis tournaments (1963); won Under-13 New South Wales (NSW) Hard Court championship (1964); won Under-15 NSW Country championship (1964); received U.S. Sports Illustrated award of merit (1964); held every tennis title available in her age group in NSW (1965); held 12 age titles (1966); won Queensland Girl, NSW Girl, and Victorian Girl championships (1967); was top-ranked girl in NSW (1968); won Wilson Cup (1969); held 60 age-and-junior titles (1970); was runner-up British Hard Court championship (1970); won Welsh Open, Victorian Open, North England championship, Cumberland Hard Court championship, Midlands Open, Queensland Open, and Bavarian Open (1970); was Australian Hard Court champion in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, and on winning Federation Cup team (1970); won South African Doubles, French Open singles, Wimbledon singles, Dutch Open singles, and Queensland Open singles (1971); awarded MBE by Queen Elizabeth II and named Australian of the Year (1972); won NSW Open, South African Open, and was runner-up at Wimbledon (1972); was U.S. National Indoors champion, and on Federation Cup winning team (1973); won Canadian Open and Italian Open (1973); won Czechoslovakian championship in singles and mixed doubles (1973); won Australian Open and U.S. National Open (1974); named Sun Sportsman of the Year (1974); was New Zealand Open champion in singles and doubles, and on winning Federation Cup team (1974); was Wimbledon doubles champion and Virginia Slims champion (1974); won Australian Open and was runner-up at Wimbledon (1975); won NSW Open and Australian Open (1976); was runnerup at Wimbledon (1976); had 15 consecutive victories on Virginia Slims tour (1976); was Sydney Colgate International champion (1977); won NSW Open and Australian Open (1977); was U.S. Indoor champion (1979); won Wimbledon singles (1980).

By age two, Evonne Goolagong was bashing a tennis ball against a brick chimney with a racquet carved by her father Kenny Goolagong from an old packing case. She also obsessively clutched that old tennis ball she had found behind a car seat like other children hug stuffed toys. But, far from being tennis buffs, Goolagong's parents were itinerant laborers. After her birth in Griffith hospital in the outback of New South Wales (NSW) on July 31, 1951, Evonne was brought home by her mother Linda Goolagong to a corrugated iron shack which her father had built on the fringes of tiny Tarbogan.

An Australian Aboriginal, Evonne Goolagong was born into the Wiradjuri people who ranged through a wide area of Southern Central NSW. Though deprived of their traditional lifestyle by the time of her birth, she still had many kin in the area who lived in rough dwellings on the fringes of country towns.

When Evonne was two years old, her family settled down in the small town of Barellan, 400 miles southwest of Sydney. Her father, a hardworking shearer, obtained a permanent position with a local sheep grazier who provided them with an old house in the township. They were the only Aboriginal family in the town and, according to Goolagong, encountered only a minimum of the prejudice and racism so common throughout Australia in that era. Australian Aboriginal people did not have the right to vote, and there was widespread segregation. Linda Goolagong ensured her children were well-cared for and well-dressed on a minimal and erratic income which depended on the availability of work for her husband. Out of shearing season, he sometimes had to travel to find odd jobs.

As the third eldest of seven children, Evonne had a happy childhood. The family often went away on camping trips to a favorite spot on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River so that Kenny could fish and the children swim and play with a freedom reminiscent of their ancestors. Regularly, they traveled further afield to Condobolin, the place from which the Goolagongs originated, to renew the all important ties of family and kin.

Evonne was an active, athletic girl. Together with her older sister and brother, she often roamed the surrounding countryside collecting traditional bush foods. At school, she was protected from racist taunts by her stocky big brother's reputation and participated readily in school sports. She was the champion of her first school sports carnival and often played softball and cricket with the boys. Her opportunity to progress from hitting balls against a chimney came when Bill Kurtzman, a retired local grazier (one who pastures cattle for

market), persuaded the Barellan community to build new tennis courts on the grounds of the War Memorial Club in 1956.

By happy chance, these courts backed onto the Goolagong family residence. Only five years old at the time, Goolagong was too young to join the club but eagerly used the practice wall and watched her older sister and brother play in club games after they joined in 1957. Occasionally allowed to play, her natural talent was soon noticed, and she was given special permission to join the club two years later. A great tennis career, which would bring the small outback town of Barellan to international fame, had begun. Kurtzman took Evonne under his wing in the early days and drove her to tournaments throughout the district. Goolagong's family was so poor she had to borrow a racquet in order to play.

In 1961, on Kurtzman's invitation, two talent scouts from the renowned Victor A. Edwards Tennis School arrived in Barellan to run a coaching clinic. The Goolagong children, especially Evonne, attracted their attention. The following year, the coaches encouraged Victor A. Edwards himself to come to Barellan to see this potential champion. As a result, Evonne, who was already winning district tournaments, was invited to visit Sydney in 1963 and stay with the Edwards family so that she could train and compete in her first big tournament: the Under-13 Grass Court championships. In 1964, she once again traveled to Sydney, sponsored by the Barellan community, and won a number of age competitions, including the Under-15 Country when she was still only 13. She was becoming a media sensation—the new up-and-coming champion.

They didn't want to know about my tennis, they wanted me to speak in Wiradjuri or throw a boomerang or something. I was that year's Wimbledon freak show.

—Evonne Goolagong

By 1965, Goolagong held every title available to her in NSW. Victor Edwards, who was to be her long time coach, persuaded her parents to let Evonne move in permanently with his family so that he could mould and supervise her career. Though she developed a close relationship with the Edwardses and their daughters, Goolagong felt strange and lost in the big city of Sydney and suffered from homesickness. This sometimes affected her performances, but her love of tennis kept her dedicated to the tough routine of training and playing schedules.

Evonne's occasional lapses of concentration—usually attributed to her Aboriginality—occurred throughout her career and became legendary. Sports commentators would almost invariably say "Evonne's gone walkabout." Originally nomadic, the Aboriginal culture required people to fulfil many spiritual and ritual obligations which involved travel to sacred sites and ceremonies. These obligations were not understood by white people who perceived "going walkabout" as an indication of laziness. Evonne Goolagong's lapses of concentration had nothing to do with Aboriginal ancestral obligations. She had no training in traditional culture. It was simply a personal trait. This tendency to make unfounded and fanciful assumptions dogged Goolagong throughout her tennis career. Even in Australia, she was treated as a great curiosity because so few of her race had managed to emerge from the oppressive conditions they were forced to live under and have successful careers.

In 1970, Goolagong left Australia on her first overseas tour with 60 age-and-junior titles to her credit. Considerable though her talent was, it was her Aboriginality which attracted attention. Her first appearance at Wimbledon, on Court 4 in the opening rounds, drew a large crowd. Consequently, her second round match was scheduled for Centre Court—an unlikely draw for a newcomer. From the first, it was hard to know whether the crowds had come to watch Goolagong's agile tennis talents or to stare at an exotic spectacle. The latter attitude was encouraged by the press who constantly referred to her in terms such as "chocolate coloured piccaninny" which would fall afoul of modern-day anti-discrimination laws.

Through it all, Goolagong usually maintained her serene good nature; even her first appearance on Centre Court did not faze her. "I would like to report that I was so nervous I couldn't sleep a wink," she said, "but losing sleep over tennis was never my style." Though she lost her match against Jane "Peaches" Bartkowicz , Evonne's press conference was jam-packed with reporters eager to ask her inappropriate questions about her Aboriginality. Undaunted, Goolagong went on to win a number of tournaments around Great Britain and Europe before returning to Australia for another series of wins, including the Victorian Open, where she beat the great Australian and Wimbledon champion Margaret Court for the first time.

In 1971, Goolagong encountered controversy when she toured South Africa while it was under a UN-sanctioned sporting ban to protest the apartheid policy. Though upset by the dispute, Evonne had little knowledge of politics. All decisions, tennis or personal, were made by her coach Vic Edwards. In 1972, she would return to that country and become the first black ever to win the South African Open.

The year 1971 was to be a great one for Goolagong. In the lead up to Wimbledon, she won both the French Open and the British Hard Court championships, thus arriving at Wimbledon as number three seed and the center of attention. "It was an enviable position to be in," she noted, "there comes a point in the career of every major player where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. At 19, defeat would be seen as heroic, victory a bonus." She was pitted against two of the greatest female players of all time: Billie Jean King and Margaret Court. The young newcomer beat King in the semifinal and Margaret Court in the final to become the 1971 Wimbledon women's singles champion.

Goolagong returned to a tickertape parade through the streets of Sydney—an honor that had not been accorded to other Australian tennis greats such as John Newcombe or Margaret Court. Evonne would develop a somewhat cynical realism about this disproportionate adulation. All the same, the shy, good-natured, newly acclaimed world champion graciously appeared in processions and shook hands with all the officials who presented her with awards and lauded her in speeches. She became immensely popular. In 1972, she was proclaimed Australian of the Year and made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II .

Goolagong's success in tennis depended more on her natural ability than a killer instinct which many other tennis stars developed. Early in her career, a sports commentator in the Daily Telegraph wrote that her "delicacy of touch, mobility, flexibility and ball sense make her outstanding." Evonne was loved by the public because of her good nature. She did not argue with referees or throw tantrums but approached the game with an infectious smile.

"I rarely felt great pressure to perform," Goolagong admits. This was seen as a failing by some, because it made her performances erratic. Often unbeatable, at other times she seemed to throw games away. One reporter remarked early in her career that she would never become a tennis great "until she gets a little bit more serious about discipline. But maybe, like a wild animal if you tried to discipline her it would destroy the essence that's so great about her." Such racially tinged comments did not seem to bother her. Goolagong's motivation continued to be love of the game rather than fame, fortune, or victory. "Most of the time I played the game with abandon," she once said. "I knew no such thing as safe tennis nor did I understand the percentage game.… I only ever knew one way to play ten nis and for that I offer no apology."

In an era when women in tennis were finally beginning to win large purses, Goolagong showed little interest in money and went on record as saying she would play at Wimbledon for nothing. She paid scant attention also to the numerous controversies in the tennis world and the many critical comments both true and untrue published about her in the press. In fact, she never read them and only saw herself on television for the first time in 1976, claiming she was so shy she would have been embarrassed to watch herself on the screen.

She approached loss with a similar shrug and was somewhat nonplussed to see how devastated other players were when they lost an important match. As far as she was concerned, "It was only a game." Nonetheless, she continued to win many major championships. In 1972, Vic Edwards signed her up to play for World Team Tennis which ran heavily promoted tours throughout the United States; she also continued to play on the European and Australian circuit.

Goolagong was always happiest when, in the middle of this heavy schedule of promotions and games, she found time to go home to Barellan to catch up with her beloved family and the Barellan locals. Devastated in 1974 when her father Kenny Goolagong was killed by a car while she was overseas, by the following year she was becoming emotionally drained and developing a wrist problem.

There were other sizeable distractions. On her first trip to England in 1970, she had met and was instantly attracted to a young man named Roger Cawley. Over the years, they had written to each other and usually met when she was in England. Though the relationship had been on and off, by 1975 she knew she wanted to marry him. But most of their meetings had been conducted semi-secretly to avoid the wrath of Vic Edwards, who thought of Evonne as his personal protégée. Edwards had opposed her relationship with Cawley from the first.

As she grew older, Evonne was finding Vic's domination more and more inappropriate. In her autobiography, she mentions that he had made two sexual advances, and, though she laughed them off, they left her feeling disturbed. She had always thought of Edwards as a second father, but his behavior was becoming more and more bizarre. When the couple finally announced they were engaged to be married, Vic Edwards refused to speak to them.

On June 16, 1975, Evonne and Roger married in a registry office in England. Vic Edwards declined the invitation to attend and told the press he had not been invited. By July 7, Goolagong had formally severed her contract with her coach. Unfortunately, in the process she became alienated from Eva Edwards who had been a second mother to her. After Vic Edwards died in 1976, they were reunited.

Happily married, Goolagong continued her tennis career. In 1976, she won the Australian Open for the third time in a row, reaching No. 1 in the world rankings. On the Virginia Slims tour, she had 15 consecutive victories and was the top prize money winning player. During a match in late 1976 when she was performing badly, Evonne realized she was pregnant and in May 1977 gave birth to her daughter Kelly. Reluctant to stop even before the birth, she took only a few months' break from tennis; later that same year, she won a number of major tournaments, including the Australian Open and the NSW Open.

Despite her will to keep going, Goolagong was experiencing more and more the physical problems which had begun to plague her even before Kelly's birth. Her feet in particular were in bad shape. As a consequence, a tendon snapped in her leg during the Wimbledon semifinal against Martina Navratilova . Amazingly, though in extreme agony, Goolagong finished the match, but she had to take a break for the rest of the year and from then on played only on grass and clay courts.

In 1979, she was back in action on the tennis circuit and winning matches. All the same, her energy was down, and she started losing again. Goolagong was so weak that she was forced to drop out of a match—something not even a snapped tendon had driven her to do before. She was eventually diagnosed with a rare blood disorder which thankfully was easily cured once identified. Despite all these setbacks, Goolagong battled on, driven by a burning desire to triumph at Wimbledon once more. Since her win in 1971, she had placed runner-up three times, in 1972, 1975 and 1976. Having come so close, so often, she was determined to win again. In 1980, though Goolagong entered the Wimbledon rounds with very little preparation due to her injuries and illness, she achieved her ambition. She took the Wimbledon championship for the second time in a close game against Chris Evert . Only the second mother to win Wimbledon, Goolagong holds the women's record for the longest interval between titles—nine years. After this penultimate win in her career, Evonne continued playing, but her injury-prone body was getting the better of her. In May 1981, she gave birth to her second child Morgan. Though ranked No. 17 in the world in 1982, her winning streak was over; in 1983, she finally called it quits as a professional player.

Abandoning the career that had been her life for so long, Goolagong was thrown into a depression, but she soon recovered and concentrated on the considerable business interests which had resulted from her widespread fame and popularity. She continued to live in the United States, which had become her home in 1974, until the death of her mother Linda in 1991. Deeply affected by the loss, Goolagong's desire to "immerse myself in the study of what it is to be a Wiradjuri Aborigine" became overwhelming. The Cawley family packed up and moved to Australia to settle at Noosa Heads in Queensland. Goolagong then devoted herself to researching her family and cultural background as well as teaching her children about their heritage.

She made many trips to seek out and talk to her relatives—a labor of love recorded in her autobiography Home! The Evonne Goolagong Story which was published in 1993. The most reliable source on Evonne's life, because so much of what was published about her has been inaccurate, distorted and often simply made up, the book speaks strongly of Evonne's pride in her Aboriginality. An earlier "autobiography," published in 1975, was actually written by Vic Edwards and Bud Collins. Far from writing it, Goolagong did not even read it until researching her true autobiography, and she strongly disputes many of the "facts" in it. One of the repeatedly published myths is that the word Goolagong means "still trees by quiet waters." According to Evonne, it actually means "my country" in the Wiradjuri language. Evonne Goolagong Cawley is now applying the passion and dedication she brought to tennis to developing a great pride in her culture of origin, and so continues to be an inspiration to her people and her many admirers.


Goolagong, Evonne. Home! The Evonne Goolagong Story. Sydney: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

——, with Bud Collins and Victor Edwards. Evonne. London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1975.

Robertson, Max. Wimbledon—Centre Court of the Game. London: British Broadcasting Corp., 1981.

Chris Sitka , freelance writer and researcher, Sydney, Australia