Town Makes a Racquet for Evonne

Aussie great Evonne Goolagong Cawley has been given a fabulously kitsch tribute by her home town.

Published October 16, 2009 11:58

Town Makes a Racquet for Evonne
Barellan, NSW, Australia

Australian tennis great Evonne Goolagong Cawley received a unique honor earlier this month, when the town where she spent much of her childhood unveiled a giant replica of the signature Dunlop wooden racquet that helped her to several Grand Slam singles titles.

Some 7,000 people attended the launch, which took place as part of centenary celebrations for Barellan - population 400 - which can be found around 430km (270 miles) west of Sydney in the state of New South Wales.

Although she was actually born in nearby Griffith, and left the area when she was a teenager to further her career with coach Vic Edwards in Sydney, Goolagong is still Barellan's favorite daughter - half a century after the sound of her relentless hitting against a concrete practise wall first reverberated around the small community. 

As a child, she was lent racquets and driven to tournaments by townsfolk, who often paid her entry fees at junior events. Later, Goolagong's marriage to Roger Cawley took place in Barellan in 1975, and her late parents, Kenny and Linda Goolagong, were laid to rest there.

The unveiling was accompanied by a parade with pipe bands and floats and to the delight of fans, 58-year-old Goolagong Cawley was on hand for the festivities. Her husband and daughter, Kelly, had blindfolded her as they drove into town so she wouldn't see the racquet until the official event.

"I'm so proud that this has been created in my honour," she said of the 13.8m steel structure, which is built on a scale of 20-1. "It took my breath away. I never thought something like this would ever happen and it is wonderful to be home again.

"I have wonderful memories of this town and in years to come when people think of Barellan they will know it is the place with the 'big racquet'.

"And don't forget the ball. It's a bloody big ball."

Built at a cost of about US$40,000, the big racquet joins other roadside attractions across the country, such as the Big Banana in NSW, the Big Pineapple in Queensland and the Big Lobster in South Australia. It is the brainchild of local tennis fan David Irvin, who as a child won a one of the original models, and led the fundraising activities for the monument. "She fits in like she is part of the family," said Irvin of his tennis heroine.

Known for her graceful, athletic style, Goolagong Cawley won the French Open in 1971 and the Australian Open four years running from 1974-77. But she is probably best remembered for winning Wimbledon nine years apart, first in 1971 and then as a mother in 1980 - this last feat going unmatched until Kim Clijsters' recent triumph at Flushing Meadows.

Goolagong Cawley also won six Grand Slam doubles titles, as well as the Virginia Slims Championships in 1974 and 1976, the year she held the No.1 ranking for two weeks.

She retired in 1983 but the family continued to live in the US until 1992, when they relocated to Queensland in Australia. Since then Goolagong has served as the country's Fed Cup captain, and among her various activities she helps organize tennis camps and education programs for young Aboriginal people.

During the weekend of celebrations in Barellan, Goolagong Cawley also conducted a tennis clinic, and joined locals on a crayfish-gathering activity known as 'yabbying'.

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