Tennis champions of Australasia
Joseph Zachariah, New Zealand ladies tennis team, 1909, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: PAColl-8564
Published in the Wellingtonian 8 July 2011
Here are the New Zealand ladies tennis team of 1909, posing in their playing gear, on their triumphant return from Australia. That is their manager at the wheel of the car, and the chaperone sits at the back, with the flowers in her hat.
Tennis was becoming very popular, and was one of the few sports in which female participation was encouraged. Despite the very decorous dress requirements – no body part exposed – competition was often fierce at club, regional and national tournaments.
Wellingtonian Kate Nunneley (third from the right) is one of the heroines of early women’s sport. Before 1909 she had been national singles champion every year since 1895. Just a few months before she had finally lost that title to the young Taranaki champion Lucy Powdrell (seated beside the driver). Together they were a formidable pair.
It was the trip of a lifetime – two weeks of high society entertainment in Sydney and a succession of victories. In the interstate championship they defeated New South Wales 15-6. Victoria defaulted. That meant, as far as New Zealanders were concerned, that they were the champions of Australasia. They had similarly convincing wins in the following New South Wales and Sydney tournaments.
On their return there were glowing newspaper reports and a mayoral reception. Nunneley, a confident public speaker, spoke on behalf of the team. It had been "a glorious time", she said, and a better time "the players had never had in their lives."
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