From Greatcoats to Gym Tunics: Reading History through Images of Women Playing Netball


Visual representations of women playing sport have always struggled to gain a consistent foothold in the visual history of sport. The most significant period of visual scarcity was in the pre-television era when few had the funds or the ability to record and distribute moving images. Cinema newsreels and locally produced films which showcase women in action are therefore historical, cultural and ideological treasure troves offering rich points of entry through which to explore women’s sporting ‘herstory’. This paper explores the significance of two pieces of early film capturing women playing netball in very culturally different circumstances and recorded with very different intent. The earliest, produced by the British Ministry of Information in 1918, is of WAAC's stationed at the Western Front celebrating their one afternoon off a fortnight by engaging in a robust game of netball dressed in their army greatcoats. This is primarily a propaganda film screened in British cinemas to help change the puritanical view of the public towards women in uniform who served in France. The second is a very recently re-discovered and restored film of the 1932 Dominion Basketball (netball) Tournament in New Zealand. For the next 20 years this cherished fragment was shared around the often isolated provincial basketball associations in the country. It provided the only accessible source of moving images for local women to glimpse their game being played at a representative level and tells a story more vivid than just healthy settler society New Zealand women at play.

Author Information
Margaret Henley, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Paper Information
Conference: EuroMedia2017
Stream: Film History

This paper is part of the EuroMedia2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon