Sports

The female trailblazers of Australian sport

Related Story: Meet Australia's unsung female trailblazers

The history of Australian sports is filled with examples of women who have fought to be treated on equal terms as their male counterparts.

In their own way, they have helped make small steps towards the goal of this year's International Day of the Girl: "supporting every girl to develop her skills, enter the workforce on equal terms and reach her full potential."

Here are three remarkable Australian women who have opened up the possibilities for others in their field.

Layne Beachley

As a young surfer growing up in Manly, Layne Beachley always came up against the fierce locals who dominated the line-up at North Steyne, Sydney.

They would tell her to get out of the water and pull on her leg rope when she competed for waves.

She refused to let them steal anything from her and vowed to become the best surfer in the world.

Layne Beachley holds a surfboard on a beach

In the course of her career, Layne won seven world titles and dominated the professional tour for six consecutive years — the only surfer ever to do so.

When she retired in 2008, Beachley knew there was plenty of work for women to be on an equal footing with men.

She started her own women's contest to help launch the careers of other world champions.

A few years ago, Beachley took a stand against the disparity in prize money between men and women competing in the World Surf League (WSL).

Layne Beachley

"The industry is probably one of the last bastions of the world of sport, the surfing world, and it needs to change, it has to change," she told ABC's 7.30 program in 2016.

"I would love to see the girls be paid equally to the men.

"I'd love to see the earning potential outside of the industry be equal to the men.

"I'd love to see the employment opportunities be presented to the women as they are to the men."

When the WSL announced in September they would be equalising pay for men and women beginning with the 2019 tour, the WSL chief executive Sophie Goldschmidt called Beachley personally to tell her the news.

Now the best women surfers are winning cheques with the same number of zeroes as the men.

Evonne Goolagong-Cawley

Growing up as a tennis fanatic in the tiny town of Barellan, in Central NSW, young Evonne Goolagong only had a broomstick as a racquet.

A black and white photo of a young woman staring at a tennis ball that she is about to hit.

Later, her dad gave her a wooden paddle made from an apple crate — half tennis racquet, half cricket bat.

Goolagong didn't let that hold her back.

She played tennis for the pure joy of the sport, and when she first joined the professional tour the press nicknamed her the "Sunshine super girl".

She trained hard, competed against men and women three or four times her age, and, eventually, became a French Open, Wimbledon and three-time Australian Open champion.

In 1975, at the height of her talents, she married British tennis player Roger Cawley and changed her name to Evonne Goolagong-Cawley. She also had a baby girl.

That news did not go down well with the tennis press. They said her career was over and called her a has-been.

Goolagong-Cawley's coach even quit because he didn't think marriage and tennis stardom mixed.

But she played on, ignoring the doubters.

Nine years after her first Wimbledon final win, and with a three-year-old daughter in tow, Evonne took to Centre Court and defeated American superstar Chris Evert-Lloyd.

Her victory made her the first mother to be crowned Wimbledon champion since before the start of World War I.

She ended her career with 19 single titles in all, including two Wimbledon titles, four Australian Open titles and was ranked world No.1 in 1976.

Today she's known as one of the all-time greats of tennis and runs a foundation to help Indigenous kids achieve their dreams.

Susan Alberti

Susan Alberti, renowned for her blonde high-set hair, pearl jewellery and glitzy handbags, is known as the Western Bulldog's loudest and proudest supporter.

She is also a successful businesswoman, thanks to the construction and property development business she started with her husband, Angelo Alberti, who she married in 1967.

Susan Alberti on overcoming great tragedy and forging her own path

Over the years she has given the Bulldogs millions, and has served on the board and as the club's vice president.

Her lifetime of dedication paid off when the Bulldogs broke a 62-year premiership drought and defeated the Sydney Swans in the 2016 AFL Grand Final.

Ultimately though, Ms Alberti wanted women footballers to feel that same high and to have a national league of their own.

In 2008 she donated $25,000 to the Victorian Women's Football League (VWFL), which at that time was run entirely by volunteers and struggling to stay afloat.

Susan Alberti hugs a Western Bulldogs footballer after the 2016 grand final.

It was the first of many such donations — as well as her considerable clout in board rooms — that was instrumental in establishing the Women's AFL (AFLW).

Her beloved Western Bulldogs even won their first AFLW premiership earlier this year.

But among all of this success, Alberti still has unfinished business.

Ms Alberti's daughter, Danielle, died in her arms on an LA-Melbourne flight in 2001.

They were returning home from the US to get Danielle urgent medical treatment for complications related to her type-1 diabetes.

Ms Alberti vowed then-and-there to help fight the disease and, hopefully, help find a cure.

'Between grief and mourning, decisions still had to be made,' says Susan Alberti

The Susan Alberti Medical Research Foundation has since raised tens of millions of dollars to fund diabetes research.

And it is Danielle's memory that still drives her today.

"I often look at Danielle's photo, nearly every day when I wake up, and I often wonder what she may be doing now," Ms Alberti told ABC News Breakfast in 2017.

"There are millions of Danielles in the world who need support and if I can contribute one per cent, then that is what I am going to keep on doing."

Discover more stories about inspiring women with the new ABC podcast Fierce Girls, on the ABC Listen app or wherever you find your favourite podcasts.

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