Ballarat has the unique distinction of being the place where the first recorded Australian Rules Football match played by women was held. The match was played at Ballarat’s Eastern Oval on Saturday, 28 September 1918 between teams comprising employees from Ballarat’s E. Lucas and Co, known as the Lucas Girls, and employees of the Federal Khaki Clothing Company from Melbourne, who were called the Melbourne Khaki Girls.
Despite the growing interest in women’s Australian Rules Football competitions in recent years, especially the AFLW, this fascinating story is still not widely known. However, newspaper reports of the day certainly confirm it was a very significant event and the match can rightfully claim to be an historic first.
The match was played as a fundraiser to establish a suitable entrance to Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour. On 28 September 1918 the Ballarat Star reported that 120 women from the Khaki factory travelled by special train from Melbourne to Ballarat on the Friday evening and that hundreds of people greeted them at the station.
As the Khaki Girls, dressed in Khaki uniforms and caps, travelled to the Ballarat Town Hall for an official reception they were cheered by an enthusiastic crowd which lined the streets. The Lucas Girls greeted their rivals upon their arrival at the Town Hall. The Mayor of Ballarat, Thomas Hollway welcomed the Khaki Girls to Ballarat. Following the reception, the Lucas Girls took their visitors in hand.
On the morning of the match, the Khaki Girls participated in a few engagements. The women were then ‘motored out’ to inspect the Avenue of Honour and given a tour of the E. Lucas and Co. factory by their hosts. In the early afternoon the women from both teams met on the corner of Sturt and Doveton Streets and marched, in their uniforms, to the Soldiers’ Statue accompanied by the Ballarat City Band. The Lucas Girls wore pink and white uniforms, while their opponents wore Khaki and white.
At the statue, the teams were again greeted by Mayor Hollway who made some brief remarks and introduced the official dignitaries. The last post was played, and a minute’s silence was observed. The teams then marched towards the Eastern Oval along streets lined with cheering crowds.
The game attracted much interest with newspapers in Geelong, Bendigo and Shepparton providing match reports. The Ballarat Star on 30 September provided a detail report of the match. The report praised both teams for the ‘determined and vigorous contest’ stating that despite ‘…the prediction of many that the players would give way, the last quarter saw a continuance of the keenness and determination of the previous quarters’.
The Ballarat Star estimated that the game was played in front of around 7000 spectators – ‘…the largest crowd that has attended a football match in Ballarat’. At the final siren, the home team had prevailed by 16 points. The final score being, Lucas Girls: 3 goals, 6 behinds, 24, Khaki Girls: 1 goal, 2 behinds, 8. Following the match, the Lucas Girls entertained their guests at the Alexandra Café. The match raised 320 pounds for the Arch of Victory fund.
This match is a significant event in Ballarat’s history and part of the story of the tireless efforts of E. Lucas and Co. and its employees in establishing the Arch of Victory and the Avenue of Honour. It also has a wider national significance as the first recorded game of Australian Rules Football played by women’s teams.
Here is a link from The Ballarat Star on Saturday 28 September 1918 about the arrival of the Khaki Girls in Ballarat:
Here is a link to a report about the match that appeared in The Ballarat Star on Monday 30 September 1918:
Here is a link to a report of the match that appeared in The Shepparton Advertiser on Thursday 3 October 1918:
Australiana Research Collection
Ballarat Research Hub at Eureka (BRHAE)
The Ballarat Star, 28 September 1918
The Ballarat Star, 30 September 1918
The Shepparton Advertiser, 3 October 1918
,An appreciation: Arch of Victory and Avenue of Honour Souvenir Booklet,. 2nd.ed. Christmas 1921. Held in the Australiana Research Collection, Ballarat Research Hub at Eureka.