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Lois Quarell

Few girls are content to be mere spectators.

Lois Quarrell

More information about Lois Quarrell can be found in the AWAP register.

Lois Quarrell covered women's sport in Adelaide for The Advertiser newspaper for forty years and is credited with doing much to 'educate public opinion in the value of various sports for girls and young women'. (The Advertiser October 1949). She joined the paper in 1932, at the age of seventeen, and four years later became their first woman sportswriter. In order to gather stories, she would ride her bike to venues, collect information and pedal back to the office to write it up.

Quarrell's half page column, devoted entirely to women's sports and the issues associated with them, commenced in 1936 and ran until her retirement in 1970. She used it to inform readers of the variety of women's sporting achievements, comparing them to women's efforts overseas in an effort to legitimize them. She also used her influence to encourage women to be involved in sport and to manage their own affairs. In particular, she argued for the inclusion of 'games' for girls in the standard school curriculum, against opposition groups who believed that girls playing sport would rob them of their femininity. Quarrell also encouraged debate on issues such as the suitability of rational dress and the early retirement of athletes due to motherhood.

Described by her biographer as a 'facilitator' for the development of women's sport in Australia, Quarrell was one of a handful of 'first generation' women sports journalists who made it their business to speak up in an industry not much given to covering women's sport. As women began to administer and control their own organisations in the 1920s and 30s, they also began to move into sports journalism. Women such as Ruth Preddey used the pages of the Australian Women's Weekly to expand coverage, the Sydney Morning Herald had Sydney University student Kathleen Commins and Gwendoline Varley did some sports reporting for radio station 3AW in Melbourne. These women played a vital role in increasing public awareness of Australian women's sport; they promoted interest and helped to create an audience for women's sport, both on the field and in the news. Not only this, because they were all sportswomen themselves, or were in contact with highly effective sportswomen, they were able to use their platform to provide coaching advice, in an age when coaches for women's sport were very thin on the ground. Anyone could pick up a magazine or paper and learn how to become a better hockey player, basketballer or swimmer. And they wrote profiles about women and their achievements, creating role models for aspiring sports women and encouraging the public to support women's campaigns for unrestricted involvement in all sporting endeavours. They were prolific beyond belief. Quite frankly, if it wasn't for their tireless efforts, we would not have the rich body of historical material about sportswomen in the thirties to draw upon today.

Lois Quarrell was one of these tireless workers who serviced the readers of South Australia. She began her writing career for the Adelaide Advertiser in earnest in 1936; an appropriate year indeed given that it was the centenary of responsible government in South Australia. Her first strategy was to simply publicise the number of places women could play organised sport, and to focus on the high achievers that South Australia had started to produce. It surprised her readers to know, for instance, that in 1936 there were 75 basketball (netball) teams; 43 hockey teams and three South Australian women in the Australian hockey team that toured the United States that year. And it shocked them that over 100 women, including South Australian international player Sue Summers, were playing 'Electric Light Cricket', travelling around on their own at night! Men in particular were highly disapproving of this activity, arguing that women's safety and honour were at risk. Quarrell ridiculed such arguments and insisted, in any case, that they were matters for debate amongst women. If issues in women's sport were contentious, she argued, it must be women who make the decisions that resolve them.

Furthermore, women were branching out into rowing and athletics as well; although women's participation in them was still regarded with suspicion because public opinion still regarded them as 'unladylike' and damaging to women's delicate constitutions. Quarrell would regularly challenge these views, by writing stories about women who competed in these more strenuous sports and lived to tell the tale. Alongside the provision of case studies, she would always insist that it was women who should control their sporting destinies, not men.

Lois was meticulous in her reporting of local women's sport, but she also had an eye on national and international trends. Sometimes the news appeared trivial, although with hindsight we can see it was important. For instance, she noted in 1937 that some American tennis players were starting to use white linen jockey caps in preference to the traditional sunshade, and that these were considered to be far more effective. Hardly earth-shattering news; but the effects made a difference to the players; and continue to!

On other occasions, the international news she reported was designed to raise the expectations and aspirations of South Australian sports women. In 1937, she told her readers that Marjorie Pollard, a famous English cricket and hockey international, was to be employed as a BBC sports commentator in London. In so doing, she placed South Australia in an international context, demonstrated how backward the thinking was that such an appointment was inconceivable in that state, but showed local women that possibilities for advancement did exist if they persevered.

After thirteen years writing her sports column, Quarrell resigned from the Advertiser in 1949 to join headquarters staff, in Melbourne, of the Moral Rearmament Movement, a movement which called for a moral and spiritual rearmament to work towards a better world. She was sadly missed by South Australian sportswomen, who were delighted when, in 1953, she returned to her role as 'special women' sports reporter'. She was pleased to see that many of the women she had encouraged throughout the thirties and forties were still involved in sport, coaching, or holding executive positions in women's sporting organisations.

She was less encouraged, however, by the numbers of top athletes who succumbed to the pressure to give up sport when they married and had children. And she was absolutely dismayed, in 1954, by the outmoded thinking of male officials who still had an influence over the way women's sport was run. She was particularly riled by the treatment of women members of the Australian team at the Empire Games in Vancouver. She let her readers know that Jim Eve, general manager of the Games team had forbidden any of the women to leave the village after the Games. Australian sprinter, Winsome Cripps, protested strenuously, telling him that as 'a twenty-five year old, engaged to be married' she was entitled to 'make the most of her tour...and should have the same options as the men.' Quarrell told her readers that Eve's response was simply that 'the boys are an entirely different proposition'. And when Quarrell contacted Tom Wigley, secretary of the Australian Empire and Commonwealth Games Association to get his opinion, he supported Eve's stand on the matter. Quarrell used her pages to protest against and ridicule the paternalism of sport's governing bodies.

Quarrell continued to write for the 'Tiser until 1970, but she still played a major role in South Australian Women's Sport as President of the South Australian Women's Amateur Sports Council. No doubt, she would have been pleased, on her retirement, to see the progress women had made in sporting arenas, as athletes, coaches and administrators over the course of her career, in no small part thanks to her constant efforts to use media coverage of women's sport as a promotional tool. By arguing, in the press and through the example of her own involvement in sport, that confidence and self assertion gained through sporting endeavour would empower women to become involved in other areas of public life, Lois Quarrell demonstrated the real 'power of the pen' and the importance of women holding that pen to the development of women's sport in Australia.

One can only speculate as to how Quarrell would regard the quantity and quality of current media coverage of women's sport. I daresay she would be extremely frustrated that in 2006 the report of the Senate Enquiry into Women's Participation in Sport and recreation must still recommend that in order to motivate girls and women to pursue a career in sport and to motivate them to commence or continue participation in sport and recreation, 'a concerted effort be made by governments, sporting organisations and the media to promote sportswomen as role models to girls and women and to the wider community.' Seventy years ago, Lois Quarrell knew the importance of media coverage to women's participation in sport and proved it through her own efforts. How many times does the point need to be made before affirmative action addresses the problem once and for all?