A long, long time ago when I was just 29 years old, I was appointed as National Executive Director of Netball Australia. In 1985 we didn’t have the lofty title of Chief Executive Officer, but essentially that’s what I did for 3 years and what I regard as one of the most enjoyable and rewarding periods of my professional life.
I can still remember the application process for the role. Seeing the job advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald while sitting in a friend’s car at East Gosford waiting for them to return with fish & chips for lunch. My letter and CV being typed and then carefully placing it in an A4 envelope to post (yes, posting) to the All Australia Netball Association address. One month later, receiving the letter requesting my attendance for an interview at 44 Clarence Street Sydney. Buying a new suit to attend the interview. And the interview itself where I first met Dorothy McHugh, Gladys Waugh and Deirdre Hyland.
A fortnight later I was appointed and on 6 May 1985 given the keys to one of Australia’s premier sports. Over the next 3 years I worked closely with an extended netball family, but none more so than Deirdre Hyland in her role as President and mentor. Deirdre lived in Brisbane and Netball HQ was in Sydney. In 2016 that’s something we would not even think about, but in 1985 it presented certain challenges.
As unbelievable as it may sound to those Millennials, Gen Y and Gen X out there, we didn’t even have computers; so every letter was typed (yes, on a typewriter) with a “yellow” copy filed in the bulging four drawer filing cabinet and a ‘green’ copy in the outwards correspondence folder. It was a stated policy all inwards correspondence must be answered within 7 business days and it wasn’t until November 1985 that we purchased one of the early fax machines, including one for Netball HQ and one each for Deirdre, Dorothy and Gladys. In fact, I remember speaking at a Women in Sport Conference in early 1996 and among other things, mentioning the benefit of being ‘New Age’ advocating all National Sporting Organisations should run out and buy a fax machine.
Fortunately telephones and airplanes had been invented in 1985, providing me the opportunity to speak with Deirdre when needed (most days) and she regularly attended meetings in Sydney and Melbourne in between.
Over the next 3 years and always under the watchful guidance of Deirdre, we brought about much needed changes to the sport and the business. The introduction of a Player Trust Fund policy paving the way for the professionalisation of the game in later years; the launch of the ESSO National Super League as one of the first national leagues in women’s sport and a foundation to bigger things 25 years later; the inaugural National Netball Carnival for Intellectually Disabled Players in 1985; the purchase of land & building at Harris Park; the Incorporation of the All Australia Netball Association and a new constitution; the first Annual Report for the organisation; introduction of finals for the Australian Open and U/21’s Championships; introduction of a player insurance scheme; generation of $1.2million in sponsorships and government support in 1985/86; full sponsorship of the Netball Championships and Talent Camps roster to include the New Fashion Pork U/17 Nationals, the Commonwealth Bank U/19 Nationals, the Dunlop Open and U/21 Nationals and Dunlop as a sponsor of the Australian Netball Team; Network 7’s coverage of the 1987 Glasgow World Championships; increased government funding across all areas of the sport; Netball’s first strategic plan 1985-1992; launch of the Netta Netball program; introduction of the NCAS Basic, Level 1 & 2 Coaching courses; employment of full-time coaching directors in all states/territories under the ESSO sponsorship; successful Tests here in Australia and abroad; winning the bid for the inaugural World Youth Cup (1988) and being awarded the 1991 Netball World Championships and finally, bringing about changes internationally, including championing the successful motion to introduce a final series at World Championships and playing these indoors from 1991.
As any CEO working in sport will know, the sheer scale of what is to be done every day, every month and every year is so great it requires a massive team effort. At the time I worked alongside a dedicated and highly skilled professional team of 6 and it is fair to say without the contribution of Deirdre, Dorothy, Gladys and countless other volunteers we simply would not have achieved even half of these things.
Deirdre was inducted in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1989 and in 1990 was made a Member of the Order of Australia. That same year she was awarded an All Australian Netball Association Service Award. In 2008, Deirdre was an inaugural inductee into the Australian Netball Hall of Fame as a General Member and inducted into the Queensland Sport Hall of Fame in 2010.
But what I will always remember is her gentle leadership, her wisdom, patience and guidance and above all else, the risk she took in giving me the job.
Deirdre passed away in May 2016. She will be missed by all who had the privilege to know her.