Bowling Over Their Critics

Mereah Austen, Women’s Cricket, and ‘The Rockley Game’

Although they may not know it, the Australian Women’s Cricket team owes a debt of gratitude to those who once played with this ball, Mereah Austen (1882–1982), and to J.S. O’Hara (1853–1933). Mereah for showing a sceptical public that girls could play cricket at a high level and O’Hara for his enthusiastic support for ‘The Rockley Game’ named in honour of the town where it was first played.

Cricket matches played by girls from Rockley and Triangle Flat Public Schools in 1894 were described in the press as a ‘Novel Cricket Match.’ Matches were played on wickets fourteen yards apart using an uncovered tennis ball such as the one on this trophy, with coloured flags marking the boundary eighty yards in diameter. However, by 1900, the novelty became short-lived as more than one hundred teams in the Western district of NSW were playing the Rockley Game.

Even though Rockley and Triangle Flat led the way, it was a team from Tarana who would quickly dominate the district competition. In the Tarana team, Mereah Austen was wicket-keeper and an outstanding bowler who won plaudits, trophies, and was named District Championship player in 1898. In 1897 and 1904, Combined Western Districts teams travelled to Sydney to promote the Rockley Game. Mereah was Queen (captain) of the 1897 team and her cricketing skills were on show during both tours, ultimately winning the Championship Trophy for all-round excellence of play in 1904.

In taking to the field, the young women playing the Rockley Game batted away concerns about the propriety of them playing a masculine sport and bowled over critics with their skills, establishing a new benchmark for what was an acceptable sport for girls.