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  • BAG History Group

Women's Memorial Playing Fields

Pioneering sports journalist Lois Quarrell and workers clearing the almond orchard, 1954. Image c/o the S.A. Women's Memorial Playing Fields Trust'

In the early 1950s it was identified that areas for women and girls to participate in sport were lacking and by the fact that only 10% of girls and young women in the 14 to 25 year age-group were being catered for by existing sports facilities. ‘The problem was accentuated by the influx of New Australians - 7,000 women and girls were added to S.A.'s population in 1952 and 1953…(Chronicle18 Nov 1954, p46).

The S.A. Women's Amateur Sports Council was formed with the priority being to find a ground. Premier Tom Playford made available 18 acres (6 hectares) of a 78-acre reserve on the corner of Ayliffes Road and Shepherds Hill Road. This became what is now known as the S.A. Women's Memorial Playing Fields.

Volunteers set about organising the clearing, levelling and development of what were unfenced orange and almond groves, earlier part of the Ragless Estate. The land had to be surveyed, fenced, ovals prepared by bull-dozing, trees removed, water procured (including the sinking of bores), turf planted, courts surfaced and a pavilion built. All required time and money. The development of the site owes much to early Trust members and sporting advocates May Mills, Helen Black and Gordon Brown who brought together many of Adelaide’s prominent business men and women to create the fields. May Mills organised volunteers for work and fund-raising. She assisted in levelling the first oval with ‘pick, shovel and wheelbarrow’ and planned and supervised tree-planting. (The family of May Mills had been long term residents of Bellevue Heights and would go on to donate land to become Flinders University). An Appeals Committee raised thousands of dollars from businesses, private donations, balls and Sunday picnics, Sportswoman of the Year, Queen of Sport, Firelight Fiesta evenings, roadside collections, stalls and numerous other functions.

The decision was made to dedicate the entire site of the Playing Fields in memory of the WW2 contribution made by women in the Army, Navy and Air Force. A particular focus is the Bangka Memorial Service held annually in February to honour the 21 nurses who were executed by Japanese soldiers on Bangka Island, Indonesia.

Initially, tennis, softball, cricket, and hockey were the sports played and over the years Local, State and Federal governments have assisted the development of the Playing Fields through grants. The grounds now have 3 ovals which include the Helen Black Oval, the Gordon Brown Oval and the May Mills Pavilion. Today cricket, soccer, lacrosse and hockey are played with the tennis courts being used as a depot for the South Road upgrade. The ‘Office of Recreation and Sport’ is currently developing plans to improve the site with increased parking, synthetic pitches, a new pavilion and a stronger connection to the servicewomen via a garden of reflection being designed.


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