Rugby Girls Mural: Maggie Moloney
Rugby Girls Mural: Maggie Moloney @ 315 James St, Redfern
Australia’s first female Rugby League star, Maggie Moloney, brought to life on Redfern mural, 101 years after she dazzled 30,000 spectators in the world’s first Women’s Rugby League match in Sydney in 1921
The ground-breaking yet little-known story of Maggie Moloney, Australia’s first female Rugby League star, is being taken out of the archives and onto the city streets with the unveiling of a Redfern mural on Saturday, 17 September 2022 - the 101-year anniversary of Moloney’s trailblazing debut in the world’s first public match of Women’s Rugby League in 1921.
Redfern Rugby League historian, Katherine Haines, in collaboration with 107 Projects and the City of Sydney, instigated the project to coincide with 100-year anniversary last year, but due to the Covid lockdown, had to postpone the project until this year.
The mural, painted by the award-winning street artist, Sharon Billinge, is on the back wall of the St Vincent de Paul Community Support Centre on James Street, Redfern - just moments from the Moloney family home in 1921 and on the street where she reportedly practiced her kicking in preparation for the big match.
‘You can literally see her mural from the front door of her childhood home,’ said Haines, ‘It’s so lovely to imagine her practising her kicking with the other neighbourhood kids on this very lane where her image is now’.
In 1921, Moloney was just 15 years old - the ‘youngest and lightest’ of the two teams - when she became an overnight sensation after scoring four tries for the Metropolitan Blues who defeated the Sydney Reds, 21-11. The Sun dubbed her the ‘Dally Messenger of the Blues’.
‘Like Messenger, she was exciting,’ said Haines, ‘she dazzled spectators with her remarkable pace and surprise swerves and side-steps. They didn’t know women could perform at that level. The crowd loved her!’
The advent of the NSW Ladies Rugby Football League in 1921 was ground-breaking in so many ways. Never had women’s sport (still in its infancy) achieved so much attention. It was Sydney’s biggest press story of the year. The teams played under the same rules as the men and wore the same attire. The crowd of 30,000 spectators was a then record for a women’s sporting event billed as the main attraction. But perhaps the most extraordinary achievement was the glowing match reports.
‘Both teams played incredibly well,’ said Haines, ‘it wasn’t just Moloney. But what Moloney did was take an already good match to the next level. There is a genuine feeling of collective joy in the match reports. I’m so excited to share that joy with Redfern through our mural.’
But sadly, for Moloney, her Rugby League career was short-lived. In 1923, the ‘ladies league’ disbanded due to too many obstacles and opposition. Moloney was broken-hearted
‘I’d say there have been many ‘Maggie Moloneys’ over the years,’ said Haines, ‘athletically gifted women who have wanted to play but denied the opportunity. It is so good that with the advent of the NRLW, women can finally show what they can do at the top level of this sport. Moloney would have loved it!’