Meet Maggie Moloney, the ‘female Dally Messenger’ who starred in the first public women’s rugby match in 1921

Maggie Moloney is not a household name these days, but 101 years ago she was.

Australia’s first female rugby league star, at just 15 years old, was described as the ‘female Dally Messenger’ when she was the focus of one of Australia’s biggest news stories of 1921.

In front of 30,000 people at the Sydney Showground, the Redfern teenager scored four tries as the Metropolitan Blues defeated the Sydney Reds 21-11 in the world’s first public women’s rugby match.

Her career was short-lived as the women’s competition faced a level of red tape faced by many women who wanted to exercise in the same way as their male counterparts.

The men’s teams were scheduled to play the curtain on the women’s match at the time, but were prevented from doing so by NSW Rugby League (NSWRL) officials, who had originally voted to support the match and a women’s competition.

The ban was defied by the greatest rugby league player of the time, Dally Messenger, who took the opportunity to launch his own rugby league ball in the women’s game at halftime.

A mural of a female soccer player
Maggie Moloney was a pioneer of women’s rugby competition in Australia. (Delivered)

The headlines on the front page at the time were about the partition of Ireland, land disputes between China and Japan, and talks about the disarmament of the sea between countries in the Pacific.

But among the great geopolitical stories were reports of the women’s rugby league, although Maggie’s last name was misspelled in all of them.

The Sun led with ‘Girl Football Star – Only 15 Years Old, Modest Maggie Maloney’.

The Sunday Times story was headlined, “Women in Football, Speedy Miss Maloney.”

The Daily Telegraph went with, ‘Maggie’s Triumph, The Rugby Girl, an attractive game’.

From an old black-and-white photograph, Moloney’s story has been brought back to life by street performer Sharon Billinge and Redfern Rugby League historian Katherine Haines.

The painting on the back wall of Redfern’s St. Vincent de Paul Community Support Center looms over the avenue where Moloney practiced kicking with other neighborhood kids, and her brother Bryan who played for the Rabbitohs.

The avenue also has a clear view of her childhood home.

A mural in honor of a historic women's rugby match
A mural honoring the historic competition has been painted in Redfern.(Delivered )

“She played in front of 30,000 people on the agricultural show grounds,” Haines told The Ticket.

“She really stood out… she was just loved by the public because she was such an exciting player.”

The showgrounds were then next to the SCG where Fox Studios now stands. The match was promoted by the Mick Simmons sporting goods store and billed as ‘The Event of the Year’.

In an effort to dissuade crowds from watching the women’s match, the NSWRL hosted its own demonstration match next door with a group of schoolgirls who had never played the match before. It drew only about 2,000 spectators.

They would have heard the chanting of “Maggie, Maggie” from the much larger crowd who had all paid to watch the game played by teams that had been training every Friday afternoon since mid-June.

Men were not allowed to watch the training, but for a small fee other women could. Two police officers guarded the training area where up to 100 women took part in the weekly ball skills and kick practice. Part of the entrance fee on the match day was paid to the players.

Artist Sharon Billinge said the response to the mural was “amazing”.

A mural of a rugby league ball
Street artist Sharon Billinge has paid tribute to the historic moment.(Delivered)

“Maggie’s granddaughter came and she was in tears when she saw it, which was just beautiful,” she said.

“Obviously it’s a story piece…so people walking by want to ask about the story, they’ve looked her up online and they’re really in touch with her because she only lived 50 yards away.”

With only a scratchy old photo to paint from, Billinge described the challenge as “very tricky”.

“As a mural artist, you get these crooked balls thrown all the time. We wanted it to be really big, to be iconic, so it was tough to do, but I think we managed to get it done.” .”

In the lower corner of the mural, below the goalposts, sits a Dally M rugby league ball, intentionally included, Haines said, to recognize the men who backed up women playing rugby league at the time.

Haines also believes that NRLW Player of the Year, who is currently awarded a Dally M Medal that is just like their male counterparts, should be given a medal named after their own legendary player.

“She’s the equivalent of Dally M in the women’s game, she was the first star of the women’s game, she was the highest points scorer, but most of all, she was the most exciting player on the field, as Messenger was,” Haines said.

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