Betty Wilson #bettyinbronze

Angela Pippos first met Betty Wilson at a Boxing Day Test function in 2007, three years before Wilson’s death. Pippos admits to then knowing nothing about the woman who was a star of Australian cricket in the 1940s and ’50s, but recalls being enamoured by her sense of humour and “unconventional” story.

“She told the story about choosing cricket over marriage,” Pippos tells Crikey. “She wanted to play cricket for Australia. That was her passion, and she pursued it at great personal cost, because her fiancé twice had to postpone their wedding and eventually gave up; he got sick of waiting. She explained to the audience that there was no contraceptive pill in those days, so if she got married, there was a fair chance she would’ve had to start a family straight away, and that would have been the end of her career. So, she chose cricket.”

Pippos departed the MCG wanting to know more about Wilson, and the other trailblazing women who had played cricket during that era. Despite statistics and records being difficult to find, she soon discovered that Wilson was no ordinary cricketer. Between 1947-1958, Wilson averaged 57.46 with the bat; an average better than that of Allan Border, Greg Chappell and Ricky Ponting. She was also the first player of any gender to take 10 wickets and score 100 runs, and the first ever woman to take a hat-trick, averaging a wicket every 11 balls.

In 2015, Wilson was posthumously inducted into the International Cricket Council’s Hall of Fame, while the Australian cricket Hall of Fame followed suit in 2017. Just 25 Australians (including three women) have that dual honour, including four Victorians: Wilson, Keith Miller, Neil Harvey and Shane Warne. That’s when Pippos was shocked to discover that all three Victorian men are honoured with bronze statues, while Wilson is not.

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To make matters worse, according to Monument Australia, there are 59 known bronze statues of male cricketers in Australia, and none of women.

The birth of #BettyInBronze

Pippos started a public campaign to see Wilson commemorated in bronze earlier this year, as part of her podcast White Line Diva, which tackles issues of gender inequality in sport. She launched the campaign in an episode with prominent former Australian cricketers Belinda Clark and Mel Jones, alongside her co-host and comedian Bobby Macumber. Shortly after, they secured a segment on The Project to put the heat on Cricket Australia, the Melbourne Cricket Club and others to honour Wilson appropriately. 

Pippos says The Project segment helped her secure time and some positive reassurances from representatives of both organisations, but she’s now pushing to see some action before Australia hosts the women’s World T20 cup in 2020. Cricket Australia, as Pippos has noted, could indeed benefit from such a move considering their recent troubles.

“I know there are more important things in women’s sport — a decent base salary, conditions, facilities and all of those things, but statues are public symbols of recognition and respect,” Pippos tells Crikey, while speaking about the campaign. “It seems that you can’t walk down the street without bumping into the bust of a man in bronze. I’m not denigrating male statues, they deserve to be there. I’m simply asking, ‘where are the women, in sport and other parts of society?’”

“I think statues are important, because they’re great conversation starters,” Pippos says. “You can walk into the MCG, stop, look at Betty Wilson, have a conversation with your friends and family and fill in the gaps of our sporting history, because it’s hard to find information about women’s cricket.”

Macumber tells Crikey she was further struck by the gendered disparity when she discovered that there was even a statue of a male fan of cricket at the SCG. “Yabba” is described by Monument Australia as a regular “heckler” at cricket and rugby league matches in the early part of the 20th century, known for his “knowledgeable witticisms shouted loudly from ‘The Hill’”.

“I thought, I’m a huge fan of women’s cricket, where’s my statue?” she says, while laughing.

“Statues reflect the time we’re in,” Pippos adds. “We have a lot of male statues because of patriarchy primarily, but also because in sport, men’s sport has been the measuring stick of greatness, and it’s very difficult for women to get the recognition they deserve. Times are changing, and I’d like to see that reflected in public symbols.”