New book focuses on the history of women's Australian Rules Football

Play On! The Hidden History of Women's Australian Rules Football authors Rob Hess and Brunette Lenkic.
Play On! The Hidden History of Women's Australian Rules Football authors Rob Hess and Brunette Lenkic.

While some may think women’s Australian Rules Football is a relatively new phenomenon, authors Rob Hess and Brunette Lenkic know that more than a century of blood, sweat and tears have gone into getting the game to where it is today. 

The pair have recently published a book, Play On! The History of Women’s Australian Rules Football, which documents the history of the sport from the first recorded match in Perth in 1915, through to the point where the Women’s AFL was established ready for season 2017. 

For Ms Lenkic, a former journalist, her curiosity about the game started when her teenage daughters expressed a desire to join a team. 

“My daughters begged me to try out for the WA state under 16s football team and when they were made the team, I became curious about the history of women’s football,” she said. 

“My initial research in 2012 showed the first recorded game was 1915 and I wanted to check that was true. 

“The name Rob Hess kept cropping up so I eventually contacted him to see if the date was accurate. He confirmed it was and it was clear he was very knowledgeable about the topic.

“I told him I wanted him to write a book about the subject and he kindly suggested we do it together.”

Ms Lenkic has spent the better part of four years working on the book, racking up more than 500 hours of research in the National Library of Australia’s online archive. She also conducted more than 50 interviews. 

“I’m relieved and proud that it’s finished and really happy with the feedback we have had so far,” she said. 

“Many people have said they are really pleased to have all the history brought together into one place. 

“It has helped everyone who has been a small piece of the women’s football puzzle to realise that they are part of a much bigger picture.”

The book runs women’s participation in football as a common thread but also serves as a solid lesson in Australian history. 

Ms Lenkic said one thing she took away from writing the book was a greater understanding of the many roles women played for Australia during World War II. 

“Many of the women on the home front played football during the war which was how I came to study them but it was interesting to see how many of them took on extra day jobs and worked in labour intensive industries to keep the nation going,” she said. 

Play On! effectively charts the progression of the women’s game, noting that the ladies who played it through the ages were not afraid to do so seriously and competitively – even if they were not always taken seriously by others. 

But slowly things began to chance and ladies playing football became more socially acceptable. 

By the new millennium, national competitions were well established and in 2016, AFL chief executive officer Gillon McLachlan confirmed the league would host a women’s competition with eight teams in 2017. 

Ms Lenkic said it was great to see just how many people now have an interest in women’s football. 

“Rob and I have set the foundation for the history and now hopefully there will be others who will take up the writing of the next chapter,” she said.

Copies of Play On! The History of Women’s Australian Rules Football are available online and at a number of major book stores.