The tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley has made the startling confession that she feared becoming a member of Australia’s stolen generations before carving out one of the all-time great careers.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of Goolagong Cawley’s first grand slam success in Paris, but the former world No 1 admits her career was almost over before it began.
Figures state that between one in three and one in 10 Indigenous children in Australia were forcibly removed from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970.
Goolagong Cawley, who went on to win seven grand slam singles titles from 18 finals, said she was frighteningly close to being one of those children.
The 69-year-old said the relief of avoiding being “stolen” offered her the freedom to play tennis without fear of failure.
“I just loved being there [on the court],” Goolagong Cawley told Tennis Australia. “It didn’t matter where I was playing, really. I just felt I was very lucky to be there in the first place.
“Lucky to be found in my home town, Barellen. Lucky not to be taken away by the stolen generation because I’ve had to hide a few times under the bed.
“We visited my cousin in Griffith, which is where I was born, in the mission there. Every time a shiny car would come down the road, my mum used to say, ‘You better run and hide, the welfare man’s going to take you away.’
“So I remember hiding very nervously under the bed, because I didn’t want to get taken away. So I think that’s why losing a match never really bothered me. I just felt I was very lucky to be there in the first place to enjoy this wonderful game and it was my own little world. I felt this is my world. No one can touch me here.”
So untouchable that Goolagong Cawley won her first major on her French Open debut as a teenager in 1971 before backing up to claim the Wimbledon crown just a month later, then reigning again at the All England Club as a mother in 1980.
“That was my first grand slam so obviously that was a really big thrill for me and I just felt fantastic,” Goolagong Cawley said of her Roland Garros breakthrough. She also won four Australian Open trophies, as well as six grand slam doubles titles and one mixed championship.