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Most Australians are familiar with the name Daphne Akhurst because of the impressive silver trophy awarded to the winner of the Australian Open women’s tennis title each year—the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy, or the ‘Daphne’ as it has become known. Little is known about Daphne Akhurst herself, the name behind the trophy. Daphne Akhurst won the Australian Ladies’ Singles Championship five times between 1925 and 1930 and was one of Australia’s most prominent sporting personalities in the era between 1900 and 1930, a time when few women played sport, and the choices to play sport were limited. Tragically Akhurst died in 1933, at the age of 29. Tennis was a sport that was played at a highly competitive level by Australian women in the early years of the 20th century, but Akhurst stands out as Australia’s first international female tennis star, reaching a world ranking of three in 1928, but she was not alone. Her Australian teammates on trips through Europe and the US, in 1925 and 1928, defeated the some of the world’s best players. During and after these tours, Akhurst and her teammates made loud representations in favour of an international teams’ event, effectively a Davis Cup for women, almost 40 years before the Federation Cup finally commenced in 1963. The 1920s was a period of change in tennis as women players became more aggressive in their stye of play, with their on-court clothing radically altered to reflect that they were “athletes”, rather than ladies attending a garden party. Akhurst, although conservative by nature, was at the centre of these changes and Daphne Akhurst: the woman behind the trophy describes her influence on the game in Australia. It also paints a picture of her character and the diversity of her background: she was not only a great tennis player, but a gifted pianist, with formal qualifications from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She also taught music and wrote columns in Sydney’s afternoon newspaper, The Sun. Daphne Akhurst deserves to be remembered for so much more than being a name on a trophy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Naughton is a sports historian and a senior Fellow in the Law Faculty at Monash University. His most recent academic title, The Shaping of Labour Law Legislation— Underlying Elements of Australia’s Workplace Relations System (Lexis Nexis Butterworths, 2017) was a comprehensive study of Australia’s labour law system. Writing Daphne Akhurst—The Woman Behind the Trophy is part of an ongoing project to present detailed accounts of aspects of Australian tennis history. Richard is the author of The Wizard—The Story of Norman Brookes, Australia’s First Wimbledon Champion, (2011) and Muscles—The Story of Ken Rosewall, Australia’s Little Master of the Courts, (2012) each published by the Slattery Media Group, and The Outcasts—The story of Art ‘Tappy’ Larsen and Dick Savitt (Self-published, 2016).