Chapter 3 - Women's Club Competition

Chapter 3



Women’s interclub softball in Perth has progressed through a number of phases which can be identified retrospectively by examining the numbers of participating teams and clubs. The boundaries of each phase are somewhat arbitrary but the designation of the phases provides a structure for reviewing the development of softball in Perth and WA. The phases are characterized by periods of growth followed by shrinkages with the causal factors often being outside the control of softball administrators such as changes in retail trading times and the changing demographics of Perth’s suburbs. Throughout these ups and downs the clubs with teams in the A grade competition have been crucial to the viability of the Association with the clubs providing teams across most grades and in particular supporting junior players.  A word of caution: numerous clubs have two words in their official titles but are often referred to by just one of those words in Fixture Books and publications. Nedlands Rookies, for example, may be Nedlands or Rookies; Hell’s Angels, may be just Angels; Bassendean Bombers just Bombers; and Carine Cats are often Cats.


The start: 1947-48 to 1955-56

The growth of softball in the immediate post war era clearly demonstrated that Perth girls and women wanted a summer team sport. The first season in the summer of 1947-48 began on 6 September with three women’s teams: the American Club, Flying Club and Boans. Despite men’s teams from the American Club and Boans beginning training they did not persist. In preparation for the opening of the season coaching was given each Saturday afternoon at Langley Park. Teams consisted on 10 players and 2 emergencies.[i] The Association provided equipment. Flying Club were the inaugural women’s premiers with the American Club as runners-up. [ii] Six women’s teams contested the second season in 1948-49: Flying Club, the American Club, Liberal League (Liberals), South Perth, Victoria Park and Wembley.[iii] The latter was founded by Frank Silva, a former American navy serviceman. He worked at Commonwealth Industrial Gases in Jolimont and suggested to fellow worker Heather Asquith that she should get a group of friends together and he would teach them how to play softball.[iv] Matches were played on the Ozone Ground, located between Plain Street and the Causeway and commenced promptly at 2:30pm on the two diamonds on provided by Perth City Council for a small fee. Clubs and players provided their own equipment with Liberals offering a set of bases until the Association could acquire more. This took some time and for the next couple of seasons the players carried their equipment with them. Pitchers only had to carry the narrow pitcher’s plate while the base players were lumbered with the heavier and bulky canvas bases as well as their gloves. Scorebooks and new balls were purchased from Association funds but a frugal approach was necessary. The rule-book stipulated that a new ball was required for each match but common sense prevailed and if a ball had only been used once and was ‘in quite good order, the Umpire could use his discretion about the new ball’. The two teams having the bye each week provided the scorers. It was suggested that Victoria Park baseball players might be available to become permanent scorers. At the season’s end Flying Club won its second successive premiership. Liberals were runners-up.[v] Val Johnson (Flying Club) won the trophy for the season’s best and fairest player.[vi]


Passion ran high during an intense summer season with teams training twice a week and competing on Saturdays. The dormant winter was more challenging. Johnson knew players had to be kept in touch with their new sport but not at the expense of their passion for it. It was feared that too much softball could lead to its demise. To get players fit a booking was made at a city gym for Saturday evenings. Johnson acknowledged that it was not a popular time slot but argued that is was leverage to obtain a better time should one become available. Social functions were held in winter to keep players in touch with each other and to contribute much needed funds to the Association’s finances. The starting date for the next season was set as the third Saturday in October to allow girls completing the winter basketball (netball) and hockey seasons a chance to practice softball before plunging into competition.  Community awareness of the new sport was also growing. Before the first ball was pitched in the 1949-50 season, one fan, ‘Follower’, wrote a letter published in the Opinion column of the Daily News requesting the association’s officers provide a scoreboard for spectators claiming that it would be inexpensive and easily managed by the scorers.[vii] President Johnson replied with a letter also printed in the Opinion column that the association had considered the request but its financial situation was such that it could not afford bases which were more important. With her usual initiative Johnson invited ‘Follower’ to donate a scoreboard.[viii] One eager player wrote to Mary Ferber seeking her guidance on the correct clothing to wear for softball (and tennis). Ferber advised that:

… pedal pushers with long jerkins are really the correct wear for softball ‘according to the [rule] book’ but Perth girls playing the game began wearing shorts and jerkins and found the costume satisfactory.…The jerkin is a long, straight, collarless, sleeveless shirt worn outside the shorts. It is never white because the ball used is white and seeing the ball held by the pitcher is important. A peaked, jockey-type cap, and shoes and short socks are included.[ix]


What Ferber did not mention was that the players – or their mothers - made their own uniforms. Dressmaking was a skill practiced by most women until the inntroduction of ready-to-wear clothing in the late 1950s.  Despite the day dawning cool and cloudy the 1949-50 season opened on 16 October 1949. The Daily News ran a feature story on its back page noting the positive growth in teams from 6 to 26. Victoria Park and Wembley each had a team in the junior grade and there was a plea for four more to make a viable competition.[x] Two of the three photographs showed juniors while the third featured Jean McAlpine from the new Fremantle Club. Other new teams included Blue Jays, Columbians, Nedlands, Ports National Catholic Girls’ Movement (NCGM), Postal Institute, S & S Club, Sandovers and Swans. Both Fremantle and Nedlands clubs continued for over 45 years into the 1990s and then morphed into the teams of the newly formed State League. Blue Jays functioned until the early 1970s.[xi] The Fremantle team was founded by Pat Tatham who had followed up on one of Mary Ferber’s column in The Daily News. With several of her friends from the First Palmyra Girl Guides, Tatham attended training sessions at Langley Park during spring 1949. Acting on a suggestion from Val Johnson Tatham formed a Fremantle team by recruiting a number of girls who had participated in lunchtime matches between workers from local factories such as Fowlers on the Fremantle Esplanade. Presumably these girls had learned to play softball either at school or from observing the US Navy players stationed in Fremantle during the war. South Perth baseball player, George Wenn, took the presidency of the newly formed Fremantle Softball Club and was its coach. Training was held on the upper level of Fremantle Park with players being somewhat wary of having to retrieve balls that landed on the lower level occupied by the cricket team.[xii] As newcomers to the Association, Fremantle had to participate in grading matches and Tatham argued strongly for Fremantle be placed in A grade rather than B grade. Her efforts were rewarded when Fremantle overcame Johnson’s more experienced Flying Club to take its first premiership.  Nedlands, coached by Arthur Sladden played two seasons in lower grades and is assumed to have been derived from the Liberals Club. In the 1951-52 season, following the loss of some of its stronger senior players, Nedlands amalgamated with the team representing Sandovers, a sporting goods firm. Of the Sandovers’ players Norma Stone was the most experienced. Rookies was added to the name to emphasise the fact that several of the players were new to the sport. Initially the Blue Jays team intended to use the 1949-50 season for practice in preparation for serious competition in the following one. They approached Bill Wells to coach them and he persuaded them that ‘they’d get [better] practice from playing than … training for a season then starting next year’.


As much as the new teams were welcome they posed a challenge to the Association’s limited coaching and umpiring resources. President Johnson urged any girl interested in becoming an umpire to attend the classes held each Monday evening at McKissock’s Gym in William Street, Perth.  After some debate clubs took responsibility for providing each team with a First Aid kit. Home teams were responsible for the preparation of the diamonds each week although an approach was made to hockey and basketball to find out who marked the white lines and how much was charged. Only official softball bats could be used and A grade catchers had to wear both mask and protector while B grade and junior catchers ‘could please themselves’.  The register of attendees at meetings indicates that 27 clubs contested the fourth season, 1950-51. Among the new teams were Bassendean Bombers, founded by Max Kitchens, a former American serviceman who had returned to settle in Perth in 1947. Wembley, Swans and Columbians were declared defunct. The constitution was amended to include C grade. The eight top teams from the previous season continued as A grade while those contesting B and C grades and any new teams had to attend grading day. Juniors made up D grade. Lower grades were permitted to play with seven or eight players but there were still more forfeits than desired and some teams withdrew during the season.  The Association was confronted with a new challenge this season: when to conduct the finals. Should the finals be before or after the State team played in the national championship in Adelaide in March? Members of the state team came predominantly from A grade teams and were away for a month. The finals were played when the team returned thus extending the season into April. Blue Jays defeated Nedlands to win the Caris Brothers trophy for the A Grade premiers.  The following season the Association registered 22 clubs with approximately 36 teams spread across 5 grades. A Reserve was added to the senior grades. Hell’s Angels appeared in the fixtures in A grade for the first time having successfully approached the Association to change its name from YWCA. After briefly flirting with the name, The Imps, Hell’s Angels was chosen in honour of a team that had played against Americans in a prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag 8B, in Germany during World War II. Dennis Osborne coached them. Players also transferred from South Perth and South Perth Community Centre to Hell’s Angels which maintained its training base in South Perth. The uniform was a gold shirt and maroon pants.[xiii]


Langley Park was a hive of activity with approximately 400 people regularly involved with softball on Saturday afternoons and training sessions in the evenings during the week from October to late March. According to a report in The Daily News the young team from Victoria Park scraped into the final four by winning its last three matches of the season including a 5-0 shut-out against second placed Fremantle. The average age of the Victoria Park team was 17.[xiv] The other contenders for the premiership were Blue Jays and Nedlands Rookies. Thanks to the expertise of pitcher Norma Stone and catcher Shirley Roberts, Nedlands Rookies defeated Victoria Park, 2-1, in the grand final.[xv]Softball gained maximum visibility in March 1952 when the WAWSA hosted and won the Australian championship. It was reported in The Broadcaster that the crowd at the grand final at Langley Park on Sunday 30 March was over 7,000.[xvi] The qualifying matches in the preceding week were played on The Esplanade with most of WA’s matches scheduled to coincide with the lunch break of city workers who strolled down a block or two to see this new addition to the WA sporting calendar. The result of this high visibility was evident at the start of the 1952-53 season when 50 teams representing 25 clubs signed up. Grading matches took place in early September and the fixtures were finalised at a meeting on 25 September. Grades A, A Reserve, B, B Reserve and C each had eight teams while D grade had 10 teams. Northern Suburbs coached by Tommy Smith entered the competition. In just its second season in the association, Nedlands Rookies fielded teams in all grades, the only club to do so. Despite the best intentions to have even competition in each grade, a report in The Sporting Weekly of 21 November noted that Eastern Suburbs D grade team scored 63 runs against Fremantle to eclipse the previous record of 51 runs.  A knock-out (single elimination) competition was also held over three Sundays in November and December providing more playing time and an opportunity for lower grade players and teams to test themselves against higher grades. It was conducted in two divisions: Division 1 was made up of teams from A, A Reserve and B grade while Division 2 catered for B Reserve, C and D grade teams. Upsets occurred. Blue Jays A Reserve team coached by Alf Bunting defeated its own A grade team much to the annoyance of the coach Bill Wells.[xvii] Wells and Joy Rippin each donated a trophy. Participating teams paid 2/6 to enter and donations were collected from spectators. Most of the money raised was to fund the State team but a small amount was donated to the Orphans’ Christmas Fund organized by The Daily News.


Softball received national media coverage in the lead-up to the National Championships in Brisbane in March 1953. Perth-based journalist Hugh Schmitt, wrote a double-page feature for The Australasian POST. The colourful uniforms and names fascinated him: ‘The Bassendean Bombers, Red Sox, Nedlands Rookies, Hell’s Angels, Brooklyn Dodgers and the Red Terrors are just a few. Some of the clubs are named for big league clubs in America, the home of baseball and softball’. Continuing the movie theme Schmitt noted ‘the almost urgent voices of the boys selling peanuts, popcorn, chewing gum, chocolate, and cool drinks’.[xviii] At the end of the season Blue Jays and Nedlands Rookies faced off in the finals with Rookies winning its second successive premiership, 4-1. Between them the two teams had 11 State representatives including pitchers Norma Stone (Nedlands) and Rona Trotter (Blue Jays). A second national championship in 1953 no doubt contributed to a further increase in teams: 71 teams registered for the 1953-54 season.[xix] Nedlands Rookies eclipsed previous efforts with its third consecutive win in A grade and premierships in the remaining 6 grades.[xx]   Seventy-one teams again registered for the 1954-55 season. In order to inject new blood into local competitions and to retain enthusiasm of the lower grades a system of relegation and promotion was mooted at the Executive meetings. It was suggested that the bottom team of each grade be relegated and the top team promoted. The twist was the second bottom team should play off against the second top. After some debate the issue was left in the hands of a sub-committee. Blue Jays claimed its second A grade title. Registrations declined for the 1955-56 season. The number of registered metropolitan teams was down slightly to 68.[xxi] One country centre, Collie, was also affiliated. In an attempt to retain lower grade and junior teams some flexibility in the number of players was allowed and matches could commence if one or both teams had less than nine players. There was no such tolerance, however, for unregistered players. Premiership points were deducted from teams fielding ineligible players.


The ‘doldrums’: 1956-57 to 1963-64

In her 1968 report as State Coach and Manageress, Shirley Roberts confidently stated that ‘as far as playing ability goes, Western Australia is definitely ‘out of the doldrums that have engulfed us for so long ….’ Roberts was primarily referring to the performance of the State team but the term ‘doldrums’ aptly described the plight of club competition from the mid-1950s to mid-60s. The number of participating clubs and teams declined. The first serious decline occurred in the 1956-57 season when only 49 teams registered of which 4 were juniors. In her President’s Annual Report Johnson listed three possible causes: (1) increasing costs although she recognized that this was not a problem for softball alone; (2) the uneven competition in A grade and some other grades; and (3) lack of interest by clubs to increase their memberships.



Life Member


She was always there.


Victoria Park




Official Scorer: 1963 National Championships, Perth

Mrs Meloncelli was heavily involved as President of Victoria Park Softball Club. She volunteered to do anything that the WAWSA needed such as selling raffle tickets, organising the canteen and scoring. Val Prunster remembered her ‘making cups of tea and coffee and selling them at the canteen to raise money for the State team’. Greta Craig recalled Mrs Meloncelli because ‘she used to work all the time. Every time we had a carnival, she did the canteen and she did the raffles and all her kids played. She was described as an unobtrusive lady who never missed a match’.  She did not play sport herself but encouraged her eight children to do so. Her husband and sons were heavily involved with Victoria Park Baseball Club. Her son Andy (deceased) helped form the Victoria Park softball team and was its first coach. Her youngest daughter, Susan, at just 14 years of age became a member of the WA State team as a pitcher in 1961 and played until 1963.   Mrs Meloncelli was the only person awarded Life Membership who had not played the sport nor been an office bearer of the WAWSA.  In 1974 Mrs Meloncelli offered to donate a trophy for the Best and Fairest player in the Under 16 State team during the national championships. She asked that it be named in honour of her son, Andy. The player was to be chosen by the Coach, Assistant Coach and Scorer each year.  Mrs Meloncelli continued assisting the WAWSA until ill-health prevented her from doing so.

Increasing costs included registration fees, ground fees andequipment. During the 1951-52 season local sporting goods stores had responded positively to the new sport and stocked the required equipment although it was quite expensive. Bats, for example, cost 18/6 for the basic Slugger and 35/- for a Spalding. An increasing array of footwear was available with the basic black sandshoe costing 15/6 a pair or coloured canvas boots could be purchased for 22/3.[xxii] Various brands of balls were priced at 22/6 while a first base glove cost 59/6, a catcher’s glove 69/- and fielders’ gloves ranged between 63/9 to 69/11. A catcher’s mask was 38/9. Scorebooks were 3/-.[xxiii] At this time the weekly basic wage for men was £10/5/8 in the metropolitan area, £10/4/7 in the southwest and £10/10/11 in the Goldfields. The basic wage for women was 57 percent of that of men.[xxiv] By the 1954-55 season increases were evident in a circular distributed in late August advising clubs that Taylor’s Sports Store in London Court now carried a full range of softball equipment. Bats were 27/6, black sandshoes with bars were 26/6 a pair and gloves ranged from 60 to 107 shillings (£3 to £5).  Johnson’s reference to uneven competition was based on the domination of Nedlands Rookies and Blue Jays who contested all A grade grand finals, usually against each other, in the 1950s, sharing the honours with five victories each. As well the majority of members of the State teams including coaches were drawn from these two teams. In the lower grades Bassendean Bombers, Dolphins and Southern Demons consistently claimed premierships.


Johnson did not elaborate on her third claim that clubs were reluctant to increase their memberships. What she may have been referring to was the fluctuating membership from season to season. The Association had to cope with two types of established clubs. Large clubs fielded teams in most grades including A grade, and small clubs fielded teams in two or three grades but usually not A grade. These teams dominated the competition and were the backbone of the Association because they provided the office bearers. For several seasons Nedlands Rookies had teams in all grades, Blue Jays had three or four teams, Fremantle Rebels had four or five, Hell’s Angels usually managed three or four while Victoria Park had three. There were a few ‘one team’ clubs that persisted for a number of years such as Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers. Each season new clubs entered the competition often fielding just one team. This latter group was the most vulnerable and many did not continue after their first season. To this mix could also be added teams that disbanded then rejoined several seasons later such as Boans and Dolphins. Teams that disbanded at the end of a season were listed as defunct in the Minutes. Conditions were set for players from these teams to join other teams, the usual proviso being that the defunct team had met all its financial obligations. The decline had a personal element for Johnson. Her beloved Flying Club notified the Association that its A grade team was defunct as of the 1956-57 season. All of its senior players were granted clearances to any club provided fees were paid by 11 December. The Association deemed that these players could not play lower than B1 grade.[xxv] Such seasonal variability could have frustrated Johnson because each season the new clubs had to be inducted into the competition without any guarantees that the clubs would continue. Nor did such clubs contribute officials to run the Association. From the outset the workload of the association fell to a relatively small number of very dedicated individuals. The officials’ work began well before the opening day of each season. As a round robin competition the most practical number of teams for each grade was eight allowing for two or even three full rounds each season, that is, 14 or 21 matches per team per season followed by finals. Over the years different numbers of teams have been tried in most grades dropping to as low as 4 and rising to 10 or 11. Grading became a far more serious with new teams being required to play trial matches in the week(s) preceding the opening of a new season. A panel drawn from Committee members oversaw grading and determined the most appropriate grade for each new team. Another sub-committee, but often comprised of the same workers, compiled the fixtures.


One of the hardest working officials was the Registrar. The first Registrar was Miss Frances Morrison who monitored the teams for the 1949-50 season. As the number of teams increased so did the demands on the Registrar. Painstakingly the Registrar manually checked the scorecards each week to tally up the wins and losses for the ladder for each grade and to check that teams were only fielding registered players. As well it was necessary to check how many times a player played each Saturday as juniors could legally play in the Junior competition Saturday morning and in the Senior grades in the afternoon. Every effort was made to make the completion of the scorecards as straight forward as possible with boxes for distribution and collection easily accessible by the cool drink stand at Langley Park. Consistently at Association meetings the Registrar recommended a variety of positive and negative tactics to get teams to accurately complete their scorecards. The threat of fines, either monetary or premiership points, seemed to have little impact. The frequency of references to incomplete and inaccurate cards by all the Registrars indicates that many teams paid lip service to this crucial duty and may indicate why the Association had a different Registrar each season.  Not only was player eligibility a local issue but also the WAWSA was required to pay a portion of the registration fees it collected to the AWSC. Initially the AWSC charged each member association a flat fee of £3/3/- (three guineas) but when the WAWSA joined in 1951 a new formula was introduced whereby each player was levied an extra shilling which AWSC intended to use to help states such as WA with the costs of their travel to national championships. However, this was quickly changed and the money was used for the AWSC’s own expenses.  An additional junior team for the 1957-58 season appeared to be cause for optimism. In her Annual Report Johnson maintained her concern for growth of the Association by recommending each club consider adding one senior and one junior team.  The optimism was short-lived with a slight decrease in the number of registered teams to 47 for the 1958-59 season. However, softball was a serious sport in schools. In September 1958 Kent Street Senior High School hosted a team from South Australia with umpires from the WAWSA. In October the junior competition was suspended on 25 October to allow the girls to play in the high schools carnival.


By the 1959-60 season the Junior competition was steady with 10 teams playing from 17 October till 12 December. Their matches commenced at 11:00am on Saturday mornings suggesting a need to separate juniors from seniors to accommodate the numbers and to provide sufficient umpires. Juniors were defined as players under 16 years of age at the commencement of the season. Those celebrating their sixteenth birthday during the season could continue to play out the season. A separate High Schools competition was won by Governor Stirling Senior High School which received the President’s Trophy donated by Val Johnson. The 1960-61 season had the lowest membership in a decade with just 40 teams. Figures are not available for the next two seasons but by 1963-64 growth was occurring with 49 teams.  WA’s loss of participants was in stark contrast to the other States and especially its archrival, Victoria, where it was estimated in 1961 that there were 8,500 senior players and probably four times as many playing in schools, making a total of 40,000 likely. Based on Victoria having 27.9 percent of the population, it was extrapolated to an Australia-wide figure of 143,000. [xxvi] Without accurate list of registrations, this cannot be confirmed but given WA’s plight is probably an over-estimation. In the 1965-66 season 520 players were covered in the Association’s insurance scheme, almost 300 less than a decade previously. Bassendean Bombers, Blue Jays, Fremantle, Hell’s Angels, and Rebels were the backbone of the Association with at least four teams in each season. Clubs with A grade teams provided most teams in lower grades and the majority of teams in the junior grade. In the 1963-64 season when there were eight A grade teams, their clubs provided 78 percent of all teams. The percentage declined over the next several seasons when the number of A grade teams was reduced to seven then six teams. The WASA did, however, manage to retain five or six grades for senior teams but only one grade for juniors although often with nine teams.


In the early 1960s Blue Jays and Hell’s Angels each won two successive A grade premierships and usually fielded five or six teams each in other grades. Co-incidentally, the doldrums occurred when Nedlands Rookies also shrunk. In the early 1950s it had fielded six teams but by the 1958-59 season it was down to three teams although it was able to win the A grade premiership. Nedlands Rookies surged again and had seven teams by the time it took the title for the 1965-66 season. However, Rebels, a breakaway from Nedlands for the 1963-64 season, fielded five or six teams until its demise after the 1965-66 season. The relationship between a strong club competition and national success appears to have been demonstrated in the ‘doldrums’. WA continued to perform strongly in the national championships but the 1959 victory was its last until 2010. After being regular grand finalists in the 1950s, WA slipped to fourth in 1962 then bounced back to second in Perth in 1963 before further slippages in 1965 and 1966 when they finished fifth. The ‘doldrums’ for WA were probably accentuated by the retirement of many of the original State players who were now in their thirties and being replaced by younger players. In hindsight there is another possibility for the decline in membership. By the mid-1950s softball was in its tenth season and no longer a novel sport. With training weeknights and Saturday competition highly visible on Langley Park plus the ‘bonus’ of national championships in 1952, 1957 and 1963 softball was now an established sport. As such softball had to attract players and officials on its merits, not simply because it was new and different. To retain its visibility Association officers especially Bill Wells worked hard to gain media coverage with previews before Saturday matches, results in the papers Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning plus a review Monday morning. Special events like the national championships in 1952, 1957 and 1963 plus the hosting of South Africa in 1960 received widespread coverage. For a small city Perth had plenty of newspapers with softball appearing in The West Australian, The Daily News (afternoon paper with multiple editions), The Sunday Times, The Western Mail and The Broadcaster. As well there were several attempts to have softball included in the sports segments of radio programs. Wells left WA in 1957 and various Executive Members took responsibility for newspaper reporting until Pat Tatham eventually took over in the mid-1960s. Articles rarely featured on the all-important back page but softball followers could usually find information a few pages into the paper. Softball had to compete for media coverage with an increasing number of sports and events. Australian sport took centre stage in international sport. The 1956 Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne were followed six years later by the British Commonwealth and Empire Games in Perth in November 1962. The direct impact of these on softball is difficult to gauge but may well have shifted focus back to individual summer sports like athletics and swimming. Clearly the Games did popularize women’s participation and success. Athletes like WA’s own Shirley Strickland and NSW’s Betty Cuthbert and Marjorie Jackson along with swimmers Dawn Fraser and Lorraine Crapp became household names.


WA had its own outstanding sportswomen, most of whom were all rounders. The celebratory program for the international matches against South Africa in February 1960 was used as to profile the A grade clubs and their players most of whom participated in another summer sport plus a winter sport. Bassendean Bombers noted that Dot Garie swam with Ascot Club and played hockey. Leonie Loveridge enjoyed tennis and hockey. Fremantle could claim two Australian hockey players as members: June Haines and Lorraine Packham. Haines was the top hockey goal scorer on the last trip to England and the continent. Packham was also the State 800 yards champion. Lyn Bell swam with Melville Club. Northern Suburbs roster included another Australian hockey player, Joyce Hewson, while Lynne Read was also a hockey player. For Blue Jays Flo Ireland played sport all year round and had previously represented Australia at cricket. Nedlands Rookies noted that Ruth Kern was a State basketball player.  Apart from declining membership, the second half of the ‘doldrums’ included a period of instability in Association governance. Val Johnson left Perth in mid-1961 to work in rural WA. She had presided over the Association for all but three seasons since its founding. During the 1960s the Association was lead by different individuals each fully committed to softball but not sharing Johnson’s unique style.  At this time, the demographics of the City of Perth were beginning to change substantially and impacted upon softball. The Central Business District began to lose its dominance as the shopping precinct as retailing was becoming regionalized to the fast growing suburbs. Between 1956-57 and 1961-62 city retailers experienced their first major downturn in the volume of sales.[xxvii] It is possible therefore that there was an accompanying fall in the number of shop assistants, positions which traditionally employed mostly young women. In turn, fewer young women took part in city-based sports. New teams were drawn from north and east of the Swan River except for Melville Saints, reflecting the growth of suburban Perth.[xxviii]


Dave Tolliday formed the Bedford Youth Club (BYC) team for the 1962-3 season drawing on students from John Forrest High School. His wife, Laura, ably supported him. She was secretary and made the 13 green uniforms with red trim.[xxix] Later the club became known as Bedford District Youth Club (BDYC). Unlike other clubs, Bedford was part of a broader community club which fielded teams in a variety of sports.  Pink Tops which had entered the competition in the 1952-53 season became Melville Saints for the 1962-63 season under the leadership of Marie Millett, Val Prunster and Pam Holder. The name change reflected the wishes of the younger players to have a new and more dramatic name. Initially Melville Saints trained on the reserve in Stock Road but over the years moved around the area using grounds in Willagee, Fremantle, Palmyra and Cockburn. The club managed to draw the majority of its players from the Melville area and was one of the few clubs south of the Swan River.


Resurgence: 1964-65 to 1975-76

The emergence from the doldrums began off the diamond in the 1964-65 season. Colin Smith was elected the first male president. A long-standing member of Hell’s Angels and a former State coach, Smith, a teacher by profession, was determined. He brought stability to the management of the Association, and the number of teams settled between 46 and 49. Smith held office for four seasons. Dick Watters from Nedlands Rookies succeeded Smith for the next three seasons with the number of teams growing from 58 to 65. For the 1975-76 season a new record of 93 teams was reached. New softball clubs joined the Association and the new clubs grew rapidly. The number of club/team names listed in the fixture book grew 16 to 26 with an upsurge in the number of one team clubs to 11.  The resurgence was partly achieved through growth in the juniors from just one grade with 9 teams in the 1963-64 season to four grades with 33 teams in the 1975-76 season. A State Junior team was initiated and in 1970 the first Under 16 national championship was held in Perth.  During this time the senior competition remained fairly stable with five or six grades but the number of teams per grade fluctuated between six and ten. By the 1975-76 season there were 60 senior teams in seven grades. At the beginning of the resurgence the clubs with teams in A grade were at their zenith providing the majority of teams across all grades although as the overall number of teams grew the contribution of these clubs decreased. In the 1964-65 season the seven clubs playing A grade had a total of 35 out 47 teams or 75 percent across all grades. By the 1975-76 season the eight clubs playing A grade had 53 out of 93 teams, or 57 percent. These established clubs supported the majority of junior teams and often fielded two teams in a junior grade.


Changes in the composition of A grade give some clues as to the developments taking place. A grade fell to just six teams in the 1966-67 season and remained steady until the 1971-72 when two teams - Swans and BYC - were added. The intent was to give more players the opportunity to play at a higher level to improve standard of softball for players in the State teams and through their participation it was also expected there would be a flow-on effect to the lower grades. Early in the season Swans and BYC found it difficult but persistence paid off and the players improved greatly by the end of the season according to President Schneider in her Annual Report.  A second initiative was the introduction of an Associate Plate for teams finishing in positions five to eight at the end of the rounds. This kept all teams involved till the end of the season. Schneider was cautiously optimistic about these ventures stating in her Annual Report that:

these are experiments and the Executive realize there are points which will require adjustments, but like anything new, they will need a little time and patience before we can judge whether or not they will be beneficial and assist in the improvement in the standard of Softball in Western Australia.


Of the older clubs Bassendean Bombers and Blue Jays struggled. Bassendean Bombers lost its A grade team at the end of the 1968-69 season and were defunct at the end of the 1969-70 season. The Association Executive was somewhat optimistic and requested the Secretary to write to Bassendean Bombers seeking its books, monies and equipment for the WAWSA to hold in trust for three years. If the club did not reform then all would become the property of the WAWSA. Blue Jays continued with five or six teams each season but ceased after the 1971-72 season because there was no one willing to take the helm and drive the club forward.  Fremantle and Hell’s Angels were stable with five and six teams across the grades. Nedlands Rookies were the outstanding club with a record five consecutive premierships from 1965-66 to 1969-70 under Coach Shirley Roberts and an all time high of 11 teams for four seasons between 1968-69 and 1971-72. When Bedford Youth Club returned to A grade for the 1971-72 season, the club had considerable depth with nine teams.  Three new teams provided significant growth for the Association: Gee Bees, Nollamara and Demons. Gee Bees commenced in the 1965-66 season with Nox Bailey at the helm. The team took its name from the initials of the Anglican Church youth group Girls’ Brigade – GB – of which some of the original players were members. From just one junior team in the 1965-66 season Gee Bees grew to 10 teams by the 1970-71 season when they made their A grade debut.  Nollamara joined the WAWSA for the 1967-68 season. Tom Touchell was its instigator. Later Alf Bunting joined Nollamara after a decade of success with Blue Jays A Reserve team. Nollamara consistently supported five or six teams but its A grade team never claimed a premiership. Nollamara replaced Swans in A grade after the 1971-72 season.  Demons entered the Association somewhat controversially for the 1968-69 season with three teams including one in A grade. Its strength came from the bitter departure from Hell’s Angels of players like Gail Hall, Shirley Schneider and Lorraine Page. Shirley Schneider was disappointed to find out that:

unfortunately at 26 years of age I was too old for the coach along with Lorraine Page. I had two children by that time and sort of had commitments at home as well. The new coach of the club and I didn’t agree and he actually made a statement to a friend of Lorraine’s that he had to get rid of a couple of players because they were too old. So I went looking elsewhere and John Claxton happened to be forming a club and he asked me to go and play for him, or for Demons. So, I said, “The other club obviously doesn’t want me so yes I will. They don’t want Lorraine either, do you want Lorraine as well?” He said, “Yes.” So away we went.[xxx]

According to Lorraine Page:

We won the next three[xxxi] premierships in A grade with all the rejects but it was a little bit hurtful and the people who were put in A grade [in Hell’s Angels] in our place only lasted two seasons and you never saw them again … and I think that was the hard part to accept … but we were quite happy at Demons. [xxxii]

The choice of the name Demons came from the founders’ passion for Australian Rules football:

They really wanted to call themselves Royals because the people that were the driving force behind setting up the club, like John Claxton, Cathy Dempsey and a couple of other people were East Perth [football] supporters and they wanted to call themselves Royals [the nickname for the football club] but we had a Royals Club that had gone defunct and owed the Association money. If anybody wanted to use the name they had to pay out the debt so they decided they weren’t going to pay out someone else’s debt so they called themselves Demons and used the double blues [of the football club] so they kept in line.[xxxiii]


Not all clubs were happy with these developments and Bedford expressed its disapproval of the clearances granted by the Council to some of its players to Demons. When Demons claimed its first A grade premiership in the 1971-72 season the club fielded 11 teams.  One of the new clubs for the 25th anniversary season in 1972-73 was Apache, a break away group from Nedlands Rookies. Apache fielded 4 teams in its first season at the expense of Nedlands Rookies which fell from 11 teams to 8. The decision to form Apache took place during the 1971-72 season when Shirley Roberts perceived her efforts at Nedlands were not fully appreciated and decided to leave. Seven Nedlands Rookies players –Roberts, Karen Williams, Barbara Corby, Heather Asquith, Peggy Beckett, Julie Piercy and Roma Piercy applied for clearances in March 1972. Nedlands did not acknowledge them so in accordance with the WAWSA constitution the clearances were automatically granted. More than 40 former Nedlands players were granted clearances to Apache. The Apache uniform was dark navy blue with red and white stripes. The season opened with a march of the teams in alphabetical order down Victoria Avenue to an assembly point in front of the change rooms on Langley Park. Lady Wardle, Lady Mayoress and Patroness of the WAWSA attended along with all Life Members, the latter being given the task of judging the best-dressed team. The Army band played and Mr Arthur Tonkin, MLA, performed the official opening.  At the conclusion of the season, President Schneider noted in her Annual Report that ‘the newer clubs figured prominently in both the Fairest and Best Awards and also the premierships’. Gee Bees were particularly successful winning the premierships in A Reserve, B1 and B2 grades and Sheryl Green and Susan Horner being recognized as Fairest and Best in B1 and B2 grades respectively. Schneider also felt it necessary ‘to comment on the apparent lack of interest by some Clubs in the administration of the Association’. Her main argument was that if everyone participated especially in fund raising then the members of the State teams could focus more on training. In return the clubs gained technical expertise as members of the State teams shared their knowledge and skills when they played in the local competition.


With team numbers in the ascendancy indicating a high interest in softball there was considerable discussion at the commencement of the 1973-74 season as to the length of the playing season. Many argued for an extension to three rounds necessitating some Sunday matches and double headers with the proviso that all finals be completed before the Senior State team traveled to the national championships. The Executive decided to delay this for 12 months to allow more input and to identify any significant problems. The season was extended with the introduction of the Association Plate to all grades.  With increasing participation in softball Langley Park was ‘bursting at the seams’ and the City of Perth increased the ground fees. A new venue was needed and after considerable negotiation the City of Stirling provided space at Yokine Reserve, approximately six kilometers north of the City of Perth. (See Chapter 17). The 1974-75 season was the beginning of the relocation of softball from Langley Park to Yokine Reserve. In August 1974 the City of Stirling gave permission for the use of only 10 of the promised 20 diamonds as the grounds were still not fully settled. Both Langley Park and Yokine Reserve were used for the 1974-75 season and the WAWSA was required to pay ground fees of $1,000 to the City of Stirling as well $425 to the City of Perth. All sub-junior and Junior B grades were played on Langley Park on Saturday mornings. The three lower senior grades were allocated to Langley Park – B2, C1 and C2. The remainder – A, A Reserve, B1, Junior A and Junior A Reserve – were allocated Yokine Reserve. Finals were also played at these grounds for these grades. Club coaches traveled between the two venues and an additional 15 minutes was scheduled between early and late games, that is, early games commenced at 1:45pm and late games at 4:15pm. Although Yokine Reserve was adjacent to Alexander Drive, a major thorough-fare to and from the city, getting players to and from Yokine Reserve prompted a request by the WAWSA through the City of Stirling for the Metropolitan Transport Trust to schedule buses to fit around the softball schedule especially since the number of buses was reduced after businesses closed at midday on Saturdays.


The City of Perth caused further anxiety when it decided to top dress Langley Park leaving only sufficient space for five diamonds. All other matches were played on the Ozone ground. As well, the Association was advised that it would have to re-apply to the Council for ground allocation for the finals.  The 1974-75 club finals and Association Plate matches were played throughout February. The Association Plate concept lost its appeal as many forfeits occurred. The A grade grand final saw Fremantle Rebels return to premiership status, 25 years after its victory in 1950.  The following season – 1975-76 - six more diamonds became available at Yokine Reserve giving a total of 16. Langley Park was still needed as another 12 teams participated and a third B grade division, B3, was created. Clubs were also given permission to train at Yokine Reserve provided they did not use the same area for every session.  


The relocation to Yokine co-incided with changes in shopping and business practices. The City of Perth continued its demise as the major retail centre with the volume of sales just one-fifth of total metropolitan sales, compared to almost one-third at the beginning of the decade.[xxxiv] Suburban shopping centres had developed rapidly since the mid-1960s to service the large residential development in the outer suburbs. Carousel, Garden City, Midland Centrepoint were all built in 1972 followed by Karrinyup in 1973. As the majority of workers exited Perth between 5:00 and 6:00pm week days, many softball players still traveled into Langley Park for mid-week training but increasingly clubs were setting up their own training grounds out in the suburbs. The mind-set of the people was changing and Perth was no longer seen as the centre for all activities. While going to Yokine Reserve was initially a novel experience, it was consistent with the changes in shopping and business practices. There were some people especially from south of the river who thought Yokine Reserve was too far away. This probably gave softball its northern and northeastern emphasis.  Australia’s victory at the First Women’s World Softball Championship in Melbourne in 1965 probably had little direct impact on softball participation in Perth and WA since there was minimal media coverage and only one Western Australian, Nina Menner, involved. The flow-on effect was most likely in the renewed enthusiasm of the administrators and senior players who came into contact with members of the Australian team and organizers at the national championships after 1965.

Junior players continued into senior ranks and were joined by young women playing competitive softball for the first time. Most WA girls would have had exposure to the rudiments of softball in their secondary school physical education classes and sport afternoons. There had been substantial increases in the number of government secondary schools and physical education teachers. As well, a multi-grade softball competition was a regular component of the non-government girls’ schools after school sport although only Mercedes College had one or two teams in the WAWSA competition. Both the University of Western Australia and the WA Secondary Teachers’ College were training specialist physical educators at this time with all female students required to complete a softball unit.


Good seasons: 1976-77 to 1995-96

Women’s softball ‘took off’ in the 1976-77 season. For the first time the WASA catered for in excess of 100 teams each Saturday. There were nine senior grades with 73 teams and 5 junior grades with 38 teams, making a total of 111 teams. For the next 19 seasons the WASA conducted a competition for more than 110 teams. The peak was reached in the 1982-83 season when there were 142 teams in 14 senior grades catering for 106 teams and 36 junior teams in 5 grades. With the exception of the 1976-77 season and two seasons in the late ‘80s, all women’s softball was played at Yokine Reserve. 


Interestingly, in the larger competition with a cap on the number of A grade teams, clubs with A grade teams contributed a decreasing proportion of the total membership although their influence on the Association remained strong through their participation in the governance of the Association. In the 1976-77 season 8 A grade clubs had 60 out of 111 teams across all grades or 54 percent. In the 1982-83 season they had 61 out of 142 or 43 percent and by 1990-91 had 38 out of 123 or just 31 percent, an all time low. In other words, there was substantial growth of clubs that did not have A grade teams but which had multiple teams in lower grades. New clubs making an impact were Balcatta, Carine Cats, Girrawheen, Hellenes, Joondalup Jaguars, Northern District Youth Club and Wanneroo. These clubs collectively fielded 32 percent of teams.  Determining the fixtures was a huge task. In September approximately a dozen people worked from early morning to late evening ensuring the fixtures for every grade were correct. At the same time the Association experimented with the number of teams in A grade. There were 9 teams for the 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons then 10 teams for the next two seasons before a return to 8 teams until the 1990-91 season. In July 1984 Nox Bailey supported by Alf Bunting moved to have 9 teams in each grade. The rationale behind this was to have the teams drawn for the Bye to undertake all the umpiring. This system had been used successfully by the Men’s League for several seasons. Bailey argued that:

A. It would avoid girls having to stand out in the heat umpiring an early game, missing most of the pre-match warm-up and then having to play a late game.

B. Only two rounds equaling 18 weeks plus finals will be necessary and this should fit in much better with State Championships taking place in January.

C. Clubs only have to worry about umpiring on 2 days during the year and if grades are allocated 2 early and 2 late games Clubs can double up on their umpiring.


An amendment exempted A and A Reserve grades from such fixtures.  When the State League Softball commenced in late 1991 A grade Summer Competition was abandoned since most players were committed to State League teams. Thus for the 1991-92 season A Reserve was the highest grade playing on Saturday afternoons. The traditional A grade with nine teams was reinstated the following season.  Changes occurred in the composition of A grade. After 25 seasons in the Association, Melville Saints were promoted to A grade for the 1978-79 season and maintained the required standard for the next four seasons. At its peak Melville Saints fielded seven teams predominantly drawing players from south of the Swan River. This proved quite challenging when the competition moved from Langley Park to Yokine Reserve because it meant that many players had to catch two buses which had less frequent services on Saturday afternoons. Otherwise, players relied on club stalwarts like Gaye Eames to ‘pick up carloads of juniors to go to Yokine’.[xxxv] Melville Saints merged with Fremantle at the end of the 1991-92 season. Fremantle had lost its A grade status after the 1983-84 season. The new team, Southern Strikers, won the A grade premiership for the following two seasons before moving to the South East Metropolitan Softball Association (SEMSA). Two factors probably contributed. First, SEMSA was located south of the Swan River at Shelley Reserve and was easier for players to get to, and second, the advent of retail trading all day Saturday meant that many potential players of necessity or preference chose to work Saturday afternoons.


Nollamara did not field an A grade team after the 1981-82 season. In September 1984 Nollamara advised the WASA that it would not be able to field teams in the forthcoming season due to problems in obtaining training grounds and sufficient players. All assets and equipment were frozen for 12 months in the hope that the club would return. Alf Bunting’s position on the Management Council as Nollamara’s delegate was quickly reassessed and he was given full voting rights as Patron and Life Member.  The popularity of softball in the northeastern suburbs was demonstrated by the inclusion of Morley in club names. Morley Senior High School entered a team for the 1974-75 season. For the 1976-77 season the Gee Bees changed its name to Morley Gee Bees, then to Morley Bees for the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons after which it became Bayswater Morley until after the 1987-88 season when Morley Eagles took to the diamond. Morley Windmills Club joined the Association taking over Hampton Softball Club which had its origins at Hampton Park Primary School, the winners of all three junior grades in the 1973-74 season. Morley Windmills had to pay an outstanding Hampton account of $24. Morley Windmills won the 1982-83 A grade premiership. As well, Morley Hawks had numerous teams for almost two decades from 1982 to the 2000-01 season.


Hell’s Angels underwent a metamorphosis when it changed its name to South Perth Angels for the 1982-83 season. Don and Lil Smith transferred from Nedlands to Hell’s Angels and believed that the name was too similar to that of a notorious motorcycle gang (with which there was no connection) and that parents were reluctant to have their daughters join the club. South Perth reflected the location of the club’s training ground. The Smiths were instrumental in establishing a junior competition which ran on Saturday mornings and helped increase club membership.  Apache followed by becoming Yokine Apaches for the1987-88 season and promptly won the A grade premiership. They resumed the Apache name for two seasons in the early 1990s then became Stirling Apache for the 1994-95 season as part of the development of the State Softball League teams. (See Chapter 6)


Demons became Dianella Demons in the same season to be identified with the locality where it was based but later reverted back to just Demons. Unfortunately its membership declined to just one team in the 2000s.  Kalamunda were a fresh A grade team in the 1984-85 season having joined the WASA with an A2 and a C2 team in the 1977-78 season and generally fielding three or four teams per season. Coached by Jan Beuglaar Kalamunda won the A grade premiership for the 1989-90 season. After this Kalamunda lost teams and left the WASA after the 1992-93 season. Traveling to Yokine Reserve each Saturday proved too much with the Hills Association and SEMSA being much closer.

During the good seasons the number of club and team names increased to an all time high of 45 in the 1987-88 season. Of these 14 names belonged to clubs that had just one team. The viability of one team clubs was an ongoing problem. Lack of success and leadership probably contributed to their short lifespans. Few one team one season ‘clubs’ have managed to win premierships. Lesmurdie Lions in the 1981-82 season and Munro’s Maidens in the 1987-88 season were successful but disbanded.  Outside A grade, Super Roos (aka Suparoos) became the first all Aboriginal team to join the Association for the 1977-78 season and have managed to field at least one team in most seasons despite often struggling financially.


The inclusion of district names in club names was problematic. With the exception of Melville Saints and Swans the new young clubs were based in Perth’s outer suburbs at a time when the city was growing rapidly. Apart from Melville Saints and Kalamunda the new ones were located north of Perth and relatively close to softball’s headquarters at Yokine Reserve. However, the extent to which the geographic names were a true indication of team composition in all grades was dubious. Immediately prior to the commencement of the 1985-86 season the WASA Secretary, Connie Montgomery, processed over 100 applications for clearances. Montgomery successfully argued for a $2 fee to be charged. This became somewhat contentious when some clubs then decided to do likewise. While she was more concerned with the administrative costs to process all the paperwork, there was a broader issue of club loyalty.  From the beginning of softball in Western Australia players have changed teams for a host of reasons. Sometimes it was as simple as the club not fielding a team in a sufficiently high enough grade, other times it was so players could be with friends. The most contentious changes, however, were when players were ‘poached’, that is, a coach specifically targeted a player to join their team and the club may have provided an inducement such as payment of fees or a petrol allowance. Unless details were made public, there was always a degree of conjecture about some clearances. Inducements were not within the code of amateurism to which softball subscribed.  


Junior softball remained relatively stable during the good seasons with usually five grades catering for 30 to 40 teams. The number of teams per grade varied from 5 to 10. Stability was not, however, desirable. Growth was needed as it was assumed that future senior softball players would come up through the grades, a contentious issue given that the number of senior teams doubled in the decade from 1974-75 to 1983-83. In other words, girls and women were playing senior softball without necessarily having played junior softball. Successive presidents - John Claxton (1978-79) and Reg Page (1979-80) - expressed concern that insufficient numbers of juniors would progress to senior ranks. Claxton urged each A grade to field at least one junior team probably reflecting his concern for a loss of seven junior teams that season. Close examination of the fixture book reveals that most A grade clubs had teams in multiple junior grades, the problem was what they were doing with them. Page felt little attention was given to developing basic skills in junior players and that junior and senior teams were drifting apart. There were exceptions. While Apache junior players trained at Coolbinia Primary School, they would travel to Reeder Reserve to watch the A grade team train after which the youngsters would be given a chance to bat against the A grade pitcher.[xxxvi]The good seasons saw the beginning of regionalization of metropolitan softball. In1976 the WASA gave Mrs Robyn Weaver permission to establish a new section of sub-juniors in the Fremantle area. This became known as the South Suburban Sub-junior Competition. In its second season there were three grades of eight teams each, an increase of eight teams. It had no immediate impact on numbers of juniors at Langley Park in either the 1976 or 1977 seasons when there were 38 and 39 teams but may have contributed to the decline noted by Claxton and Page in 1978 and subsequent years. By the 1983-84 season the Fremantle-based competition had grown to become a fully-fledged association, Southern Districts. As well SEMSA made an application to affiliate with the WASA. Other local competitions developed with Carlisle exploring the possibility of conducting a junior competition and there was an expression of interest from the Wanneroo area.  


The enthusiasm for women’s softball during the good seasons generated calls for expansion. As the State teams began to gain experience playing national championship matches under lights at night at venues such as Queensland’s Downey Park, the WASA considered night softball. Two attempts were made. In the 1977-78 season matches were played at Cannington Central Greyhound Park. Matches were played at 7:15pm and 9:10pm one evening per week. The experiment proved softball could be played at night but it did not attract crowds nor did it raise player enthusiasm. The choice of a location was designed to generate more interest south of the Swan River since Fremantle and Hell’s Angels were the only A grade clubs not based in the immediate vicinity of Yokine Reserve. But that was also contributed to its downfall, traveling to Cannington took softball away from its base. A second attempt at night softball began in the 1982-83 season at Parry Field baseball headquarters in Belmont and lasted for three seasons but it was a financial strain on the players, supporters and Association.  Nationally more attention was paid to club softball. The Australian/National women’s club championships were first played over the Easter weekend in 1983 with 14 clubs participating. This competition gave more A grade players the opportunity to experience the travel and pressure of interstate competition and compete against different opponents. The competition was conducted as a double elimination meaning that when a team lost two matches it was eliminated. The cost of traveling over east with the possibility of only playing two matches was a disincentive for Western Australian clubs.[xxxvii] However, in 1986 WASA premiers Nedlands Rookies and Dominos from Esperance undertook extensive fundraising and were the first WA clubs to officially take part. In 1988, the Australian Bicentennial Year, the ASF gained additional funding for clubs to participate by nominating the club championship as its feature event. Nedlands Rookies were keen to represent Western Australia but they required a wildcard entry to ensure their presence since they were not the reigning WA premiers – Apache were – and they had only played in two previous championships, one short of the criteria set by the ASF for automatic entry. Nedlands Rookies finished a credible fifth amongst 19 clubs from around Australia.[xxxviii] The National Club Championships were absorbed into the National Fastpitch League in the early 1990s. (See Chapter 10)


Women’s club softball was renamed “Summer” competition for the 1987-88 season. This followed a major restructure of the governance of the WASA during which it was resolved that there would be a Summer (women’s) competition and a Winter (men’s) competition under the direct auspices of the WASA. Summer was deemed to be from 1 October to 31 March and Winter competition between 1 April 30 September. This in turn determined the dates by which registration fees were paid. The Summer – and Winter – competitions had to take responsibility for their own organization and conduct, a change that appears to have taken some time for the clubs to grasp. Summer Competition Co-ordinator, Laurie Prior, highlighted this in his 1990-91 annual report:

Remember: A lot of the members are under the impression that the Board of W.A.S.A., run the Summer competition. This is not the case. Three years ago when the constitution was submitted and past (sic) by all clubs at the A.G.M., Summer Competition was made responsible for the organization itself. When each club complains about the way the competition is run, you are complaining about your club as well as your delegate. (Underlining in the original.)

Laurie PRIOR

Life Member: 1993

I don’t know what it was. I got asked and I just loved it. I started coaching and I just enjoyed it and in my second year of coaching I decided then that I was going to umpire and I’d love to coach State one day …


Gee Bees; Nollamara; Girrawheen; Wanneroo: Morley Windmills; Morley Eagles; Demons; Stirling Apache; Kalamunda Knights; Perth Outlaws; Jaguars


Bayswater-Morley; Wanneroo

State Teams

Assistant Coach Under 19 Women: 1992-1996

Coach Under 16 Girls: 2007-11

Metropolitan Teams

Coach Metro 2: 1989

Coach Metro Juniors: 2001




Board of Management: 1985-2004

State Championships Committee: 1985

State Championships Convenor: 1986-

Summer Competition Coordinator: 1986-97 2003-04

Junior Vice President: 1994-1996

Winter Competition Coordinator: 1997; 2006-2008

Summer Competition Junior Development Officer: 2000-


Level I Coach: 1985; Level II Coach: 1993

Level 2 Umpire (original scheme)

Level I Scoring


Australian Softball Federation Service Award: 1994

City of Stirling: 2000

Australian Sports Medal: 2000

Laurie Prior became involved in softball when he did a good deed for a mate. His mate had lost his licence and Laurie offered to drive his mate and girlfriend to softball with Gee Bees. Nox Bailey noticed the young chap and quickly recruited him to coach the sub-juniors for the 1968-69 season. With no real sporting background to speak of Laurie learned the ropes of coaching by observing the senior coaches at Gee Bees and supplementing his observations with whatever he could glean from the few books available on the sport. From “subbies” Laurie progressed to coach senior teams and in his third season coached A Reserve. His progress then halted when he was sent to Melbourne to complete his compulsory National Service Training (Nashos) in the early 1970s when Australian forces were embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam.  


Softball was not totally neglected, however, as Laurie worked on umpiring.  Before leaving WA Laurie managed to reach Level 2 in the original umpiring scheme. In Melbourne he took the opportunity to mix with the softball community including the formidable Australian Umpire in Chief Marj Dwyer who labeled him ‘a country hick from WA’. He only umpired a handful of matches but again spent as much time as possible observing and reckoned that during ‘my 18 months in Melbourne I learned more in two seasons over there … going and watching … than when I was here in WA’. When he returned to WA he found the tension between coaches and umpires to be problematic and so opted to focus on coaching apart from fulfilling club obligations to provide umpires.  A unique feature of Laurie’s softball career is that he has probably coached for more clubs than any other coach in WA. ‘I’ve had quite a few clubs. I’ve never left a club with ill feeling. I’ve only left the club to, one, better myself as a coach to coach higher grades and, also, to go to clubs I’ve been asked to’. Back in WA after ‘nashos’ Laurie spent another season with Gee Bees before transferring to



Nollamara then followed a pattern of several seasons with a club before transferring usually because of changes in the number of senior and junior teams. Among the clubs he has been associated with were Girrawheen, Wanneroo, Morley Windmills (which amalgamated with Morley Eagles), Stirling Apache and Demons. When State League commenced Laurie coached Kalamunda Knights. To add to the mix his sons – Steven and Bradley – commenced junior men’s softball with Morley Windmills before transferring to Perth Outlaws. Steven continued with softball and was selected in the Australian Under 19 team for the Fourth World Championship in New Zealand in 1993 but as the result of a shoulder injury he had to withdraw. Bradley opted for volleyball and played at State level.  Like so many others, Laurie spent most of Saturdays in summer at Yokine Reserve. Starting time was 7 am with 7 pm finishes not unusual. He’s even been known to drive to Quinns Rock to pick up a player because her parents were not able to get her to Yokine for early matches on Saturday morning, or to drive a player home with the player having to visit Laurie’s parents en route. In the early days he had a station wagon and he could ‘pick up three or four kids in Bayswater, take them down to the ground and I’d turn around and take them back home and go back down in the afternoon for senior games’. For Laurie giving so much time to softball is ‘a lot of long hours and I always maintain it. I still tell people I’ve never done anything in softball that I haven’t wanted to do. Nobody made me do anything. It’s always been my choice and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it’.


In the 1980s on his rostered day off from work every second Friday Laurie focused on softball helping State Coaching Director Shirley Schneider run development clinics in schools. When the WA Government Schools Sports Association hosted the 1991 Schoolgirls’ Championships at Mirrabooka, Laurie was singled out for thanks for the work he did during the week. He has also been willing to assist new clubs such as Scarborough to become established and to work with juniors progressing from tee-ball to softball at clubs like Carine Cats. He has also spent time with Nedlands Rookies juniors. More recently Laurie has taken responsibility for Junior Development for the Summer Competition. When he went to run a development program with Jaguars he ended up coaching the junior side to the grand final after the original coach resigned and left the team without a coach. ‘I’ll work with anybody. I don’t give a hoot about clubs. To me it benefits softball … the simple reason being it increases their skill level and they’ll play the game harder and it makes the opposition play harder’. For Laurie success in coaching means ‘that the kids enjoy themselves … I’ve always looked at my ideal coach if the players continue coming back to play softball I know I’ve done the right thing. I’ve coached mum, the daughter and the grand-daughter and when that happens you think I must be doing something right’.


One of the main steps in Laurie’s progress towards coaching a State team was serving a lengthy apprenticeship coaching metropolitan teams in the State Championships held over the long weekend in March each year. He began with Metro 2 in 1989. In 1991 Laurie took another step towards his goal of coaching a State team when he was appointed Assistant Coach to Bob McKibbin for the Under 19 Women’s team. Candidly, at a team debriefing after the championship in Darwin, Bob admitted to Laurie and the team that he had not been in favour of Laurie’s appointment for a host of reasons and then acknowledged that he was wrong and that Laurie was a great team person. Laurie maintained this position until 1996 but stepped down to spend more time with his family. In 2007 he returned to State level as coach of the Under 16 Girls’ team.  Laurie was well aware of the intricacies of national championships having been a member of various organizing committees when the championships were held in Perth. He readily recalled having to help Nox Bailey transport the backnets from Yokine Reserve to West Perth Oval around 6am each morning to avoid attracting the attention of the police to the overwidth load. Each evening the nets and home run fence had to be taken down so the football club could train.  From the outset Laurie has also been a willing volunteer on club and WASA committees including president of Wanneroo.


In 1987 when the WASA restructured and women’s softball became the Summer Competition, Laurie took the helm as Coordinator, determined to make sure that the competition was a viable entity in its own right. Again he found himself – and often his family – setting the backnets up each Saturday morning at Yokine. With a passion for junior softball Laurie took on the job of junior Development officer for the Summer competition in 2000. For the 2006-07 season a novel approach was used whereby Laurie visited club training sessions rather than hold clinics at a central location. It was considered successful with the young players relaxed in familiar surroundings. Organisation of the State Championships fell under the banner of the Summer Competition thus extending Laurie’s involvement beyond coaching Metropolitan teams. 


When the WA Men’s Softball League formed in 1976 Laurie was approached to be the Umpiring Coordinator but he turned that down. Later when women’s and men’s softball amalgamated Laurie had several seasons as Winter Competition Coordinator, a somewhat demanding position since unlike the Summer Competition located at just one venue, the men’s teams had their own home grounds. Unlike many softball supporters who tend to focus on either the women’s or men’s game Laurie has ‘always been men’s and women’s combined because softball to me is softball’. He has, however, acknowledged that he found women’s softball to be more enjoyable because they are more receptive to coaching than the men who tend to assume that they don’t need any assistance.  The advent of the WAMSL gave Laurie the opportunity to become a passionate player for Wanneroo. His preferred playing position was pitcher and he ranked amongst the best in the League. ‘It’s one thing to coach the game and umpire the game but actually play it, it’s a lot harder’. When Veterans’ softball commenced Laurie began with Bayswater-Morley until Wanneroo entered a team and enabled him to continue playing right up to the present but has shifted to first base since ‘I’ve got a bit of a kink in my neck from watching the ball go over the home run fence!’  With extensive experience as a Board Member Laurie was urged by Reg Page to stand for an Executive position and in 1994 he became Junior Vice President of the WASA. He relinquished the position in 1996 but remained on the Board through its various metamorphoses till 2004:

I’d set myself a goal and I maintained a hope that I’d get to the point I wanted. Just little things would bug me and I would just push it a little bit, push and push until I knew I would get it or we wouldn’t get it and I just wouldn’t bother pushing any more.


Among the committees Laurie served on was the one that oversaw the establishment of the State Softball Centre at Mirrabooka. The completion of the stadium meant that WASA had to appoint people to respond on its behalf if the security company noticed any irregularities or the alarm sounded. Living within a kilometer of the stadium Laurie would crawl out of bed and go to Mirrabooka to check out the problem. It was not uncommon for this to happen once or twice a month. Initially Reg Page also attended but Laurie took sole responsibility when the Pages moved away from Perth. Throughout his long softball career Laurie was supported by his wife Jill whom he married in 1973. ‘I believe it’s a great family sport, the whole family can be involved in all levels: coaching, playing, umpiring, scoring and anything else’. The ‘anything else’ has certainly been a focus of the Priors. Even though she was not a player herself at any time Jill, too, became immersed in WA softball and was Lorraine Page’s right hand assistant in managing the canteens at Yokine and Mirrabooka, taking charge of the latter when Lorraine retired. Jill and the three children – Steven, Bradley and Tammy – all contributed as volunteers during the construction of Mirrabooka. The Prior children even slept on the tables as their parents joined the volunteers grouting the tiles in the function room in the early hours of the morning. At one stage Laurie and his boys scared Bob McKibbin when they were working in the cherry picker hanging the netting and Bob thought Laurie was going to throw the boys out because each had their own idea as to how the job should be done.


Laurie has been able to fit so much softball into his life because he started work very early – 6 or 7 am – and finished by 3:30 pm, in time to load the gear into his ute and head for training. When he began coaching with Gee Bees he was an 18 year-old apprentice cabinet-maker and machinist with the Water Board. In 1993 the Prior’s life was turned upside down when Steven suffered serious brain injury in a traffic accident and needed full-time care. Laurie took compassionate leave for several months before being granted a redundancy. In his 1994-95 report he highlighted the importance of softball in his life when he wrote ‘This season has been one of my difficult years due to my son’s accident, however, this gave me a reason to continue as softball has been the best part of our lives’. A little while later he commenced his own business. As his own boss Laurie could schedule his week to include multiple visits to Steven and still maintain his softball commitments and if need be head for his workshop at night after training. Sadly, Steven passed away in 2008.  Laurie’s dedication to softball was recognized in 1993 when he was made a Life Member of the WASA. As well he has been recognized by the ASF with a Service Award. In 2000 he received an award from the City of Stirling and an Australian Sports Medal. He is also a Life Member of Wanneroo Softball Club.


In subsequent reports, Prior, softened his comments but retained the same theme. He also recommended that clubs look to having a full range of teams from juniors to seniors and offered special praise to the [unnamed] club which had gone one step further to work with Tee-ball clubs in their district to encourage youngsters to progress to softball.  A couple of interesting features arose with Summer Competition. First, despite being a competition for women, it relied on men for its organisation: Laurie Prior and Don Brooks. Prior had coached women’s teams since 1968 while Brooks came into softball when his daughters played. A number of women assisted but none seemed willing to lead. Second, in the annual reports, very little detail was presented beyond the list of premier teams and best and fairest players in each grade and some general comments about the cooperation (or lack thereof) from the clubs. Missing was information details about numbers per grade and overall registrations. Arguably, some of this information was in the fixture book released at the beginning of the season but in terms of the annual report being a public record of the Association’s achievements, club softball received minimal attention. In contrast, the performance of most State teams were analysed in detail by coaches and managers/manageresses. While some of this imbalance can be attributed to the demands made on the personnel, the overall impression from reading the annual reports is that State teams dominated the focus of the WASA at the expense of club softball.


Third, while qualifying matches continued to be played at Yokine Reserve, the finals for A, A Reserve and Junior A grades were held at the State Softball Centre at Mirrabooka which had opened in September 1991. This posed a problem. Teams in the finals wanted some training time at Mirrabooka to familiarize themselves with the facility but with the heavy use of the centre for State League and national championships, this was not possible. For the 1994-95 season the Summer Competition was allocated six Saturday nights at Mirrabooka.  Despite strong growth and increasing community awareness of the issues confronting women’s sport in general through initiatives of the Western Australian Women’s Sport Foundation media coverage of softball had declined markedly. Pat Grice continued to generate reports for the newspapers but she and the clubs were becoming increasingly frustrated that her reports were cut to fit available space. Irate supporters took their anger out on Grice through abusive phone calls. David Marsh, a former national umpire and a sportswriterfor The West Australian, backed Grice but there seemed little that could be done practically.


Clubs were urged to utilise the services of the expanding community newspapers but these did not carry the same prestige or have statewide distribution of The West which was Perth’s only daily newspaper.  The WASA, and all other State sporting associations, were extremely anxious in1986 when retailers proposed to introduce all day retail trading on Saturdays. The WASA lobbied against such a large social change knowing full well that teenage girls and women would be targets as potential consumers and staff in retail outlets. At this stage the number teams was already beginning to decline and the loss of large numbers of players and coaches especially during the busy Christmas shopping period would severely impact on softball.


In the early 1990s, the good seasons were drawing to a close as the number of teams dropped to 110 for the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons with the most notable decline in senior grades which dropped to just nine. Juniors managed to retain five grades. All A grade clubs experienced major changes. Bayswater Morley no longer field an A grade team, Bedford Youth Club struggled, Demons exited A grade as did South Perth Angels. Nedlands Rookies lost its geographic identification and became just Rookies. On the positive side, new clubs Carine Cats and Morley Eagles fielded ten or more teams each in the Summer Competition.  Following the lead of Southern Districts and SEMSA, more regional metropolitan softball associations were established, notably Eastern Districts and Rockingham. Thus while the Summer Competition based at Yokine Reserve experienced a decline in numbers, there were more opportunities for girls and women to play softball throughout the metropolitan area without having to travel great distances.


Summer Competition at Yokine Reserve: 1996-97 to 2010-11

Since the 1996-97 season the Summer Competition at Yokine Reserve has slowly developed a new identity. Different people have taken on the challenging task of Convenor giving rise to different attempts to reverse the trends. Having been either Assistant Convenor or Convenor since 1987 Brooks decided to call “Time and Game” at the end of the 2002-03 season and pass the organization of the Summer Competition to others. No new softballers accepted the challenge and Laurie Prior returned to convene the Summer Competition once more for the 2003-04 season. ‘Retirees’ Laurie Prior and Don Brooks continued to assist as needed. Brooks with Kevin Osborne acted as grounds men marking the diamonds and cleaning up at the end of the day. Barbara Rogers stepped up to co-ordinate the Summer Competition for three seasons beginning with the 2004-05 season. Marilyn Motu followed her.  Fewer clubs and teams competed. Overall, there is a consensus that the standard of play in the senior grades does not match that of the halcyon days of the 1980s. This can be attributed to a number of factors. Clubs have been reluctant to nominate teams for the higher grades preferring to play in B and lower grades. This possibly stems from the separation of State League softball from Summer Competition. The most elite players participate in the State League. However, the organizers have retained the traditional nomenclature so that the highest grade in the Summer Competition is A grade.


In the 1996-97 season only 96 teams played in the Summer Competition: 66 in 8 senior grades and 30 in 5 junior grades. By the late 2000’s the total number of participating teams stabilized in the high 60s with the bulk of teams provided by a core group of about 15 clubs plus one team clubs. In the 2008-09 season Senior A grade competition continued to be problematic and was ‘saved’ by Twin City Lakes providing three of the six teams. The other teams came from Carine Cats, Jaguars and Morley Eagles. Clubs like Demons were a mere shadow of their former selves. A radical revamp saw Demons remodeled as a business which gave it a new lease of life resulting in growth to three teams. Super Roos have demonstrated that a committed group can promote sport to indigenous youngsters over many generations.  The decline in the number of junior teams has been of greatest concern to the convenors. During the 2002-03 season Summer Competition took advantage of the absence of national championships from Mirrabooka in January to shorten the Christmas break and to play night matches on Wednesday evenings thus eliminating the need for matches on Sundays. Convenor Don Brooks noted that the Protests and Disputes Committee was not called on at all during the season.  When Barbara Rogers stepped up to co-ordinate the Summer Competition all grades including the Juniors were scheduled to play some matches at Mirrabooka. Rogers felt this lifted everyone’s enthusiasm. To increase spectator attendance at A grade matches at Yokine Reserve, diamonds 1 and 2 were marked in line with the canteen for easy access. The curtain raiser to the Senior Grand Finals involved the Jaguars Special Olympians, a team of disabled athletes who were preparing for their national championship in Queensland in October with the possibility of selection for the Special Olympics. For the grand finals, the Summer Competition re-instated a traditional greeting of teams whereby the competitors lined-up at first and third bases and ran towards each other to shake hands in approximately the location of the pitchers’ plate. This emphasized softball as ‘the friendly game’.


In an attempt to increase junior participation and standard of play, Summer Competition experimented in the 2006-07 season with the Junior Development Officer visiting the clubs rather than having the juniors travel to Yokine for clinics. It was generally felt that this was a success as the juniors continued to train in a familiar environment. Efforts to engage more juniors were a feature of the 2007-08 season. A Junior Carnival was held in November. The finals were played at night at Mirrabooka with clubs bringing tee-ball and modball players along to watch. At the conclusion of matches, the players received softball showbags and the best and fairest in each match was presented with the match ball in a presentation holder.  The push to entice more juniors into softball continued in the 2008-09 season with Marilyn Motu strongly supporting tee-ball and modball as preparation for junior softball. She also thought that more consideration should be given to encouraging junior to play a season of winter softball to continue to hone their skills. Motu appealed for more representation of junior softball in the Summer Competition Executive either via adult delegates or a sub-committee of youngsters. Media coverage was targeted with Publicity Officer, Amy Smith, making a special effort to have results in the newspaper. The perpetual trophies were re-introduced during the post –match presentations.

[xxxviii] Blue Jays had toured South Australia as a club team in the early 1970s but did not compete in any ASF sanctioned competitions.

[xxxvii] See Embrey, L. (1995). Batter Up! The history of softball in Australia, p. 118.

[xxxvi] Don Brooks, Interview, 2008.

[xxxv] Val Prunster, Interview, April 2008.

[xxxiv] Gregory, J. (2003, p. 1984). City of Light. Perth, WA: City of Perth.

[xxxiii] Shirley Schneider, Interview, May 1992.

[xxxii] Lorraine Page, Interview, December 1997.

[xxxi] The Taylors’ Sports Store A grade trophy shows Demons as premiers in two seasons.

[xxx] Shirley Schneider, Interview, May 1992.

[xxix] Western Australian Softball Association 1976 Yearbook, p. 27.

[xxviii] While clubs/officials were located in particular suburbs, they did not necessarily draw all their players from that area.

[xxvii] Gregory, J. (2003). City of Light, p.184. In the CBD accounted for 37.7 percent of all metropolitan sales, by 1961-62 the percentage was 30.3.

[xxvi] Cashman, R. & Weaver, A. (1991). Wicket women: Cricket and women in Australia. Kensington, NSW: New South Wales University Press. p. 112.

[xxv] Unfortunately, the fixture cards/books are not available for the seasons from 1954-55 to1957-58, and thus exact data are not available for the period Johnson is referring to.

[xxiv] The Western Mail, 1 November 1951, p. 7.

[xxiii] These prices were listed in the advertisement for Boans Sports Department in the program of the Australian Softball Championships, Perth, 24th to 31st March, 1952, p. 14.

[xxii] These prices were listed by Taylors Sports Store in their advertisement in the program of the Australian Softball Championships, Perth, 24th to 31st March, 1952, p. 6.

[xxi] Val Johnson, W.A. Women’s Softball Association President’s Annual Report 1956/57, p.2.

[xx] Rookies Softball Club Inc (2001). 50 Golden Years: Celebrating 50 remarkable Years.

[xix] Val Johnson, W.A. Women’s Softball Association President’s Annual Report 1956/57, p.2.

[xviii] Schmitt, H. (1953, March 12). “Hit it where they ain’t”. The Australasian Post, p.15-16.

[xvii] Alf Bunting, interview July 2007

[xvi] The Broadcaster, Saturday 5 April, 1952, p.25.

[xv] The Broadcaster, Saturday 1 March 1952, p. 29.

[xiv] The Daily News, Wednesday 6 February 1952, p.15.

[xiii] Minutes 28 May and 23 July, 1951. Schmitt, H. (1953, March 12). “Hit it where they ain’t”. The Australasian Post, p.15-16.

[xii] Pat Grice, Interview, January 2003.

[xi] More than 220 team/club names have been listed in the fixtures for women’s/summer softball over 61 seasons. In the scope of this document it has been decided that team/club profiles will focus on A grade, 42 teasm/clubs, plus any teams/club worthy of special mention. Each team/club is worthy of its own special history and future studies should consider this. As will be discussed later, clubs with teams in A grade have usually had teams in several other grades and in total have contributed between 30 and 76 percent of teams per season.

[x] Daily News, Saturday 16 October, 1949, p. 16

[ix] In Mary Ferber’s Opinion, Daily News, Thursday 13 October, 1949, p. 13.

[viii] Opinion, Daily News, Tuesday 18 October, 1949, p. 4.

[vii] Opinion, Daily News, Saturday 4 October, 1949, p. 4.

[vi] The Sunday Times, 27 March 1949.

[v] The West Australian, Thursday 24 March, 1949, p. 15.

[iv] Heather Asquith, Interview, June 2010.

[iii] According to the Minutes the National Catholic Girls’ Movement (NCGM) had representatives at several meetings in the 1948-49 season but do not appear to have fielded a team until the following season.

[ii] The West Australian, Thursday 24 March 1949, p. 15.

[i] Daily News, Friday 29 August 1947, p. 12.