Decades on from her historic tennis career, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley’s ability to lead and inspire the future generations is only on the rise.
At Shepparton Lawn Tennis Club yesterday, the legendary athlete was full of enthusiasm — much like the almost 100 indigenous children there to experience her Come and Try Day.
But while the day gives the youngsters a chance to show their tennis ability, and perhaps move on to state and national camps, it’s about far more than finding tennis talent for Goolagong.
‘‘We’ve given out scholarships to 66 kids, and 17 to people going to university,’’ she said.
‘‘It’s not just about tennis, it’s about completing your education, completing careers and achieving your dreams.
‘‘That’s why we call the whole program ‘dream, believe, learn, achieve’.
‘‘It’s a Federal Government program, about creating better health and education, and we’re using tennis as a vehicle to create that.’’
Tennis, as the seven-time grand slam singles winner recounted, was always Goolagong’s calling despite humble beginnings.
‘‘I tell them about my story of being a little girl, when my dad gave me an old tennis ball,’’ she said.
‘‘I used to use it as a security blanket, and squeeze it all the time — I didn’t go anywhere without that tennis ball.
‘‘Later on Dad cut a handle out of an apple crate and I took it off my siblings and wouldn’t give it back.
‘‘I would play a tournament against the wall and see how many shots I could play in a row in one bounce.
‘‘I’d write my highest score in the dirt and come back the next day and try and beat it.’’
After catching the eye of coaches, Goolagong’s career went from strength to strength, completing her dream of winning Wimbledon aged just 19.
Now, she has moved on to her second dream — giving back to indigenous youths and promoting, among other things, better health and education.
In Shepparton, she saw plenty of herself in the young athletes as they raced around the courts full of laughter and smiles.
‘‘They mainly do (remind me of me) just because they have a lot of fun, even the coaches just want them to have fun so they’re not shy — like I was as a kid,’’ Goolagong said.
‘‘They give them a really good time and they have a lot of fun.
‘‘I often think ‘oh my goodness, what it would be like to be 11 again’.’’
Having lived her first two dreams, Goolagong said her third dream was constitutional recognition for the country’s first people.