Evonne Goolagong Cawley was asked to join the Barellan Tennis Club as a seven-year-old after being identified as a prospective talent by the club’s president Bill Kurtzman. What followed was a trailblazing path from a young indigenous girl born in a period of disadvantage and discrimination for many people with Aboriginal heritage as she became one of Australia’s greatest female tennis champions.
She was beloved by the nation after winning seven singles Grand Slam tournament titles and five women’s doubles and one mixed doubles Grand Slam titles. At Wimbledon in 1980, Evonne became the first mother in over 66 years to claim the title. Her career of challenging the status quo for indigenous athletes and women makes her the inaugural winner of the 2021 The Dawn Award.
Word of Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s talent reached renowned tennis coach Vic Edwards who made the trip to Barellan to see the local prodigy. Vic persuaded Evonne to relocate to Sydney for further coaching and education, during which time she was the target of racial slurs. Evonne played her first Australian Open in 1967 and was knocked out in the third round. By 1971 she had become the second seed of the Australian Open and finished runner-up to fellow Sport Australia Hall of Fame Legend, Margaret Court AC MBE. Later that year, Evonne secured her first Grand Slam tournament win, taking out the French Open before defeating Margaret Court a month later to claim the Wimbledon title.
Evonne stayed at the top of her game for over 10 years. She was a regular finalist at the Grand Slam events during the 1970s claiming the Australian Open from 1974 to 1977 and featuring in the US Open final four times.
After a brief break from tennis following the birth of her daughter, she made the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 1978 and 1979 before winning the title in 1980, making her the first mother to win the tournament in 66 years, since Dorothy Lambert Chambers (1914). The Wimbledon win was Evonne’s last Grand Slam title before she retired in 1983, due to injury.
Her post-tennis career saw her continue to dedicate herself to the sport, working as a touring professional in the United States and launching the ‘Evonne Goolagong Getting Started Program’ for young girls in collaboration with Tennis Australia. Evonne returned to Australia and founded the ‘Goolagong National Development Camp’, which is run for Indigenous girls and boys with the focus of using tennis to promote better health, education, and employment. She paved the way for future Indigenous tennis stars including Ash Barty AO, who referenced Evonne’s trailblazing path following her own breakthrough French Open win in 2019. When Barty won Wimbledon in 2021, she wore a special dress in tribute to Goolagong Cawley 50 years after her first Wimbledon triumph.