Graceful on the local courts

July 22, 2017

In the history books: Grace Edwards had a profound impact on croquet in the region, with the Shepparton Croquet Club pavilion named in her honour.

Congratulations: Grace Edwards (right) receives the trophy for winning the Goulburn Valley Croquet Association's Champion of Champions in 1968.

Another trophy: Grace Edwards (second from left) was a member of the Victorian side for 17 years, pictured here in 1968 when Victoria were crowned victorious.

Grace Edwards first picked up a croquet mallet when her husband Jack was away at war in 1944.

That marked the start of a distinguished career in the sport, with her contribution so valuable to the Goulburn Valley the pavilion at Shepparton Croquet Club was named in her honour.

With Edwards’ daughters Jocelyn and Jennifer toddlers during World War II, Jocelyn said the other members at the Shepparton Croquet Club made it easy for her mum to continue playing.

‘‘The courts were close and the ladies were supportive and made her feel welcome, even babysitting so she could play,’’ Jocelyn said.

Son Ken was born in 1946 to round out the family as her mum continued to show an affinity for the sport.

‘‘She progressed up the ranks quickly because of her ambition, determination, practice and supportive husband,’’ she said.

‘‘To maintain that standard for so long was admirable.’’

Her dedication saw the Shepparton courts become Edwards’ home-away-from-home for so long even the family animals knew where she was heading.

‘‘Dad (was) always having sheepdog crosses and Mum (was always) being amazed that they knew she was going to play croquet,’’ Jocelyn said.

‘‘(They would) be at the courts waiting when she arrived, she’d go to chain them up before she left but they had already departed.’’

At the local courts she would be crowned division one champion an extraordinary 21 times, with her first coming in 1952.

Four more would be won before the 1950s were out, but it was 1960s and 1970s which spelled a golden era for Edwards as she dominated the local contest.

In those two decades, Edwards was Shepparton’s club champion 14 times, but her experience extended further than just the local greens.

A 15-time Goulburn Valley Champion across all her years in the sport, Edwards had two stints as president of the GV Croquet Association, from 1970-72 and again in 1980-83.

In 1979, she was awarded an Order of Australia medal for her services to croquet not just in the Goulburn Valley, but also in Australia.

She was the Australian Croquet Singles Champion in 1973, claiming the illustrious title in Sydney, but by no means was this the only year Edwards peaked.

Her longevity in the sport is what is most notable as she won two gold medals at the Australian Croquet Championships 20 years apart.

The first was in 1959, when Robert Menzies was in charge of the country, winning again when Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister in 1979.

Edwards received the honour of being named Goulburn Valley Sportsperson of the Year midway through the two gold medals, the accolade coming in 1969.

Having captained Victoria in eight of her 17 appearances in the representative squad, she was also women’s champion of the state seven times, further adding to her trophy cabinet.

Her inaugural State Championship win in 1955 wrote her into the history books as the first winner of the title to be a product of the country, rather than the city.

Edwards was a tactical mastermind when it came to playing croquet, which Ken said was beneficial when he first picked up the sport.

‘‘She was very helpful in my early years. I was always impressed by how she could build a picture of the court and correct strategic errors in my stroke to stroke play when I recounted them to her on the telephone,’’ he said.

‘‘Players I have met who did play against her speak highly of her bat and ball skills and competitiveness.’’

In an administrative role, Edwards was a selector for the Australian side, travelling to England and New Zealand as part of her role.

Highly regarded by those at the Australian Croquet Council, she capped off an illustrious playing career with six years sitting in the top role as president.

Edwards was at the forefront of women’s sport in the Goulburn Valley, leaving a legacy which has lasted long after her death in 1998.

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