Collingwood Notables Database
Elizabeth Rebecca (Betty) Wilson
Cricketer, sportswoman known as 'The female Bradman'
Betty was a born athlete, could run like a hare, had fantastic hand eye co-ordination, was a trailblazer for Women’s Cricket, and achieved many firsts in her short career of just 11 Test matches. She was one of the finest women’s cricketers the world has seen play.
Betty was the second of four children who grew up in Abbotsford and Clifton Hill surrounded by a loving family. She was aided in her career by her bootmaker father George, who made her lightweight cricket boots himself, and her mother Hilda, who provided the stockings in which cricket balls were suspended from the washing line so that Betty could hone her skills at hitting balls that came at her from unpredictable angles.
The streets of Abbotsford and Clifton Hill in the 1920s and 30s resounded with the sound of bat on ball and cries of ‘catch it’, as the local children gathered to play cricket using the lamp posts as wickets, and whatever they could lay their hands on as a bat. Betty was an eager participant in these games as she was a natural athlete and loved playing all sorts of sports, but cricket chose her in an unusual way. At age 10, when walking with her father, they passed the oval where the Collingwood Ladies’ Cricket Club was training – a ball rolled into the boundary and Betty returned it from the boundary straight to the wicket keeper’s gloves. She did this a couple more times resulting in the team asking her to join, and from then she never looked back.
By 14 she was in the Victorian Women’s Second XI and was in the senior side by the age of 16. Even though Betty had natural talent, she thought she never had enough practice and set about training every day when the norm was once a week for women cricketers. Betty was an extremely hard worker and ahead of her time in the professional approach she took to her preparation. She left nothing to chance, even starching the brim of her hat so it wouldn’t flop around while she was batting. Her training involved tying pieces of cotton on the nets that represented the reach of batswomen of varying heights at which she would bowl for hours. Betty practised things she couldn’t do and shots she couldn’t play – ‘there is no use standing there all day waiting for a ball you want to hit, there are a lot of balls that are going to come your way. So you need to learn how to hit them all’. This statement by Betty accurately sums up her dedication to cricket and the hours she spent hitting the ball in the stocking, which taught her to move, think fast and to focus on her footwork, which was an impressive feature of her game.
Betty’s career took her to places she would never have imagined when she first threw that ball back to the wicket keeper at age 10. Due to World War II, her international career of just 11 Tests was delayed till the 1948 Test in New Zealand and then the 1951 Test in England. Her career as part of the Victorian State team took her across Australia.
Betty achieved many firsts during her career – first woman to score a Test 100 against England, first woman to take a hat-trick in a Test by bowling an off-break, a leg-break and a straighter one, first player of either gender to take 10 wickets and score 100 runs in the same test and the best bowling figures in a Test Match of 11 for 16, a record that wasn’t broken until 2004. Her impressive Test Match batting record of 862 runs for an average of 57.46 would put her fifth on the list of Australian male cricketers, ahead of the likes of Ponsford, McCabe, Border, Waugh, Ponting and Hussey, while her 68 wickets at an average 11.80 would put her at the top of the male bowlers list, well ahead of Keith Miller, Lillie, McGrath and Warne. It is no wonder with figures like these, then, that during a lull in the batting at a Men’s Australia v England Test Match in 1953, the crowd was heard to shout ‘send Betty Wilson in, that will liven things up’ and that she was nicknamed ‘The Female Bradman’.
It is a pity that recognition of her achievements came late in life for Betty – she was inducted into the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame in 1985, inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame in 2005 (the fifth Victorian & fourth woman in this exclusive club), awarded an honorary ‘baggy green’ cap number 25 in 2005, awarded Honorary Membership of the Melbourne Cricket Club in 2006 (first Australian woman so honoured) and inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 2017.
Even though Betty retired in 1958 at the height of her fame, her love of cricket never diminished and continued in her mentoring of the next generations of women cricketers through advice, watching their games and not holding back on her comments. As Cathryn Fitzpatrick (Victorian and Australian cricketer) said ‘She was funny, she’d throw her head back to laugh. Her joy came from watching us play.’ Betty’s memory continues in the form of the Betty Wilson Shield played by the Under 19s National Women’s Cricket Championship and from 2017 onwards with the Betty Wilson Medal for Young Female Player of the Year, which will be awarded during the Allan Border Medal presentation.
Betty’s family had moved from Abbotsford to Clifton Hill when she was about ten years old, and except for a couple of years spent in England in the 1950s, she remained in the family home until her death, having refused proposals of marriage which would have impeded her cricketing career. Betty was a woman ahead of her time, a brilliant all-rounder – words alone cannot do her justice. We can all learn from her inspiration: ‘The more you practise, the more you achieve.’
110 Hodgkinson St (City of Yarra)
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|21 November 1921||Abbotsford|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|11 Maugie Street||Abbotsford||Demolished|
|110 Hodgkinson Street||Clifton Hill||Extant|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|22 January 2010||Clifton Hill||Fawkner Memorial Park|
The Age; The Times; The Independent; The Guardian; The Daily Telegraph; The Australian Women’s Register; Sport Australia Hall of Fame; ‘She’s Game’ Australian Women’s Archives Project (2007); Duncan, Skirting the boundary: a history of women’s cricket
Tribute at induction into Hall of Fame 2017