The place where an Australian tennis legend was born, the Barellan Tennis Club courts, was renamed to honour the local Goolagong family in a moving ceremony on Saturday.
Guests were treated to a Welcome to Country by Ian Goolagong, the only Aboriginal male to play on centre court at Wimbeldon, and indigenous dancing performed by Tirkandi Inaburra and Clontarf Academy students.
The club now boasts a refurbished clubhouse with a new kitchen, new courts, perimeter fencing and lighting.
Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke joined members of the Goolagong family to open the new Goolagong Courts.
The NSW Government contributed $267,417 to the project from round three of the Stronger Country Communities Fund to upgrade the tennis courts and lighting.
Ms Cooke said the community had aced the upgrades.
“Barellan has a proud tennis history as the birthplace of the legendary Evonne Goolagong, who sadly wasn’t able to be with us due to ill health. Now they have courts worthy of celebrating this fabulous connection,” Ms Cooke said.
“I have no doubt that these new courts will breed a new generation of champions and build a love of this great game in players of all ages.
“This is a community asset the community has put their heart and soul in to upgrading and will help locals and visitors enjoy this great sport.”
Barellan Tennis Club President Louise Hornery said she was delighted with the upgrades.
“The courts look fantastic, we’ve got new grass down, the fencing and signage look magnificent and the upgrades to the clubhouse have opened it up and made it look bright,” Ms Hornery said.
“These upgrades will definitely increase participation in the sport, particularly with the new lighting, we are hoping we are going to get some of the older players back and we’ve had great interest from local schoolkids.
“I especially want to thank the NSW Government, the Council who also contributed to the Club upgrade, Graincorp and the Barellan Masters Games.
“We absolutely have to thank the community, we’ve had about five working bees and without people volunteering their time we wouldn’t have gotten half of this work done.”
The opening was part of the 2021 Barellan Masters Games with tennis players from throughout the region attending.
Guests included Member for Murray Helen Dalton, the Goolagong Family, and Narrandera Councillors including Mayor Cr Neville Kschenka.
Louise Hornery was presented with a life membership of the tennis club, one of only two life memberships given, for her committee roles, grant writing and junior tennis coaching.
In making the citation to Hornery, David Irvin said the previous court had been installed 25 years ago.
“Louise has been here for eight years and she has done a magnificent job taking this from start to finish,” Irvin said.
In response, Louise said the life membership was unexpected.
She paid tribute to the local volunteers who helped on the project.
“I want to say how much I love tennis and I got that from my dad,” she said.
“The committee has an amazing facility here now and thank you to all the Barellan community for your help and support.
“I always wanted to change the name of the courts so I had a chat with Roger and Evonne (Cawley) and Evonne came back with the suggestion of Goolagong Courts.
“It was so fitting to represent the whole family.”
Judy Findlay recalled when she was secretary of the Welcome Home Committee for Evonne with a large street parade and Wimbeldon Ball held in her honour in 1971.
She read a poem titled “To Evonne” written by Nathalie Semmler, who is now 104 and residing in Leeton’s Alf Hermann Lodge, in celebration of Evonne’s achievement.
Evonne’s older sister Barbara Goolagong said the courts brought back many fond memories for family members.
Barbara recalled how a young Evonne would hit a tennis ball up against a chimney and water tank at home.
“I’m happy to be here and see a lot of faces I played with at night comps – I enjoyed my life growing up here in Barellan. I still play tennis where I live on the central coast,” she said.
Evonne’s younger brother Ian left Barellan at 13 to play tennis in Melbourne and toured the US tennis circuit with the Cawleys at the age of 18.
He was awarded a tennis scholarship at a South West Texas State University and played on the professional circuit for several years, then worked for Australian tennis legends John Newcombe and Harry Hopman at their respective tennis camps in the United States.
A career highlight for Goolagong was playing mixed doubles on Centre Court at Wimbledon with his sister Evonne in 1982.
“I am the only Australian indigenous male to have played at Wimbledon,” Goolagong said.
This article appeared in the Narrandera Argus, 4 March 2021.