Guy Hansen: Good evening, everybody. Hello and welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name is Guy Hansen and I'm the Director of Exhibitions here at the library. And thank you for coming on on a cold Canberra night to this very special event Towards a level playing field: Women in sport panel discussion. 

So as we begin, I'd first like to acknowledge Australia's First Nations peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and give my respect to their elders, past and present, and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So thank you for attending this event, either in person or online as we're streaming tonight, coming to you from the National Library building on the beautiful Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. 

And so what a moment it is for elite women's Sport in Australia right now. The Diamonds recently taking out the Netball World Cup, the Australian women's cricket team holding every piece of international silverware, and of course the Matildas last night. I'm sure we were all watching that. So it is quite a moment in Australian women's sport and it's great to be discussing it here tonight. 

Why are we here? It was partly because we've also got the Grit & Gold exhibition, which is currently on in the exhibition galleries. And after tonight's talk you can visit the exhibition and that takes a look at some of the great collection material held by the library. The library's been around for a long time and we've been collecting all sorts of Australian material and of course, not surprisingly, a lot of that material relates to sport and we've gone through and selected some wonderful items. So a really interesting exhibition to visit, and after the talks you can pop in or come another time. 

So we've organised tonight a wonderful panel of elite sportswomen who'll discuss their achievements and experiences throughout their national and international careers and perhaps share some hopes for the future. 

With us tonight is Holly Ferling. Holly debuted for the Australian women's cricket team at the age of 17 in all three formats: One-Day International, T20, and Test cricket. All while completing her schooling in Kingaroy in country Queensland. A devastating right arm fast bowler, Holly has been a fantastic addition to our local cricket scene, both as a role model for young players but also as a key member of the ACT Meteors in the WNCL and the Perth Scorches in the WBBL, and has had success on the biggest stage, matches at all levels of competition. Off the field Holly has worked as a journalist for three years in a commercial radio newsroom for Macquarie Media as well as reporting and commentating for Channel 7, Fox Sports and ABC Grandstand. 

Joining Holly is Michelle Heyman. As a vital player on the national level, Michelle has represented Australia as part of the Matildas since 2010, showcasing her outstanding skills in over 60 matches and scoring over 20 goals. Highlights of her international career over 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and her significant contribution to the team's silver medal win at the 2014 AFC Women's Asian Cup and also at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Off the field Michelle is a powerful voice for two important courses; LGBT rights and mental health awareness. 

Our third panellist is Vanessa Low. Vanessa was a two time paralympian for Germany before she started representing Australia in 2019. She's a paralympic gold and silver medalist, six time world championship medalist and the reigning world record holder in the Women's Long Jump T61. Last year, Vanessa was awarded the medal of order of Australia for service to support as a gold medalist at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. She's just returned from the 2023 Paris World Para Athletics Championships where she claimed a bronze medal in her long jump event. 

Keeping them on side tonight as our facilitator is Anthea Moodie. Anthea is a sports reporter for ABC News here in Canberra. Roma born and Toowoomba bred, she's a great proud Gunggari girl whose passion for people and their unique stories drives her to share them with the community. She tells us she has played, watched, and loved all sports from a young age, including everything from athletics rugby league and touch football. Please join me in welcoming our panel.

Anthea Moodie: Well good evening all. What a fitting night to have a chat about women's sport and I just wanna start the conversation by throwing it out to you in the crowd. Put your hand up if you watch the Matildas game last night. I know it'll be everyone and that doesn't surprise me at all because the viewer numbers actually came out earlier today and they have just blown every record out of the water. It says nine out of 10 Australians watched the game, I don't know what the other person was doing in that instance. And a total of 11.5 million viewers, which doesn't include the people that were watching at the live events and at the pubs and things like that as well. So I'm sure it's a lot more. And that actually surpasses Cathy Freeman in her 400 at the 2000 Olympics so there you go. Two women's events topping the numbers there, which is awesome. So I think it only makes perfect sense to start with you, Michelle, as our very own Matilda here tonight. You've been at some of the games. Tell us about the atmosphere.

Michelle Heyman: I was like my heart. I can feel it already just thinking about it. It's just been one of the most incredible moments of my life actually. I'm like this is everything that I've ever wanted as a footballer to be able to see a packed stadium, to be able to see people cheering on women, playing the game that I love. It's just such a special moment. And every time I'm there, I get goosebumps. I see all the parents and I'm like, you can just see all the tears. Everyone is so emotionally invested. 

Seeing little boys and girls just running around screaming everyone's names. It's not just Sam Kerr. I'm like they know everyone now. It's just so powerful because, you know, we think about Cathy Freeman, I'm like she was my idol. I'm not a sprinter at all. I'd love to be, but I'm like that's all that we could see on the TV back in the day. So now to be able to see, you know, these incredible women out there doing their thing and actually representing our country and making it so beautiful, just showing everyone that we do have talent and that women's sport is entertaining. It's gonna change the way that we look at women's sport for the future in Australia.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, definitely. And just taking it back a few steps, tell us about when you began playing football or soccer and what that was like then.

Michelle Heyman: Oh, little Michelle. So I started playing when I was nine years old, playing with the boys, my cousin played and that he needed an extra player in his team. So my auntie actually just called my mom and was like, "Just bring Michelle down to the park and see how she goes." And I loved it from that day. It was just so much fun beating the boys. Like that was always my thing in life, like I love to be better than them. I was lucky to have like an older brother who kind of like, you know, pushed me around and made me very, very tough at a young age. 

So I started my football career at the age of nine till I was 16, got kicked out of the boys team 'cause women weren't allowed to play anymore with the boys. And then from then on started playing in the under 30s women's teams back in Shore Harbour, just local. And I was lucky enough to play for the Illawarra Stingrays where Michelle Carney, who used to play for Australia as well, she was a player for that team and she was like, "This girl's got something" and she actually drove me to Sydney so I could play in front of Alan Stajcic, used to be the Matildas head coach. And my journey started there and I got my first professional contract from just playing local league into the A-League. 

So it was a very, very quick turnaround, but I was a little bit older, I was at the age of 22. These days the kids are coming throughout the age of 17. It's a bit scary to know that the talent's so young. 

Yeah, and then from the A-League, I was lucky enough to, my first year I, sort of big headed of me, managed to take out like the MVP of the league. So won the medal, won the highest goal scorer, and then from that journey on, it just became Matildas and national team and managed to have, yeah, 10 years playing for my country World Cup Olympics, Asian cups. 

It was a beautiful moment. I think about it every day wanting to be, you know, young again, being able to handle that workload and to be a part of it. But you know, still playing to this day. Age is just a number. I'm like the recovery side of things now has definitely changed in the way that I play, but it's just, it's so beautiful. I don't think I'll ever be able to like stop being a part of the game. But yeah, it's been, yeah, it's the best. It's my favourite journey of life so far.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah. That's awesome. And I guess it goes to show the different pathways now. They're so much clearer from, you know, young girls going all the way through, unlike yours, which was a bit like, oh, where do I go now?

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, and I was the only person who had that scattered journey to make it to the Matildas. I think I was the only player. I think there might be one other player who has never played for the young Matildas to ever make it into the Matildas. So yeah, if you live on the coast away from everything, it was a bit hard to be seen. But yeah, lucky enough that I had people around me who knew someone and got my foot through the door that way.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, and we were chatting earlier about some of your experiences, those early days of being a Matilda. Can you tell us in the audience what it was like and who you were playing in front of? And you thought that was pretty good back then?

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, I still remember, yeah, my first game actually we played in Brisbane against China, and I came on for Lisa De Vanna in like the 70th minute and I was so excited, so nervous. I remember my heart was going so fast, I did one sprint and I was exhausted and I was like, "What was all this fitness for?" I was like, "It doesn't work." But got on the field and then I looked up and like maybe there was like a good 20 people there if we were lucky. Like there was no one. So that was back in 2010. 

And then, you know, we were just chatting about the World Cup and for my first World Cup we had a game in Kogarah before we left and it was 6,000 people who turned up to cheer us on before that and we won 11-nil. It was a brilliant game. Got a hat trick, I won't forget that one. It was a great memory. 

But yeah, times have definitely shifted and it's just such, again, like I never thought it would happen in my day and age like I really wanted it to. We knew that one day we'd be able to fill stadiums. I just didn't think Australia would get behind us. I thought I would be a much older woman, to this day, but to be able to see what we've done, again, it's just something I, yeah, I didn't imagine was gonna happen.

Anthea Moodie: Yep, and also in those early days of the W League, I believe it was called then, now the A-League Women, and you've just resigned with Canberra United as well.

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, gotta think like, I was like started in 2008 and still going. I'm like I don't know how this is happening.

Anthea Moodie: Age is a number like you said.

Michelle Heyman:  But I love it, and Canberra love me so it's nice. They really look after me. I started to change my programme of, you know, I don't have to train as much as the young ones anymore, which is fantastic. But love being part of the team. I really enjoy everything that Canberra has done for my career. 

It's just this league, you know, made me a Matilda, it gave me my shot and it's something that I want to continue to work at because our new head coach, Tony for the Matildas, he kind of doesn't want pick players who come through our league. He doesn't think the league's good enough which is a little bit frustrating because I'm like well this is where the Aussies are and this is what you, we need this league to be great for us to be the best in the world. 

So for myself, you know, like that's a challenge. Challenge accepted. I am gonna, you know, show him that this league is great. I'm like you just gotta, you know, invest in the young ones coming through and you know, spend a little bit more time just growing the game within Australia and we can do anything.

Anthea Moodie: And this is going to be the perfect time to start doing that. What do you hope to see come off the back of this World Cup campaign?.

Michelle Heyman: We just want to, you know, that rolling effect, we want people to be able to come out to our games and I think that's one thing that, you know, now with TV, you don't have to go to games, you don't have to do it. You can sit at home and watch the game, but it's so much more fun being part of the atmosphere and you know, just being at the field, feeling it, you know, coming with your friends. And I'm hoping that happens this year. 

Like Canberra is fantastic. We've got the biggest crowds in the A-League at the moment, always have, we've had the best support, the best fan base ever. But I'm like I just want it to be doubled. I just want people to now just be like, "Okay, I'm gonna grab a membership, I'm gonna be a part of this, I'm gonna support women, I'm gonna, no matter what, I'm just gonna support and see what happens." And you know, it's always gonna be positive. I think if you're supporting women's sport, there's always something special that's gonna come out of it. 

So fingers crossed this World Cup, you know, encourages more people to join memberships to wherever they live to support the women's football and just, yeah, get more people at the grounds and you know, bring your friends and family and kids, run around on the grass hill. Like it's a really fun day. I used to love it when I was a kid, so I'm like, that's the memories that I have of being young and wanting to be an athlete is just like watching the best do their thing. So, you know, we wanna help inspire.

Anthea Moodie: And we've actually just seen the early signs of that too with Sydney Football Club. They've opened their membership slightly earlier this year and they've already broken their records and they're aiming for even more. They've still got a couple of months to go before the season even starts, so.

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, which is just incredible. So come on, Canberra.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, come on.

Michelle Heyman: Go.

Anthea Moodie: I believe membership's open today or yesterday, so.

Michelle Heyman: I'll do it myself.

Anthea Moodie: So there you go. I'll turn to you now, Holly, you had a similar story growing up. It was all about playing with the boys.

Holly Ferling: Yeah, it was. I fell into cricket so I actually thought if I was sitting here that I'd be playing for the Queensland Firebirds or one of the other Netball teams, but yeah, played a lot of sport. I grew up in the country, played every sport that I could, but I used to go along to my brother's club training and bowl to him in the nets and bowl to his teammates not knowing that girls could play cricket at all. And similarly to Michelle, try and get as many of them out as I could. 

And it wasn't until I had a girl at touch football ask me to come trial for a school girls team, and it was actually the following day. And so went along to that, had my PE teacher at the time go, "I didn't think you'd be interested, but sure enough go along." And within two months I made the Queensland School girls team and definitely would not be sitting here if it wasn't for her pushing me along to that first one. 

But yeah, my whole experience through growing up, I used to play with girls once a year and that was at nationals. So you'd go make the Queensland team and then all of a sudden you go away, and that was the only time that I played alongside girls. There was one other girl in the region that played, but apart from that it was all boys and men. 

And so like even to the point, quite often now we talk about the different barriers to women in sport and stuff like that. I still remember, we were playing at a game, every ground that we played at, I used to have to get one of the boys to come stand guard outside the toilets for me because there was only the men's toilets open. And so I needed to get changed, I needed to go to the toilet like, and so like I was so lucky that I had a real loving group around me that made sure that no one was sledging me too hard or trying to, yeah. Be a bugger to me or anything like that. But even just to that extent, just supporting me and trying to make sure that I felt comfortable in that environment.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah. And your inspirations at the time too in cricket or whatever sport it was, I'm sure they were of male as well.

Holly Ferling: Yeah. Well that was all you saw on TV.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah.

Holly Ferling: So Maddie Hayden is from the same region, went to school with mum. So I can still remember sitting in the car and listening to him scoring that record 400 and yeah, like Brett Lee, all of that. 

But then all of a sudden you started to get these little glimmers of women's sports starting to come through. And Ellyse Perry as an example, she was about the only name that anyone knew within cricket for quite some time. And so she was, as I started to go through, she was someone that you started to look up to and go, "Ooh, actually this is possible." But for so long I was playing cricket having no idea that the Australian women's cricket team was a thing.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, yeah. And so you made your debut for Australia quite young. What was that setup like when you debuted and what was the support like and the funding and all of that kind of thing?

Holly Ferling: Yeah, it was, like I went in so naive. I got the call, it was Boxing Day and I was 17 and just about to go into year 12 and I actually thought they were calling to help me about not handing in some paperwork from a previous youth tour or something like that. 

Anyway, eventually told me, I remember they told me, "Yep, you're off to the World Cup in India, you're only running drinks." And my first thought was, "Oh my goodness, how am I gonna handle curry? I can't even handle pepper on my steak." So this is where my brain was going initially. 

But yeah, I went into camp and I remember we had, I think it was one of our first meetings with the plays association at that point in time and each of the girls were kind of discussing what they were on and some of these women were training 12 months of the year for $5,000. And there was one question that stuck with me that got asked and it was, "How many of you have lost a job because of cricket?" And everyone but one put their hand up. And it just all of a sudden I'm like, here I am just going, "This is so amazing" to now going, "Oh my god, this is actually a really real problem that's in front of all of us.” 

And we went along, we won the World Cup. It was all amazing. But yeah, that one conversation has stuck with me since the yeah, such a successful team, a team that was starting to be on the rise, you had women struggling to hold down a full-time job.

Anthea Moodie: Mm-hmm, and I guess to an extent that's still the case in some instances, isn't it?

Holly Ferling: Absolutely. So we've come such a long way. So my first contract as a 16 year old was for Queensland, it was $900 and I thought I'd won the lotto, I could buy a new bat and everything was great. But now our minimum's $50,000, which is amazing. It's come such a long way and I really like talking in minimums because quite often the top end's over inflated or we've got international players coming in and they chew up a big part of the salary cap. 

So I wanna make sure that my lowest paid teammate can compete with our highest paid teammate. And if she's gotta hold down a job at the same time, how can she compete with someone else who's on six figures and able to to do this full time? 

I think another really interesting thing with it all is that all of us have had to be dual career athletes. And it's the biggest positive I think to come from women's sport is that we've all had to have these other careers happening in the background, which is setting us up for after we finish because we don't have the opportunity to sit on our savings and work out what we want to do next. Once we finish playing, we've gotta have that plan ready to go because we just don't have that fallback option like the boys do. Equally though I think we come out more rounded humans at the end of it though.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, definitely got those skills on hand ready to go once you've finished up. Vanessa, I'll go to you now. A little bit different upbringing over in Germany. Can you just tell me a little bit about that?

Vanessa Low: Very different. I mean Germany's huge in football but I actually don't recall that there was a lot of sport around where I grew up. We don't really have school sports there. We didn't have little athletics or any such thing. I was really lucky that I came from a family that both my parents were athletes and they loved their sport. So that's how I kind of naturally got into sport. 

But there wasn't really a lot of offering around and growing up in a small town, there wasn't really, really around what I wanted to do. So I had to just find my own little alley and I just love running. That was the one thing you could do without needing too much support. You didn't need a team or anything formal set up. You could just put on your joggers and go for a run. And so that's how I got in the sport.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, great. And so there was something that happened to you that changed your life forever. Could you tell us about that?

Vanessa Moodie: Yeah, I was 15 when I was on my way to meet friends and in Europe it's quite normal to take a tram to the next town, and the next thing I remember is I woke up in a hospital bed and at that point I had been in coma for a couple weeks and I went through nine surgeries and I'd spent a number of months in hospital already. 

So all my friends at that point in high school were trying to figure out what they want to do in life. I was fighting for my life so everything changed within the blink of an eye, and I don't remember much of the day itself, but I do remember when I was starting to be alert again and started to talk to my parents and one of the first things I asked is like when we can start go snowboarding again 'cause it was always something I loved doing in winter and I knew that sport was gonna be such a big and important part in my return to life and feeling like myself again. And that's definitely the one thing that gave my path a new direction and a lot of stability along the way.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, and it's huge going from something like that to being a Paralympian. What, you know, what were those steps like right from you know, coming out of a coma, speaking to your parents for the first time and then being able to, you know, firstly walk and then run and then jump eventually?

Vanessa Low: Yeah, out of all things, to be honest, I was quite naive and I think that was a really good thing. I thought everything was just gonna go so easy. I was gonna get my prosthetic legs and I knew how to walk before so how hard could it be? And I put on these high-tech legs and I walked back into my normal life and there was just nothing like it. 

I just remember the day where I got my first legs and they were ugly and clumsy and they looked nothing like human legs, they were just like metal pieces. And I put them on and it was so painful. And I remember like starting to cry, not because it was painful but because I know just like how hard and how long the journey was gonna be. 

But when I met a person only a couple months later that had competed at the Paralympic Games, and he didn't suggest necessarily that with my disability that you could walk and run and do all these things, but he gave me an insight into a sport where every single one of them had a story and a story of somewhat adversity and they all found their own ways and that gave me a lot of hope I guess, but also a lot of motivation. And I was really just keen to try out what I was capable of and it was never the goal to be a gold medalist. I didn't necessarily have the goal to be a Paralympian, but I just wanted to do something again that felt like me and that I could do that made me feel a certain way.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, and so unlike the cricket and football, athletics seems to be more of a even playing field. Would you agree with that?

Vanessa Low: Absolutely. I always compete alongside men and women. It's always a sport that you can do next to each other. I think athletics in particular is very interesting that way because it came more from a history of men, like every sport did. But when you look over the numbers and the growth of the sport, it felt like it was a lot easier for girls to enter the sport rather than like team sports where you had to find others to be on the same journey at the same time and the same place, where in athletics you could just start right where you were and make your way. So I think in that way we are actually really lucky in athletics where there's a pathway to be accessed a lot easier.

Anthea Moodie: Yep. And now you've got a whole other little human being on board, little Matteo. What was that transition like from being an athlete to now I'm an athlete and I'm a mum as well?

Vanessa Low: Yeah, it's a really interesting journey. It's a rollercoaster of emotions and it's everything from like the most amazing feelings that you feel in one day to the next moment where it's like, "Holy, how am I gonna do all this and how am I gonna return back to sport? And at this moment my human being won't even let me go to the toilet. Like how am I gonna make though the whole session without holding him?” 

So it was definitely a big learning curve but huge, yeah, huge thank to my husband make it possible 'cause in our sport, we just simply don't have that pathway to return back to sport after giving birth. And at this point like I couldn't do it if my husband didn't take the two month off work to come to Europe with me to compete at world championships and look after our bub and being able to be there and hold the baba when I can't. Yeah, I'm really lucky, but I really hope that we don't have to feel like it's a luxury going forward but that it's actually something that's a given, that everyone can access if they wish to do so.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah. And what was that experience like? You've just returned from Paris from the World Championships, what was that, you know, that team environment like and what were the challenges that you had to overcome there?

Vanessa Low: It was so interesting. I didn't really know what to expect and I've been on so many teams, I've been now doing competing internationally for more than 15 years. So I've been part of many, many teams before, but as much as I can recall, I think I was the first mom on the team and so I wasn't sure whether little man was gonna be welcome, like whether people wanted to have him around and he was such a joy to be around. He always gave out smiles and he always made everyone laugh and when the whole team environment can get quite tense because everyone is kind of their own little path towards competing at their best and wanting to win medals, to really focused and really strict and then this a little human being smile at you and really make the environment a lot easier and happier. 

So it was great in that way but at the same time it was really challenging because there was just not any regulations in place and we had to path our own way as in the people that are organising the teams are either men or people that haven't had kids yet, so how are they meant to know what I need? And every mom needs something different so why didn't no one ask me what I actually needed when going into these team environments? And they're trying to set me up in rooms that were simply not gonna work for our little family unit. So that was definitely challenging and a big learning curve.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, and was it distracting as well, like trying to prepare for World Championships? It can't of been easy.

Vanessa Low: It was, but it was a good thing I think. I think I took things a lot lighter these days and I, in the past I aimed so much for perfection and I think a lot of athletes do, but then you realise actually perfection never happens. Like you can't wait for the perfect conditions on the day, you can't wait for the perfect preparation 'cause it may never come. 

So actually just doing the best with what I had was probably the best I could do and it actually made me enjoy the whole journey a lot more and knowing that my little man was there by my side, witnessing something so special because we came together doing something we love doing, making friendships along the way and that was probably, yeah, definitely made up for it.

Anthea Moodie: And share with the crowd how you went. You're being humble.

Vanessa Low: Absolutely. Yeah, I am. I got a bronze medal just-

Anthea Moodie: Woo.

Vanessa Low: Yay! Thank you. Just one centimetre of the silver. I heard a little bit. Long jump, it's really, really, really close. But no, it's really exciting for next year. I really hope to be on top of the podium again next year and got a whole lot more motivation and drive and also experience as well with the new situation going forward that hopefully it's gonna be a lot easier next year on.

Anthea Moodie: Yep, definitely. And what about for you two? I'm sure there are a lot of mums in your playing groups as well. What are their experiences like as part of the team?

Holly Ferling: Yeah, so last year we had Ang Reakes who was our captain at ACT the season before I arrived. I've played with her right since we were young, but she had beautiful little Winnie and returned within four months to play, and having her on tour and around the group it was, yeah, it was just so great. Also getting sent videos to the group chat of Winnie all the time and all of us trying to teach her different things and see who can be the first one to get a cricket bat in her hand was the main goal. 

But to see what Ang had to go through was super inspiring for our whole team to the point where now like we're having discussions as playing groups, getting experts in like fertility discussions and it's starting to become more normal as opposed to this taboo thing because I think quite often with a lot of us, we all know that our career comes to an end and equally at the same time though we're in our prime years to be having kids at the same time. So when do you start to consider if egg freezing is an option for you? Or even two, can you return? 

And by having women like yourself go go first and show everyone what's possible, I think it's been, yeah, such an incredible thing. But before even Ang, there was a lady, my debut for my Test when I was 17. We were over in England and she had a bub on tour and that was kind of the first breaking ground of it all. Little Sam was nine months old, but yeah Sarah, she was having to pump halfway through the test match and hubby was on the boundary rope with bub on the front, a jug of Pimm's in one hand, and a bottle in the other. 

And yeah, it was cool that that was kind of the moment but there was so many challenges within that though, like the rooming situation, and it started to show that this is actually something that we should be allowed to do. You don't have to choose between, that you can do both at the same time.

Michelle Heyman: Yeah I think, you know, everyone's been watching the Matildas so you'd see Minnie and baby Harper running around on the field after each game at the moment. But even her story, you know, she decided to go be a mum by herself. She went and got IVF, did it all by herself over in another country, just was like, "This is what I want, I'm going to do it." And then she had to have that awkward conversation with her club Brisbane Roar in the A-League, because you know we still don't have in our league any law with us having a child, there's nothing there. You know, you would just kind of lose your job. 

And so she signed the contract pretending she wasn't pregnant so she could still have her contract. But then yeah, you know, had to come out and say, "Yeah, I am pregnant." But manage to still play a couple of months for Brisbane while she was pregnant, ending up having baby Harper and you could see the national team just be like, "Okay, this is something that we're gonna see more of." 

You know, there's currently a couple of moms in the team at the moment. But to just see the support that the Matildas gave Minnie was just truly incredible because it was very foreign, it was something that we've never seen, but I think there was a little bit more money invested into the Matildas that year that she fell pregnant, which definitely helped. 

We used to have roommates, she was my roommate within the Matildas, but now when I talked to her about camp, she's like, "Oh no, we all have our own rooms. Like you know, Harper can sleep with me or Harper can go sleep..." Her mom gets to come on tour. So now her mom's the nanny so she can, if Minnie needs a good night's sleep, she's like, just passes Harper off and she gets to go to bed and it's a really nice system. 

And I've started to notice within the team how relaxed all the players are. Like you see Harper running around, everyone just stops and smiles. Everyone's just so happy. They celebrate her like a player within the team. But it just changes the whole, the vibe. There isn't any stresses, no one's worried on game day. Like on game day people are happy instead of thinking about what they're gonna have to do on the field and what they have to achieve within the time that they might get on the field. Like all those stresses are gone because there's just this pure little joy of just this little human running around, making everyone so happy. 

So it's such a special moment. And even this year we had Ellie Brush for Canberra United, you know, she was a mum. Some she would just have to rock up to training late because her wife was, she's a detective, so it's like very hard to juggle the baby being able to, you know, get to training on time. But you know, we allowed it to happen. If she didn't turn up, she didn't turn up. I'm like, she's a mother, like that's what you gotta do. 

And it was special because then you would see him at the training sessions and you're just like, oh, look at his cute little curls. He was just such a ball of joy all the time. Like would scream and cry and you would just see her run off the training field and she would just have to do the mum job. But it was just so nice to be able to see women athletes juggling being a mother because women can do anything. We're Wonder Woman constantly. So it's just so nice to be able to, you know, get the tick of approval to finally be like, okay, we can do this. Kids are a part of it and that's the journey that we have to take now.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah. Getting those extra K's up running after the kids.

Michelle Heyman: Exactly.

Anthea Moodie: Just doing the extras. It's fine. I guess for you, Vanessa, where would you like to see improvements in, you know, after you've had your experience just recently in that space?

Vanessa Low: It's very difficult. I think overall, like we're just underfunded, so if you had unlimited funds, it wouldn't be a problem. Athletics Australia would be more than happy to support it. They would be happy to send a support personnel and pay for it, but at the moment we simply don't have the funds. 

So like an increase in the funding across all sport is needed because how are we meant to do our job if we can't do this full time, like we have to show up for training, we still wanna have a family, well, some people do. So that is just needed. 

At the same time, just the understanding that everyone wants the same thing but we're all on different journeys. So the tolerance of understanding that what you want from your life can be being an athlete but at the same time being a mum and accepting that, and making sure that you still get to do what you wanna do the way that you wanna do it. 

So not having to fit everyone into the same sort of basket. Everyone needs to be doing things the same way 'cause it just doesn't work that way long term. So hopefully creating long-term pathways for women if they choose to return back to sport after giving birth.

Anthea Moodie: Yep, and just touching on funding, Holly, the ACT medials have just had a new funding deal come out this season. Can you explain what that includes?

Holly Ferling: Yeah, so our MOU, Creek Australia MOU was up and so it was a much nicer pay deal discussion as opposed to 2017, which we've got run through the papers for quite some time. 

But yeah, as I mentioned, the minimums now up to, I think it's 52,000, so we were .4 hours and we were showing across the whole pay discussion, which is why it made it a no-brainer, that we were doing .7, .8 hours or like FTE, full-time equivalent. So yeah, that probably didn't look great but that's where all the teams were kind of sitting at. And it's insane to think how quick women's sport evolves and how quick cricket has evolved because the .42 wage was fine five years ago and then now like the hours increase 'cause everyone's competitive, everyone wants to be doing well and so if you know that another team's doing more or the person next to you is doing more, you wanna keep giving more to your sport. 

So yeah, we're at .7, which makes it actually a little bit more challenging now in terms of the dual career balance because not many jobs are gonna give you .3 hours and if it is, it's likely working in a coffee shop or something like that. It's actually trying to use those hours better to keep driving those careers off the field, even if it's work experience or something like that. 

But I think the average amount that got spruced, and this is why I always say make sure you read into headlines, it was 150,000. Now that included super, that also included the average WBBL contract, which includes, they've split the salary cap this year so there's a section that's only for essentially international players. So they've averaged that out as well, which is money that my teammates don't get access to. 

So yeah, it's sometimes the numbers get spruced I think to make things look good when the reality is actually to dive in deeper, look at the minimums 'cause quite often that's where the majority is sitting. And it's amazing now to see that some of my teammates are quitting their jobs at Bunnings and picking up a teaching degree as an example because she can actually afford her rent now. And that's the really cool parts now that we're starting to see with this, more investment.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah, and I see you nodding your head. Is that a similar situation?

Michelle Heyman: We're still waiting. Still on the waiting page.

Holly Ferling: This is coming, surely.

Michelle Heyman: Fingers are crossed. No. So yeah, we started in 2008 so it's been a very long journey. My first contract was $75 a week, which was awesome, loved it. But now our minimum is 25,000, but it's a 35 week season, so it's still under minimum wage when you look at it that way. 

But again, it's better than last years. So I'm trying to be real positive, but again we've got a long way to go. You look at the minimum wage within the Matildas now is, I think it's 70,000 for the national team and then it's by game. That's where you kind of make up your money. But I think we're going into a CBA agreement of hopefully changing that. So we're on the same lines of the men's team with the Socceroos. So they just get paid, I think it's 7.5 thousand per game. So if we're playing 30 games a year, then you'll be able to make up all your money that way. 

But yeah, within the A-Leagues we're still very far behind. We currently have a salary cap of $500,000 per team is the minimum with 20 to 23 players. You've gotta split that across then the max is only 600,000. So you've only got that little window to try and, you know, get a higher pay deal, which is just something that's not gonna happen within this season so it's a little bit frustrating. 

I'll continue to fight. I had a good conversation with the CEO the other day just having an argument about it because I'm like, after, you know, 16 years of playing, I'm still fighting for an extra dollar and I'm like, "Just help us." Like we're not asking for millions of dollars. We know we don't bring in the revenue like the men, but we're just asking for a little help to get us there because I know, again, we were having this conversation earlier, the marketing that has gone on within the Matildas, being able to see commercials, them on billboards, everyone talking about them on the radio, you see 'em in the newspaper constantly, I'm like if we had that for all of our codes all the time and I'm like, then there would be the revenue coming through, people would be coming to the games 'cause you would actually have the information about it. So the more that we can, you know, put out to the media and the marketing, hopefully we'll be able to change the way that they look at women's sport in Australia.

Anthea Moodie: Yep, and I know money's not everything, but I will just continue on the topic with you because you were speaking earlier and after getting a bronze medal at the World Championships I'm thinking, "Oh nice, that would've been a good little pay packet." No?

Vanessa Low: Yeah, so there's no prize money for us neither at Paralympics nor World Championships. We are on pay parity with able-bodied sport, but it's always, you know, a secret because it's partially government funded, but like the maximum a gold medalist can earn for both Olympics or Paralympics, is 50,000 a year. So that's the max. And if we have a side job, so if we earn more than I think 70 on the side, then we actually lose our funding so we actually are not encouraged to have a dual career. So if we earn too much money, we actually lose our funding and access to certain support. 

So we're meant to do this on very limited budget. And when you then chuck in a lot of money to take the bub and a support person, it becomes really challenging. And for us as well, technology as well. So it's a very expensive sport where you're looking at a set of running legs essentially and it's about 30 grand that you spend on it. So we're constantly spending a lot of money. 

So it's never nice having to talk about money because you're not doing it for the money. I mean, neither of us started the sport because of it, but to ensure people have a longevity in the sport and being able to do this full-time and do this at a level where people want to come out and watch it, we need the money to live and we need to have the support. So really hope that we're going into the right direction. And what we saw this year with the Matildas is continuing on with different sport and we see more sport so people are coming into the stadiums again and we get the income that we need to support those athletes.

Anthea Moodie: Yep, and media attention is a big one on that. And Holly, you work a fair bit in the media. How important is it to have that representation of women in the media that are actually, you know, representing a women's game for example?

Holly Ferling: Yeah, no, I think it's important. Like I know like this quote gets thrown around all the time. You can't be what you can't see. But I do think there's a nuance to having different voices in the commentary box. 

So quite often as viewers at home, there'll be someone that you resonate with and if you love stats, it'll be the stats person if you're a larrikin, that'll be the person that you go towards. But to have someone that, or to have multiple women in the commentary box that are bringing those different things as well and just a slightly different perspective, I think that's really important because not only are we talking to men now watching sport, we've always been talking to the women. They're the ones that control a lot of the decisions in the household and also the remote. 

So how do we make sure that we keep engaging them right across it? And I mean there was a really cool moment last summer, commentating with 7. We had four women working and that was all we had. So we didn't have a male caller. We had Lisa Sthalekar calling and then on expert comms, it was myself, Kirby Short and Elise Felani. And to have that mix of former and current players as well, like that was also really special and really cool to be calling a women's game. 

And yeah, I do think that we still need to keep pushing with that. We've seen some amazing people come through, Isa Guha, Sam Squires, so many of these women that have been flying the flag for us for so long. And finally similarly with the Matildas, it's like this is something that we've always known has been good so how do we keep this momentum going? 'Cause everyone's trying, there will be someone in a room somewhere that'll be trying to stop momentum of women's sport. So how do we make sure that it's inevitable, it's a snowball that's going and we're all behind it?

Anthea Moodie: Yep, and just on the Matildas, I saw you put up a question on your social media today. "Why is it that so many people got around the Matildas?" You're asking people. I wanna know your opinions as well.

Holly Ferling: So I've been asking all my friends like, because so many of them that are, some are sporting snuffs, like they love it and then others just no interest in it, played as a kid. The things that popped up on social media, people were saying that the success was one thing. And we always know that that always plays a part. The underdogs. So the fact that they lost to Nigeria and that story really rallied everyone. 

But then a lot of people spoke about the storytelling and I think that's our point of difference in women's sport is our ability to tell stories because we're interesting. We've had all these amazing lives. We've got the kids, we've had to have the dual careers, all these other bits and pieces that make us human and makes us relatable to our audience. 

So many people pointed to the doco on Disney, but also to the fact that, and I felt this throughout, the fact that Sam Kerr was injured to start off with, I think in some respects was the best thing for the Matildas because for so long it was Sam and her friends. Now we can name Mary Fowler and like all these other amazing women as you were talking before about some of the boys that were coming outta the stadium and they're naming absolutely every single player.

Michelle Heyman: It's the most important thing. And I think I'm on the same page because everyone loves Sam Kerr. We love her, she does everything. She's brilliant. But that injury definitely put everyone else in the light to show that, you know, it's a team, it's not an individual sport. 

And the team had to step up and like I had all the trust and faith in the girls because I've known them for multiple years now and I knew every single one of them. They are brilliant. Caitlin Foord is one of the most talented players in the world. She is by far, sometimes even better than Sam Kerr, but doesn't get any attention because Sam Kerr's on the field and everyone knows Sam Kerr's name. 

But when it comes to talent, you're just like, yeah, you look at Mackenzie Arnold in Gold who has been in the national team for, I think that was her 10th or 11th year. This is the first year she's ever started. She's just been the third goalkeeper then she was the second, she's just been fighting for her spot. But she had the most incredible season in England last year playing, that she was the number one goalkeeper. And I'm like, okay, well no one spoke about her until she made a couple of big saves in the World Cup, but like no Australians knew her unless you were a fan of the Matildas. 

So being able to, you know, give the girls that spotlight, like it's just, again, Mary Fowler like 20 years old doing the things that she's doing and I'm just like, how is this even possible? But everyone's now starting to know her name and they're wearing the gloves because she wears gloves. Like it's such a cool thing to see. It's just, yeah, it's awesome.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah. And is this going to be a one-off though? Do you think we're going to keep this momentum up or we're just gonna be, "Oh yeah, I'm a Matilda fan today, but I'm not gonna care about them in six months", what do we think?

Michelle Heyman: They better care. Like we do, we all will. I know the women will, but it's just now it's up to I think Australia, now it's like, okay, well how do we keep it going? So it's like, when are the Matildas playing next? What are we gonna do to, you know, keep that going? 

Because the more Australia knows about that team, then hopefully the more they know about they A-League and then the more that when the cricket starts, then maybe that's when, you know, things just start to happen within women's sport because yeah, we have to be out there and the only way we're gonna be out there is if again, the media and everyone step it up and speak more about us.

Holly Ferling: I think it's a really cool opportunity for sporting codes now to be the brave ones for someone, whether it is the A-League, the WBBL, NRLW, AFLW, which sport is gonna be the first one to throw the big marketing dollars behind it so people know that it's on and it's treated as equal to some of their male counterparts. And I think the moment that that happens, every other sport will fall in line, 'cause it's always this whole who's gonna go first? Who's gonna make their teams professional first, all of that. 

But it's a massive opportunity. It's also quite a scary moment as well, I feel, because the whole of Australia's behind it. But then what happens in two months time when it's all over. The confetti's gone. Everything's all gone. How do we still ensure that these stories are getting told and that the point of difference of of women's sport is being shared so that sponsors can get on board? We're selling the assets that need to be sold at market value. Like we're not just bundling it in because the boys are sponsored by X so just chuck a extra 10 grand in and you can have the girls as well. Sell it at market value. If they want both, sell it for what it is.

Anthea Moodie: Yep. Vanessa?

Vanessa Moodie: Yeah, we absolutely need to keep the momentum. And I still have my German email account, so every single time I pull out the email account, I know exactly what's going on in the German football league. I have no interest whatsoever, but I know exactly what's going on simply because media are reporting about it. 

So if we keep the momentum and keep on reporting what is happening, then people like stay with it. And I think they're more inclined to actually then go out of their way and not just watch it online, but actually make their way to the games and get involved in the stories and see it in person.

Anthea Moodie: And so this event's being called Towards Level Playing Field. We'll just wrap things up by asking do you think we are well on our way towards a level playing field? Does she want to answer honestly or not?

Michelle Heyman: I'm just gonna say no. Like I want to say yes. Really, really do. Especially 'cause like I'm going at the end of my career and I feel like I hope I haven't just wasted 20 years of my life. Like I want it to be fantastic by the time that I, like, you know, by the last two years of my career, it would be fantastic. But yeah, I don't, yeah, I'm just gonna shut up.

Anthea Moodie: Don't give yourself in trouble.

Holly Ferling: I think I have similar reservations at different points, 'cause just as we were talking before, it's like for every amazing decision that gets made, then there's the kicker that's like, ah, geez, we're still like 20 years ago, like there's still something that isn't up to scratch or whether it is the fact that the Matildas were sharing rooms, like seriously?

Michelle Heyman: Yeah. Yeah.

Holly Ferling: How much extra is that?

Michelle Heyman: I know. That's why I don't even, like I didn't know other teams didn't. I just thought it was normal, but like you always had to have a roommate and I was like, oh. Like I loved my roommate. Like I'm grateful that I became best friends with mine, but you get stuck in a room with someone you don't like on your team, you know, that's not good.

Anthea Moodie: That's not good.

Michelle Heyman: That's not good.

Holly Ferling: Someone that snores at night. Like you're done.

Michelle Heyman: You're done, you're ruined.

Holly Ferling: I do think though we've all kind of got a bit of ownership over this and that's everyone in this room, not just the athletes and journalists as well, but we've gotta keep making this relevant. We saw momentum, I think leading into the T20 World Cup with the women's selling out the MCG, like the last event before COVID hit and then COVID killed that and it's been well reported and a lot of excuses that come out from different executives and leadership and across all codes saying, "Well, it is what it is. We had to cut costs and whatnot." 

We've got momentum again. Like it's not going away and it's had momentum over the years, so how do we make sure that it doesn't get to that squash point? And I think a lot of it is, as you said, it's talking about it, it's athletes sharing their stories online. We've all got our own media channels now. And then how much can we actually get behind each other doing that? Because if we kind of take the ownership of it, the sporting codes have to fall in line 'cause people are fascinated by athletes, they're fascinated by stories. So if we can keep sharing that, then eventually I feel like it'll catch on. It's slow though. A lot of our codes are quite conservative I feel.

Vanessa Low: I just really hope that this year with the Matildas going so well, really sparked the young generation to pick up sport. And I think once we actually get a lot of girls playing sport, it's so much easier to keep them and keep the momentum going. 

And even though we have, probably gonna have a delay of like about 10 years than that of them coming through as professional athletes, we still have all these like young people being excited for sport and requiring, asking to be seen and asking to see it on TV. And I think that it's gonna be really important , to make a long-term change is breeding the next generation to be interested in sport, participate in sport, and celebrate it.

Anthea Moodie: And that is all. Well, I'll throw it to the floor if anyone has any questions they would like to ask. We've got-

Michelle Heyman: Oh, that was quick. Alright.

Anthea Moodie: Very quick. You've been holding onto that one.

Audience member 1: Yeah. Firstly, thanks for a very stimulating discussion. I've got two quick questions. Firstly, does anyone on the panel have any strong views either way about the role of transgender women in sports, in female sports in particular? Whether it's team sports or individual sports like tennis or swimming or whatever. 

My second question is, it's about women's participation in other countries. I mean, we live in a pretty privileged environment really compared to many other countries. What would you recommend, how do we encourage women and girls participation in sports where they're prevented from or even discouraged from doing so? One radical proposal I've heard is that powerful organisations like FIFA should ban men from competing unless there's equal opportunities for women in those countries. I don't know if that will happen, but that's one radical proposal. A bit the way the South Africans were treated under apartheid. Thanks.

Vanessa Low: Well I think the transgender discussion is a complex one for sure. I feel like for me, competing in athletics, it's a very straightforward answer though. We're separate into classes. One is for males, one is for females for very apparent reasons 'cause males are very favoured genetically in running faster and farthest. So once we blur the lines in that space, I think it's gonna be very difficult for female athletes to be good in sport. And I think if we open that wormhole and letting that happen, I think, the sport is essentially gonna die 'cause you can't be successful in sport competing in something that's not like you. And I think that's the reason we have men and female sport that is separate. So in a way I call it we are the protected class and that protection and that needs to be strong enough to make sure that it allows us to be successful in what we do. Otherwise females won't wanna pick up sport 'cause you don't wanna keep on losing every week, if that makes sense. Sport is not just about winning, but if you simply start a competition knowing you can never win, I think it will kill the sport.

Holly Ferling: I think on the country side of things, we saw Cricket Australia pull out of a tour to Afghanistan based on the treatment of women. And I think when you've got sporting codes like that willing to stand up and and say, "Okay, we're gonna draw the line here, this is how we think that you should be allowing your women to have access to sport." Because really for Cricket Australia, for all of us, it's been a tagline for so long, it's a sport for all. So how can we make sure that that's the message going forward to each of our country counterparts is where we're playing around the world. 

I think that was a really strong message, albeit political. I think it was a moment that the Cricket Australia with their leadership really stood strong and went, "We're all about women playing sport. So if we go along and and do this tour, how are we actually helping the situation over there?"

Michelle Heyman: And then even within, you know, the women's football at the moment, we have their Afghan national women's team live in Melbourne because you know, that's where they ran to and the Melbourne Victory took them in. We look after them, we give them housing, everything that they need is all done by Melbourne Victory. Craig Foster was the big help with getting that across the line so you know, there's the support within the codes when they come. Yeah.

Anthea Moodie: Any more questions? Don't be shy. I'm not scary.

Staff member: While we're waiting to see if there's more questions, I've just got a comment from the live stream, just a viewer has said, "Loving the chat, I don't have a question but just wanted to say it's amazing to listen to the panel and hearing their experiences. You're all examples of how everyone should strive to play like a girl. My kids have been lucky to have Michelle run a couple of private clinics, which they just loved and thanks for inspiring everyone."

Michelle Heyman: Aw.

Anthea Moodie: That’s lovely.

Staff member: So that's a really nice comment.

Audience member 2: Hi. Yeah, I agree this has been a great discussion and I probably don't really have a question either except just listening to your conversation earlier about, you know, female players who are parents and children. I was listening to a discussion on the ABC Radio today and they were talking exactly about this and how the Matildas, their camp had family and some friends within the fold and what a difference that made to the atmosphere amongst the team and how relaxed they were and that how happy they all were, how relaxed on game day, and you know, how amazing this was and how fantastic it was for them to do that. 

But all I could think of was the male cricketers who had wives and girlfriends travelling with them for forever. And that's not seen as anything unusual. You know, I feel like there's probably some times that some of the male teams can step up and say, you know, "Well actually, we already do this and this is reasonable" and fair enough, I mean, you know, men are parents as well. It's not just women that are parents. And I think that there's a lot that we can do to recognise the disparities in the way that we view women in sport.

Michelle Heyman: Yeah. Definitely.

Holly Ferling: Yeah. I think it's making sure, I think we were just saying before you don't want it to be this special moment that we have access to funding or carer, or all these things. It should just be normal. 

Cricket Australia is part of the pregnancy policy that came in a few years ago. I'm super duper proud of it, in that so if I have a baby, I get to have a carer on tour until bub is four, I am entitled my next contract as well to give me time to try and return. If I can't return, they find me a job within cricket to be able to still be contributing to the cricketing community. 

But as part of that though too, they actually define it I think as a like, so a nonbearing parent, so whether it is a male or a female, they're entitled to four weeks off as well to be taken at any point in the first 12 months of bub's life. So that's kind of cool 'cause all of a sudden now the boys are brought into it. Some of our female players who have female partners, they're also brought into it as well. And it's not just this one and done pregnancy policy, it's actually considered a whole host of family dynamics and what may happen. So for instance, you could see one day you may, so Pat Cummins has had a baby. His partner's had a baby so he could miss Test matches because of it. And now that's gonna be the norm and that's okay. So how do we keep that normality now moving forward?

Michelle Heyman:  We're all gonna go play cricket. Like the setup is just-

Anthea Moodie: I’ll sign you up.

Michelle Heyman: It's so much better because even thinking about it, we used to get upset with the Socceroos 'cause they could bring their family away on World Cups. And they got to travel for free. Like they Football Australia looked after them so well, meanwhile, Caitlin Foord's mum, she's a single mom, has battled her entire life to pay for Caitlin to get to where she is and they did not wanna help her and she couldn't afford the flights to even fly for her very first World Cup in Germany and they did not want to help. And I'm like, it's just so frustrating to see that, you know, when it comes to the the Socceroos, it was just like, "Oh, here you go. We'll just throw you all the money, give you everything you need to make your life a lot easier whilst you're there doing your thing", but for the women it was just a complete opposite. So cricket it is. We've all figured it out.

Vanessa Low: It was really fascinating this year when I was planning my World Championship campaign and we have access to funding to use for training camps and whatnot. So I planned a training camp so I could get ready for the World Champs and get ready to get used to the time difference so, but this money is only allowed to access performance related expenses. So I wasn't seen as, I wasn't allowed, I had spare funds that I couldn't use because I was bringing my family so I couldn't afford being longer there. 

So it was just so frustrating to see that there was actually funding there allocated for me as an athlete that I wasn't allowed to use because it's not seen to be from performance enhancing to have your immediate family there as in my 11 month old son and my husband then was looking after him. 

So even just the understanding behind it and understanding, you know, there's not unlimited money but there was a budget there and we couldn't use it in a way that would've been really helpful for me that I think that really needs to change the mindset behind it and the way we make these decisions. Actually having a bit of empathy as well. It's all unique stories. We can't just have blanket walls because like what works for me doesn't work for someone else. So yeah, applying it with more empathy along the way.

Audience member 3: I’ve got a question.

Anthea Moodie: Yeah. Oh sorry. We'll go up here first. Then we'll come to you.

Audience Member 4: Thank you. Thanks for a great discussion. It's been wonderful. I just had a question around, I read a article in "The Guardian" the other day about the Matildas and the vibe of all that and there was this great term in there that I didn't know, which was called, I think it was anemoia, which is nostalgia for a time and place that one has never known. 

And it just resonated with me really deeply. 'cause it's something that I felt when the AFLW started around this safe space for women in sport. And I grew up playing sport and I have three elder brothers, so I thought I was comfortable in, you know, sporting environments and male environments. 

But going to those games, and it's similar around the Matildas experience, being in this environment where I actually felt safe 'cause everything was familiar and everything was coming through a female lens it felt like, which I didn't actually realise that I'd never experienced that before. But how do we harness that and, you know, females are half the population and that's a great experience for young people, not just women and girls, but boys as well. How do we harness that experience to I guess, you know, keep this momentum going and get the people who are making the decisions about where the money goes to buy into that and that that can be profitable?

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, it's a tricky one because we even have, it's called Legacy '23, the funding that was going around for this World Cup. And we started to realise and notice that, you know, most fields within Australia weren't even up to standard for women's. Like every stadium's built for a man. So no female bathrooms, you know, no bins, no toilet paper, nothing was happening within any of the stadiums and that's the big stadiums and then let alone, you know, the local fields going around, there was none of that. 

But I think what we need to do as a whole, as women, and it's just that support and backing each other. For some reason women sometimes like to put women down and you know, you can see that around and it's a little bit frustrating because we should be our number one supporters. We should always have each other's back and we need a, you know, if I know that the cricket is playing within Canberra, we're gonna go support each other. Like that's what we've always done. I would always go watch the Capitals play. We would always had to be there because we want, you know, for it to come back towards us. 

So it's just like supporting each other. I hope that women can step up, all of us and you know, go out to games, go out, support, jump on the bandwagon, inspire their children, their cousins. Like we just have to continue to inspire the next generation to continue to get this to grow. That's the only way that I can see it rolling forward.

Audience member 3: Probably just leading on from that, are there any country, oh, sorry. Can you hear me? Are there any other countries that maybe Australians, Australian Women's Sport can learn from and like or look at and say, "Well it's worked in X, Y, Z country, can we, you know, do that in Australia" or something like that? Or are we leading the field? I sort of knew that would be the case.

Michelle Heyman: In football it's definitely America and England are up there. America have like a brilliant system because they have the college system as well. So you know, to become a professional athlete within the NWSL, so their "A-League", usually have to finish college. So you're 22 years old, you've already got your degree and then you become a professional athlete and you're treated like a professional athlete and they've got the funding now. And then you can see why the US have been, you know, the number one team for football for many years. They've been the big dogs, they're the hard ones to beat. It's because their system that they have in place, it just rolls on so well because everyone is a professional from, you know, the age of 18 when you go to college, you're learning how to be a professional athlete. 

I look at Australia, we're signing players who are 16 years old, still in school to be professional, which is a big challenge. It's very hard to do and they're mentally not strong enough or ready to do that, which is delayed us a little bit like there is players, you look at a Ellie Carpenter, a Sam and a Caitlin, they all started at 16 years old in the national team and they're very lucky that, well actually none of them are, they've all gone through major injuries because they got burnt out at a young age. 

By the age they were all 23, 24, they've all had either a knee injury, ankle injury that took them out for a year. So their bodies are breaking at a very young age compared to in America, you see Megan Rapinoe who was 38 at the World Cup still doing her thing, that's her final World Cup, but her career has been able to be so long because they didn't destroy her body at a very young age in what we are doing. 

So I look at their system and I wish Australia could jump on board. I would love for the girls to be coming into the A-League at 20, 21 years old. I don't know if that's because I started the league at that age and I enjoyed it, but it was just, it's nice to be able to have like older players, senior players and you're just mentally strong enough and ready to be there. That's my personal opinion on that one though.

Holly Ferling: Within cricket, I think Australia's definitely leading the way. The emergence though now is these T20 leagues that are popping up so like the men, we've now got a Caribbean Premier League, an Indian Premier League, and so they're big dollars because they're all private ownership. So it depends on what your metrics are in terms of success. Our pathway is better. 

But I do think though, we just saw The Women's Ashes, we retained the Ashes, we drew the Ashes. England doesn't have the same setup that we do in terms of our pathway. So I think that's a massive threat to Australia at the moment is that all of a sudden we might be going through a little bit of a transition period and how can we still stay at the top within that? And I think equally too, it's strengthening that pathway but actually leaning on some of the older athletes. 

Like I've witnessed a girl that I played club cricket with for years and she finally got her first go at this level at 21 and I think it set her up for success because she knows her game. She knows who she is, and now we're just giving her the resources around her to help her to succeed versus burning out a youngster. And which it's so controversial because I got my crack at 17, but I went through that. I had lots of injuries, but also too, it was before time, I was not ready. I didn't feel, I feel so comfortable now compared to what I was at at 17 and playing for Australia.

Michelle Heyman: Because I look at also the young ones coming through and if you don't make it by the age of 18, your career's gone. You know, you're never gonna become one. And I'm like, oh, like it just baffles me because I'm like, oh. I was like if you just give yourself two years, I bet you you'd be in the team, but they quit. 

And I'm like, and it's happened. I've seen it happen multiple times with players who I thought would be in the national team but didn't get a chance when they were 16 because their friend got a chance to play in the W League at that age, and I'm just like, oh, like that's the problem. Like that i that I see within our sport personally.

Vanessa Low: In athletics there's a very difficult pathway at the moment. So I believe the college system is also very helpful for a lot of athletes and athletics. At the moment we have little athletics and then you have people competing in youth games and they're celebrated and they're good at it, but then there's like a massive gap because to make it from the top at a youth championship to becoming an Olympic champion or a World Champion in athletics where in a lot of events it needs a lot of training years. 

It's not like in swimming where you can be World Champion at the age of 14. Like that doesn't work like that in athletics where in many events you're at your peak when you're like 30. So like how do you bridge those 10, 12 years where you don't have the support at the moment? There's not much there. So there's not a lot of financial backing, but there's also very limited pathways in a sense of access to training facilities. Even in Canberra when you talk about it, there's two stadiums here. So it's, yeah, there's a lot to do to bridge that gap of turning that really talented young kid into hopefully Olympic gold medalist one day.

Guy Hansen: Well good. So look, could I ask you all to join me in thanking our panel for sharing those wonderful stories about their careers? So it was really inspiring. Thank you very much. And if you like that, we've got more. So next Wednesday on the 30th, well, sorry, on Wednesday the 30th of August at 6:00 PM here in the theatre, we'll have another event and it'll be called The Matilda Effect and we'll have writer Fiona Crawford will be in conversation with former Matilda Star and Commentator Grace Gill on Fiona's new book, which it provides the inspiring story of the team, which has just done so well in the World Cup. 

I previously advertised the catalogue for sale in the shop tonight. Unfortunately somebody's told me that the shop had the close due to a technical problem, so the wifi wasn't working. So I'm sorry about that. But you can buy it online or you can come back and buy it another day 'cause it's always nice to come to the Library. 

And if you do wanna see the exhibition where you'll see lots of other sporting stories and tales of athletes, we're gonna keep that open for a little while tonight so you can pop in and have a look or come back another time. So again, thanks to our panel and thank you for coming out. That was great.

Catch up on a conversation about the experiences of women in Australian sport with cricket rising star Holly Ferling, former Matildas player Michelle Heyman, paralympic gold medallist Vanessa Low and facilitated by sports journalist Anthea Moodie.

Our panel of elite sportswomen discuss their achievements and experiences throughout their national and international careers, and share their hopes for the future of women's sport. Topics of discussion include motherhood, salary, the pathway towards professional playing and carrying on the momentum gained during the Matildas 2023 FIFA World Cup run.

About the panellists

Holly Ferling  

Becoming a cricket sensation at only 14 years old after securing a hat-trick in her first 3 balls of her men’s grade debut, Holly has forever strived to better herself on and off the cricket pitch. She debuted for the Australian Women’s Cricket Team at age 17, in all 3 formats - ODI, T20 and Test Cricket - all while completing her schooling in Kingaroy, in country Queensland. A devastating right arm fast bowler Holly has been a fantastic addition to our local cricket scene, both as a role model for young players but also a key member of the ACT Meteors in the WNCL and the Perth Scorchers in the WBBL and has had success on the biggest stage matches at all levels of competition.

Off the field, Holly has worked as a journalist for 3 years in a commercial radio newsroom for Macquarie Media, as well as reporting and commentating for Channel 7, FOX Sports and ABC Grandstand. Remarkably, Holly balances these commitments while continuing to study at university. She works alongside a number of household brand names as an ambassador, while continuing to promote the game, and women’s sport.  

Michelle Heyman 

Michelle Heyman is an accomplished Australian soccer player and commentator who is deeply committed to sharing her inspiring journey with others. Throughout her career, Michelle has been an invaluable member of the Canberra United team, scoring over 60 goals and leading the team to two W-League Championships in 2012 and 2014. Her impressive talents have earned her prestigious titles, including the Golden Boot winner and Player of the Year – twice each – of the W-League. Michelle is currently the leading goal scoring in the A-league with 94 goals and 159 games played. 

As a vital player on the national level, Heyman has represented Australia as part of the Matildas since 2010, showcasing her outstanding skills in over 60 matches and scoring over 20 goals. Her involvement in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and her significant contribution to the team's silver medal win at the 2014 AFC Women's Asian Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics is commendable.  Off the field, Michelle is a powerful voice for two important causes, LGBT rights and mental health awareness. As an openly gay athlete, she has used her platform to promote acceptance and encourage others to be true to themselves. She is an outspoken advocate for reducing the stigma around mental health and has bravely shared her own struggles to inspire others to seek help and support when needed. Michelle is a role model who is making an impact both on and off the field.

Vanessa Low 

At the age of 15, a tragic train accident resulted in the loss of both Vanessa Low's legs. She was told that walking would no longer be a part of her life – a declaration she was determined to defy. Her journey was marked with tremendous challenges following a two-week coma, six long months in the hospital, and nine gruelling surgeries. However, the most formidable part of her journey was finding belief in her abilities amidst a world that consistently reinforced the opposite. Yet, Vanessa's story is not solely defined by adversity. It is a testament to taking action against all odds, driven by personal choices and enduring courage. Despite the perceived limitations imposed upon her, she was determined to transcend them. She made the resolute decision to seize control of her life and embrace the unthinkable, forging a life that defied fears—a life standing on her new prosthetic feet. 

Vanessa went on to become a Paralympic gold medallist and a world record holder in the long jump. Athletics provided not only a second chance but also gave her life a renewed direction and purpose. Moreover, it allowed her to foster a community of like-minded individuals seeking lives beyond their wildest dreams. Together, they inspire each other to reach new heights and overcome any obstacle in their path. 

Anthea Moodie

Anthea Moodie is a sports reporter based in the ACT. Roma-born and Toowoomba-bred, she is a proud Gunggari girl whose passion for people and their unique stories drives her to share them with the community.