Pictures of Thelma Coyne Long
Thelma Coyne Long, video
Video concept, production & editing: Megan CardamoneContributors
This video must not be reproduced without permission of Tennis Australia.Copyright
Compiled from video excerpts used with permission of Edie Swift, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and the National Library of Australia and still images from Tennis Australia Heritage Collection.
In this video, Thelma gives her personal perspective on the Australian women's tennis team's 1938 tour to Europe.
She describes aspects such as ship travel, her team-mates, and attitudes to women athletes and women in general at the time.
My name is Thelma Dorothy Coyne Long. That's my full name. And I was born on the 14th of October 1918. Well I began to play tennis at the age of twelve. Fortunately I seemed to be good enough that even when I was playing in the Juniors I was also good enough to play in the senior events. So that's how I became playing…at 16 and 17 years of age I was playing in the senior events. At the same…about the same time another…my doubles partner really nearly all through my career Nancye Wynne as she was then, Nancye Wynne Bolton, was also a very good player and a very good junior in Victoria
It was talked about since oh ’35, ’36 that a women’s team would go overseas because a womens team hadn’t been sent, that is by an Australian tennis body. Since the early 20s. I think it was about 1924 or ‘25. But nothing had happened since then, and there was some talk that a womens team should be sent mainly because Nancye and myself were showing promise. The Australian Association decided to send a team overseas. So they sent four ladies. It was Nancye Bolton and myself, and Dorothy Stevenson and Mrs. Harry Hopman, Nell Hopman who was Harry Hopman’s wife and Harry of course was the manager of the Australian Davis Cup team at that time.
We were all very excited when we left in 1938 by ship for England. In those times, even right up until the 1950s we travelled by ship because uh there was no travel in ’38 very much over long distances. The men went overseas and played Davis Cup and they were trained. But we just had to rely on playing ourselves and doing what we could to do some training. But on the ship we used to get up each morning and do exercises or run round the decks or find perhaps a wall or something of the sort that we could bang the ball up against anyway. And then of course on the way to England we would make a stop at er our own ports such as Perth or Fremantle in Western Australia and then again at Columbo and at least get off and have a game and a hit then. But by and large we just had to more or less manage by ourselves. It was a six weeks trip to England so it was not easy to keep your form up. By the time we arrived at England well we certainly needed two or three tournaments more or less to get going again. And those we played in England … the British Hardcourt Championships in Bournemouth, they were our early tournaments. Playing at Wimbledon the first time of course for all of us was a real experience because when you take up tennis you hopefully think well you might eventually get to Wimbledon and play there.
Well I thought the team generally was very successful considering it was the first time we’d even played overseas….the first time that we’d played at Wimbledon and all. I mean I don’t think you can ever go to Wimbledon and the first time be expected to win it! We lost only to the winners of the ladies doubles in Wimbledon and that was Alice Marble and Sarah Fabyan. We lost to them in the quarter finals and they were the winners of the tournament so..I think I lost to Hilde Spurling in the singles, but I’d got through three rounds of Wimbledon to reach her and she lost, uh, two long advantage sets to Helen Moody who won the 1938 women’s singles. She was an excellent tennis player, Hilde Spurling, and a cross-country runner and I felt as though I was running cross country when I played her, I tell you. Every ball came back!
And all told I think the whole trip we lost 4,000 pounds and we never heard the end of it, you know in the papers, they’d say, thinking about women’s tours and this you know, ‘so much was lost’..they never ever said how much was lost on the Davis Cup trips (laughs). So women didn't get a look in. This was more or less the same in the general community. Men came first and women came afterwards, sort of thing. We were really something like second class citizens, you know. You got some sort of a job and then you got married and you had children and you looked after the children and the kitchen sink, that was it (laughs). Women weren’t supposed to, I don't think, excel at sport. I mean if they did it was you know very, very notable.
We were supposed to make a trip, that is with a mixed team to South Africa in 1939. And of course, you know what happened in 1939? A war was declared. In my case when I went overseas in 1938 I was 19. Well, then war came so what I missed out in going overseas was virtually a whole decade. During wartime I didn’t touch a racquet at all. Playing those tournaments I met an awful lot of people who are..many of whom are..still my friends and it was a great exhilarating experience. Tennis as a sport has been a tremendous satisfaction and has meant a lot to me and has meant a lot to my life.