I used to be a rugby league referee.

Not just any rugby league referee, but I’m pretty sure I was the first woman to have a senior ticket (I had just turned 18) and be active with it. Apparently they (the Referees Association) had given a couple of women tickets for coaching purposes- I think they were nuns in the Catholic School system. Anyways, if I’m wrong & I wasn’t the first, don’t burst my bubble. I was at least one of the first…and definitely the first for North Sydney!

I didn’t intend to be active. I got it originally because:

  • I liked rugby league…actually no, I loved rugby league. In those days I was a Canterbury supporter and used to go out with my dad to Belmore Oval to watch them run around the paddock ever couple of weeks.
  • I wanted to be a writer, but until I could write a best selling airport romance I figured I would be a sports journalist. At school I’d done work experience at the local newspaper and on the local radio station. I’d learnt to touch type and had my own portable type-writer (this was in the 80s before word processors or computers). A referees ticket, I figured, would give me more credibility as a girl who actually knew more about the game than just how hot the players were. I still don’t know how any of what I wanted to do actually tied in with the Economics degree that I was doing.
  • My dad said that there was no way they would ever give a girl a referees ticket. Mum said those were fighting words.

So every Thursday night I would go down to the Referees Training Sessions at League HQ in Phillip St. I was, of course, the only girl. None of the men- most ex players- took me seriously.

I studied the rule book, I studied the games, and then, when I considered myself ready, I sat the test.

Back in those days (this was 1985), 3 members of the testing panel would fire questions at you. The test would go for about 30 minutes and if you got 3 answers wrong, that was it.

The Head Honcho, Col Pearce, was on my panel. I was in there for almost an hour. I got no answers wrong. When it was over he said, ‘I guess I’ll have to give it to you.’

Mum was ecstatic. An Aquarius, she does have a rebellious streak. My Dad congratulated me, but said something like, ‘well, that nonsense is over now.’ To which I declared I was going to join an Association and actually use the ticket. To which he declared that no association would have a woman running a line, let alone a centre. Mum said those were fighting words.

So, I wrote to North Sydney Referees Association and they took me on. They gave me a chance. I ran up to 7 games a weekend- 4 on a Saturday and usually 3 lines on a Sunday.

Then, when I finished my degree, I moved to Canberra and put my whistle away-winter mornings were too cold…and I’d proven my point. I never did become a sports journalist and I’m still waiting to write that airport bestseller.

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