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Evonne Goolagong

Growing Up

Evonne Fay Goolagong was born on July 31, 1951, in the town of Barellan, in New South Wales, Australia. She was the third of Kenneth and Linda Goolagong's eight children. Though they were not fully Aboriginal, each parent had native Aborigine ancesters. Evonne grew up in a poor but happy family. Her father was a farm laborer, performing tasks such as sheep shearing and fixing farm machinery, while her mother stayed home and took care of Evonne and her seven brothers and sisters (Evonne was the third of the eight children).

Evonne's mother instilled in her children a fear of being taken away from home. At this time in Australia (the fifties) there were crusades undertaken by some Australians who wanted to take Aboriginal children away from their families and raise them elsewhere so they could give the children a life free from poverty and what many in white Australian culture assumed to be a better education. "I remember when I was little," Evonne told Stephen Lamble in the Adelaide, Australia Sunday Mail, "… whenever a car would come down the road, my aunty and my mother would say, 'You kids better go away and hide. The welfare man will take you away.'"

Goolagong invested her early energies into tennis and never gave up. Her introduction to the sport came early, and at the age of five she had become a ball girl at the Barellan War Memorial Tennis Club, where she earned some change retrieving balls, a task that no doubt helped contribute to her quick reflexes and helped develop her agility and create her court speed. By the time she was six, Evonne had acquired her first tennis racquet—a gift from her aunt—and left behind the bat and rubber ball that she'd been using to practice with.

Though the tennis club was not the best in Australia, it did attract people who knew the game. By the time Goolagong was ten, she had caught the eye of Vic Edwards, who was then one of Australia's best known tennis coaches. According to Edwards in Contemporary Authors, the young Goolagong's "most impressive quality was her grace around the court. And she could hit that ball really hard, right in the center of the bat. She had a homemade shot, a backhand volley, and it was a beauty."

But Edwards did not live in Barellan, so Goolagong and her family had a tough decision to make. Evonne could work with Edwards, and he would exercise her natural abilities and help develop her into a fantastic player. Yet in order to do so Evonne would have to sacrifice her home life and Aboriginal culture. So, at age 11, Evonne Goolagong moved into a Sydney suburb with Edwards and his family. Her family in Barellan and the people of the town realized this was a great opportunity for the young Evonne—and that there was no way she would achieve tennis fame by staying in her home-town—so together they raised enough money to help her buy the new tennis equipment she would need to fit in and compete at Edwards's tennis school. Edwards in turn became her legal guardian.

Moving into the new lifestyle was not easy for the young Goolagong, however. "I cried nearly every night," she told an Australian newspaper decades later. "I remember being very shy and scared when I first started." But she remained and trained hard, rising to become one of Australia's top tennis players.

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