Last night (16 August 2023), the Matildas’ remarkable run in the FIFA World Cup concluded against England. Still, their impact has forever changed how Australia sees, thinks, feels and speaks about women’s sport.
Though Australian sportswomen have been making waves for generations, the last two decades have brought forth some truly defining moments. For international students and sports fans, diving into these moments offers a closer look at Australia’s rich sports culture. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit the top moments in Australian women’s sport from the past two decades.
1. Cathy Freeman’s historic 400m Sydney Olympics gold
Back in 2000 at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium, Australia witnessed a defining moment: Cathy Freeman securing gold in the 400m. Dressed in her signature full-length bodysuit, her win was more than just an athletic feat. As an Indigenous Australian, this triumph held profound significance in a nation working towards reconciliation with its First Peoples. Notably, she became only the second Indigenous Australian to win individual Olympic gold. Completing her victory lap draped in both the Australian and Aboriginal flags, Freeman wasn’t simply racing for personal glory; she became a symbol of unity and progress for Indigenous Australians and the nation at large.
2. Hockeyroos: Gold in Sydney Olympics (2000)
The world of field hockey has one consistent name, the Hockeyroos. This team has been nothing short of spectacular with its collection of World Cup victories and Olympic medals. Among their many achievements, one year stands out distinctly: 2000. That year, during the Sydney Olympics, they showcased their top-tier skills and determination.
The match was intense. Both teams gave their all, but it was the Hockeyroos who came out on top. This victory in 2000 marked their back-to-back Olympic triumphs and solidified their legacy, having won three of the last four Olympic titles. Watch the highlights of the game below.
3. Jessica Watson’s world sailing record at 16 (2009)
While most teens were stressing about exams and high school politics, Jessica Watson was plotting a slightly different course. In 2009, at just 16, she not only sailed solo around the world but became the youngest person to achieve this feat at that time. Jessica faced the dual challenges of navigating unpredictable seas and maintaining her boat, all under the watchful eyes of public and media scrutiny. Yet, her feat captivated the world, leading to documentaries and praise from figures like Sir Richard Branson.
4. Michelle Payne: Melbourne Cup first (2015)
In the world of horse racing, the Melbourne Cup of 2015 etched an unforgettable chapter. Michelle Payne rode Prince of Penzance to victory, becoming the first female jockey to win this esteemed race, proving that in the sport, gender has no reins. In her post-match interview, she famously called out the misogyny in the racing industry, stating “It’s a very male‑dominated sport and people think we are not strong enough. [But] women can do anything and we can beat the world.”
5. Ellyse Perry: Cricket and soccer star (2017)
When you talk of versatility in sports, Ellyse Perry stands tall. Not only has she represented Australia in cricket, but she’s also donned the soccer jersey for the nation. One of the standout moments in Ellyse Perry’s illustrious career came during the 2017 Women’s Ashes series. In the day-night Test at North Sydney Oval, she broke the record for the highest individual score in women’s Test cricket, scoring an unbeaten 213 against England in 2017. Perry is also the first cricketer, male or female who scored 1,000 runs and took 100 wickets in T20 international cricket. Her achievements and dedication on and off the field have made her a household name, encouraging young girls to dream big in sports.
6. AFLW: A new era in football (2017)
In 2017, the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) was introduced, marking a turning point for both Aussie rules football and women’s sport. This new league wasn’t just about showcasing female athletes but reshaping perceptions in a traditionally male-dominated sport. It provided elite female players with a platform, while also inspiring countless young girls across Australia. With the AFLW’s inception, barriers were broken and a new chapter in Australian sports began, promising a brighter, more inclusive future.
If you have a Disney+ account, you can watch the behind-the-scenes journey of the AFLW by streaming the docuseries, “Fearless.”
7. Emma McKeon: Tokyo Olympic medallist (2020)
Swimming enthusiasts were in for a treat during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Emma McKeon took the pool by storm, winning an impressive seven medals, with four shining golds. This wasn’t just a win for Emma; it was historic. With these medals, she became the most decorated Australian Olympian ever, capturing attention from all corners of the globe. Her achievement was a testament to her dedication and sheer talent in the sport.
8. Ash Barty’s “last hurrah” (2022)
Anyone tuned into the tennis world knows Ash Barty’s name, the talented player from Ipswich, Queensland. By 23, she was already the world number one, a title only one other Australian woman has held. Renowned not just for her skills but also her advocacy as the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador, Barty’s influence has been profound.
However, it’s her recent 2022 Australian Open win that truly cemented her legacy. There, she gracefully manoeuvred her way to the top, not losing a single set, and achieved the distinction of winning major tournaments on all three tennis surfaces. With tennis legends in the audience, Barty claimed a victory that was both a testament to her journey and the perfect way to end her successful career.
9. Stephanie Gilmore wins eighth world title (2022)
Hailing from New South Wales, Australia, Stephanie “Happy Gilmore” Gilmore has been a standout in the surfing world since her debut in 2007. Known for her talent and string of championship titles, she’s been a powerhouse in the sport for years. However, 2022 marked a pinnacle in her career.
In a defining moment at the WSL Finals in California, Gilmore secured her eighth world title, edging out the competition and setting a new record in women’s surfing. This significant victory not only highlighted her exceptional skill on the waves but also established her as the most accomplished women’s champion in surfing history.
10. Matildas’ 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup run
In 2023, Australia’s love for soccer reached new heights, thanks to the Matildas. They may not have reached the finals, but their quarter-final match in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was a game-changer for how Australia perceives women’s sports. Spearheaded by legends like Sam Kerr, who boasts the title of Australia’s all-time leading goal scorer, the team has put Australian women’s football under a deserving global spotlight. The quarter-final showdown against France was a rollercoaster, with Matildas’ winger Cortnee Vine cementing the game in a heart-stopping 7-6 penalty shootout in Brisbane. But it wasn’t just a win on the field; it was a historic moment off it too. The match pulled in a whopping peak audience of 7.2 million on the Seven Network, but, the real record-shattering moment came during their semi-final against England. The game drew a staggering peak of 11.15 million viewers, making it the most-viewed television program since OzTAM records began. Simply put, the Matildas made 2023 a year where Australia rallied behind soccer in an unforgettable way.