The first softball competition played in Canberra was an interdepartmental competition that took place during lunch hours and was played between various government departments. There was both a men’s and women’s competition. The women played for the Peaslee Cup which was donated by Mr Jim Peaslee, who was currently American Ambassador. This competition was begun prior to 1956. The competition has tremendous following among the public servants and crowds of several hundred would venture forth to support their department, particularly at finals time. These matches were played on the open areas at West Block, East Block, the area beside the then Patents Office and later in from of the Administration Building.
During 1956 a Sudney women’s team, “Waratahs”, visited Canberra to play a match against a representative Interdepartmental team. The Waratahs comprised many NSW state representatives and a number of ex Australian players such as Edna “Natta” Nash. This match was played on a Sunday afternoon at the old Patents ground before a very good crowd. They were greatly entertained by the skils and clowning of a number of the Waratahs players. Although Canberra were beaten quite soundly the Waratah officials were sufficiently impressed to invite Canberra to enter a team in a round robin competition to be conducted by NSW Women’s Softball Association at Moore Park, Sydney on the October long weekend.
A team was duly selected to take part in this competition with the players travelling to and from Sydney by steam train. The team had accommodation at a private hotel in Bondi. The Illawarra team was also staying there.
An affiliation with the Illawarra girls began and a series of matches was held between the two areas during the next few years.
The team acquitted itself quite well considering their inexperience and that they hadn’t played together before. They were all asked if they wished to nominate for the NSW team which was due to participate in the Australian Championships in Perth in March 1957. Tuppy Hunt (now Eady), Helen Sykes (Emerson) and Lou McArthur (Coulton) were most surprised to learn that they had been included in the NSW team. Because these players were representing NSW is was necessary for the Canberra Interdepartment competition to affiliate with NSW.
There began a period of regular travelling for the three of them. The journey took six hours each way, whether by car or train. Every second weekend for the following five months they attended training at Moore Park. All three were vastly inexperienced and needed as much training as possible.
The trip to Perth was by train and each girl required almost four weeks leave from work. The tournament was held over two weeks at that time travelling took five days each way. Many money raising functions were held by supporters of softball within government departments to offset the high costs incurred by each girl. They were each responsible for all costs including travel, accommodation and uniforms.
In 1957, Canberra again sent a team to the Round Robin but no players nominated for selection in the NSW team on this occasion.
The following year Canberra had a very strong team ans was most successful in this competition. They were unlucky to be beaten 1-0 in the final by a Sydney team comprising mostly of state representatives. The Canberra players were to enthused by their success that some felt they could hold their own at a state level.
The move to gain state rights began immediately when they returned from Sydney. The most enthusiastic were Pam Monck (Hannaford) and Peggy Head (Reid). They approached Tom Marshall who had been their coach in Sydney, with the suggestion. Tom was very supportive, as was Virgie Mackay and the wheels were put in motion.
A meeting was held to form a commitee. Tom Marshall had been on of the main driving forces behind the establishment of the ACT Women’s Softball Association. He saw that a constitution was drawn up and ensured that all necessary elements required to become established were completed. However he declined to take the position of President as the involvement of men in softball at that time was frowned upon by Australian WSA. Tom’s knowledge of setting up a constitution, forming committees and other technical expertise was invaluable. He also coached and umpired each Saturday afternoon.
The Marshall Shield was donated by a number of the early softballers in honour of Tom’s efforts to establish softball as a major sport in Canberra.
To become recognised as a state, ACT had to become independent. This meant that they did not affiliate with NSW in 1959. Any ACT players selected for NSW that year were compelled to withdraw from the NSW team, as they were not members of an affiliated body.
The first committee comprised Lou McAthur (President), Virgie Mackay (Secretary) and Rhonda Picker (Treasurer). Tom Marshall, Pam Monck and Peggy Head were amongst the committee.
Expansion of Local Competition
The first requirement was a competition that could be played at weekends and include all those interested in playing softball, not just those who worked in the Public Service. It was felt that a Summer competition would be more successful than Winter as netball and hockey were already well established in Canberra at that time. A Sunday competition was not practical as the Department of Interior would not permit the hire of grounds between 10:00am and 12:00pm because it felt that sport should not take precedence over church meetings.
In 1959 the first ACT Women’s Softball season began at O’Connor oval. The response was excellent. There were 3 grades and a junior competition. Several school teachers showed interest by both playing and coaching a girls team. The burden for those keen to see the competition flourish was huge. They had long tiring days. It was not uncommon for administrative, umpiring, coaching and playing duties to be borne by one person and all went home exhausted each Saturday.
Softball moved from O’Connor Oval to Turner Oval after about two years, and a year was spent at Majura Oval, Ainslie. It was difficult to get suitable grounds as cricket had top priority and grounds were mostly oval in shape. Softball and women in particular were regarded as a nuisance by those allocating grounds. The softball officials had many meetings and discussions with what was then Parks & Gardens in an endeavour to get grounds that were large enough to hold several diamonds. Some of the areas that were marked out by Parks & Gardens workers were quite ludicrous, with misshapen diamonds being squeezed into a corner or diamonds facing each other about 50 meters apart. The groundsmen had no idea of laying out the fields and their efforts to fit the requested number of diamonds onto the field were often ridiculous.
After several unsatisfactory years softball was eventually given a much larger and more suitable area at Southwell Park.
With the beginning of the weekend competition, the wheels were set in motion to achieve state rights. To this end ACT write many times to the Australian Softball Federation requesting affiliation. They were required to send a constitution and financial statement to the Australian body and show that they were sincere in their aims. It seemed that the Australian body was sceptical and after much discussion at their annual meetings the ACT association was invited to send two representatives to the meeting held in Sydney during the 1961 Australian Championships. They were also invited to send a team to play against the teams that come fifth and sixth at the championship thus enabling the Australian officials to gauge the strength of softball in Canberra.
Lou McArthur and Virginia Mackay were elected as delegates and subjected to quite a gruelling session with the head body. However, eventually they were able to assure the meeting that there was sufficient depth and dedication in Canberra to ensure that softball would grow and flourish.
The team that played in the curtain raisers to the finals at the championships gained valuable experience to pass on to others in Canberra. Tom Marshall was the coach. Lawrie Lawrence happened to be in Sydney that weekend and appeared at the softball. He offered to assist Tom and together they coached the team for the two matches that weekend. Lawrie became involved in coaching the representative teams and coached a number of ACT and Canberra teams in the ensuing years.
Virginia Mackay declined to represent ACT but was very involved, firstly as Secretary and then as President. Virgie was a talented pitcher and had played for Queensland before moving to Canberra in 1956 and with the other players that had represented NSW was able to assist greatly in this tie of emergence for the ACT. She continued playing softball in Canberra for a number of years.
the ACT were admitted by the Australian body and attended their first Australian carnival in Adelaide in 1962. They struggled for a number of years to establish some depth in the sport in Canberra. Unfortunately they were unable to send a team to the 1968 Australian Championships.
There were no government grants available at the time and all expenses had to be raised by the representative players and their families. One means of raising money was to collect newspapers. A paper drive was set up in a particular area and softballers would go with utilities and trailers to collect them from peoples homes. Ads were placed on the local radio station, 2CA, and phone calls would come from people requesting that we pick up their papers. The Australian newspaper was operating from Mort St. Braddon at the time and we were given permission to collect their unsold papers. The papers has to be collected regularly and it was difficult to find enough people to do this.
These papers were stored at Lou McArthur’s home, and later at Tom Marshall’s home. They attracted mice and were heavy and cumbersome to handle. Initially these were sold to removalists for packing and later a Sydney firm collected the papers when there was a semi-trailer load. The papers had to be tied in bundle about 15 inches high and loaded by the girls and others into the semi-trailers. There was about 20 tonnes on each load.
Another means of raising money was to collect beer bottles and recycle them. This brought in quite good money but a large quantity was needed before the buyers were interested.
The competition was now becoming stronger. Shirley Fogarty, many times a NSW representative and her husband, Wal, came to Canberra on a number of occasions to assist with coaching. Shirley played second base and was an excellent infield coach. Wal was very knowledgeable about pitching and contributed a great deal to the improvement of our girls. Reciprocal visits were arranged with Sydney teams and coaching clinics often held in conjunction.
In later years, Wagga, Waverley and Sydney played round robin carnivals.
Woden Valley Junior Competition
in 1969 with the fast growing population in the Woden Valley, it was decided to establish a junior competition. This became a great benefit to the ailing senior competition as not many suture state and Australian representatives began their softball in this competition. The most notable being Nicky and Robyn Duff
Tom Marshall and Lou McArthur were very involved in the instigation of this competition along with a number of others such at Pat Shearwood, Norma Jurd and June Williamson. To provide umpires, coaches and organisation it was necessary for them to be at the Mint Oval in the morning and race across town to partake in their duties in the senior competition in the afternoon. It was fortunate that many keen people come to light in the Woden area. Amongst the keenest were Warwick and Pauline Murray, Peg Grey, Wendy Fenton, Marj Barbour, and Marie and Ken Duff.
This competition was played on the fields near the Mint. For practical reasons the senior competition was moved from their location at Southwell Park to the Mint as soon as possible. After several years all softball was moved by the Department of the Interior to Mawson Oval. Although the softballers was reluctant to move, they soon realised that it was to their benefit as they area was much larger and would be regarded as their home.
Teeball was introduced in about 1972. This was suggested by Edna Nash, who had remained interested and involved in softball throughout. The Teeball became a nursery for some very talented softballers.
With this in mind the Woden Valley Association was formed in 1968, followed by North Canberra in 1970. Over the years junior affiliates have been formed in Weston Creek, Tuggeranong, Queanbeyan, Central Canberra and Gungahlin.
The first ACT Junior Championships were held at Mawson in 1978 with teams from Woden Valley, North Canberra, Weston Creek and Queanbeyan taking part.
To assist the development of softball in the region, the Umpires Association (SUAACT) was formed in 1965 with 10 foundation members. SUAACT has been very successful in its endeavours with a number of its members achieving qualifications at the national and international levels. The early administrators also recognised that the future of the association lay in the promotion and development of softball at the junior level.
Football Park Softball League
The Football Park Softball League was formed in the mid 1980’s to foster and promote men’s softball in the ACT and saw games played under lights at Football Park, Phillip.
After moving its activities from Football Park to Hawker, the name was changed to the Fast Pitch Softball League Incorporated. A men’s team was first entered in the Open Men’s Australian Championships in Brisbane in 1987.
A bit about us now…
In 1973-74 the word women’s was dropped from the title in recognition that the association needed to broaden its horizons to cover softball for both genders.
Incorporation was achieved in 1981 and the association became known as the ACT Softball Association Incorporated which still stands today as its incorporated name, although the trading name of Softball ACT is more commonly used.
The Woden Valley Association was formed in 1968, followed by North Canberra in 1970. Over the years junior affiliates have been formed in Weston Creek, Tuggeranong, Queanbeyan, Central Canberra and Gungahlin.
The first ACT Junior Championships were held at Mawson in 1978 with teams from Woden Valley, North Canberra, Weston Creek and Queanbeyan taking part.
This development over the years demonstrates the dynamic nature of the organisation and willingness to move forward with the current times.
The association has had considerable success at national championships. Our women won the first of their titles in Hobart in 1978 and our girls have also won a number of titles at the Under 17 and Under 19 championships.
The men’s teams have also been very successful at national championships and as at January 2018, are the most successful open men’s softball team in Australian history, having won the John Reid Shield a record breaking fifteen times.
Softball ACT currently has over 1100 registered members, and hoping to grow our numbers each year as it is an enjoyable sport. Our members range from 4 years of age, playing diamond ball to our more mature members in their 50s and 60s who play in masters competitions across the country. In addition to players, there are many coaches, administrators, scorers and umpires who make up the Softball ACT membership.
In addition to our regular junior and senior competitions, Softball ACT plays host to a number of significant tournaments and carnivals each season.
The Australian Open Men’s Skins tournament attracts leading male players from around the country and overseas to compete each December in the country’s most exciting men’s softball competition. This tournament is used as part of the selection process for the Australian men’s team which will see the final players gaining selection into the Aussie Steelers team who will be competing in New Zealand mid-December playing in the worlds qualifier.
At a local level, our Men’s league is home to some of the biggest names in softball and is played on Monday and Tuesday nights, and our Saturday Women’s League brings juniors and women to the diamonds for a massive competition between the months of October and April. Our junior softball is played in a single competition, held at two locations – Woden Valley Softball (Mawson) and Belconnen Softball (Hawker).
The Hawker International Softball Centre features a fully catered clubhouse and three international-standard diamonds.