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Goolagong Cawley reveals racism incident during inspiring speech at Australian Tennis Awards

Former world No. 1 tennis champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley revealed her encounter with casual racism during her playing days as part of a heartfelt and inspiring speech at the Australian Tennis Awards.

After Aussie golden girl and close friend Ash Barty presented her with Tennis Australia‘s Spirit Of Tennis award for her work with the Evonne Goolagong Foundation, the proud Indigenous woman spoke of the incident to the audience.

“I went through some tough times. I went through a bit of racism,” said Goolagong Cawley.

“I was playing doubles one day with my coach’s daughter Patricia.

“I think because we beat these two older ladies, they came up to shake my hand, and one of them said, ‘This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity of playing against a —— [racial slur].

“Obviously, I was very upset. I ended up going to the Aboriginal Affairs building where my friends were. They consoled me for the rest of the day.

Goolagong Cawley went on to explain how she never let it get in the way of fulfilling her ‘dream’.

“But that didn’t stop me because, you know, it was that dream – achieving that dream – of playing on that magical centre court [at Wimbledon] that got me over a lot of that stuff.”

The two-time Wimbledon champion also gave thanks for everything tennis had given her, both on and off the court.

“Tennis has been fantastic for me. The rest of my family played tennis too and enjoyed tennis, but I had that [childhood] dream,” she said.

“Eventually when I did start travelling overseas I enjoyed every part of it. Every time I got on the court I always thought I was lucky to be there in the first place, lucky to be found in a small country town, Barellan, and actually lucky not to be taken away [as part of the stolen generation].

“I remember when I went to visit my relations in Griffith we used to run and hide under the bed whenever the shiny car came down the road because Mum was worried we may be taken away.

“So every time I set foot on those courts I just felt [like] the luckiest person in the world. I was doing exactly the thing I wanted to do – play tennis. Even when I lost it really didn’t bother me for that reason because I was just lucky to be there.”

During the speech, the 71-year-old reminisced about being a young girl reading a story of another child going to Wimbledon, and from then on it was a path she was determined to create for herself.

“The toughest part of my whole career was actually leaving home for the first time, and leaving my family,” she said.

“But I read that Princess magazine story about a young girl who was found and taken to this place called Wimbledon, and she played on this magical centre court – and she won.

“I didn’t know this place [Wimbledon] existed and somebody came up to me and said, ‘No, that place is for real. It’s in England’.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I’d love to go there one day’.

“Once I heard that story it inspired me. Every time I hit the ball against the wall I used to pretend I was there – on that magical centre court. Every time I’d go to sleep at night I’d dream about playing on that magical centre court.

Goolagong Cawley has never forgotten where she came from as well as those who helped her on her way to reach her dream.

“It was the townspeople that helped me achieve that dream. They raised funds for me to go to Sydney, gave me a racquet, [and] paid for my suitcase and my clothes. We couldn’t afford anything.

“My dad was a gun shearer in Barellan, mum stayed at home [and] looked after eight of us. But the one thing she instilled in me about tennis … [was] whenever I’d go and play tennis tournaments, Mum used to wave and say, ‘Bye, have a lovely day’. And then when I came back [home], she’d say, ‘Did you have a lovely day?’

“I said, ‘Yeah, Mum’. I did win a few times but I never ever told her, because she was more concerned with me having a lovely day.”

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