In 1871 Dr James Naismith, a Canadian immigrant YMCA instructor in the USA, invented the game of basketball. Another American, Dr Toles, who was visiting England in 1890, introduced basketball to that country, and although Englishmen preferred traditional sports, it was popular with the ladies.
In England in 1895, ladies using broomsticks for posts and wet paper bags for baskets played the basketball game on grass. Their long skirts, bustle backs, nipped waists and button up shoes impeded running and their leg-of-mutton sleeves restricted arm movement making dribbling and long passes difficult. The ladies decided to adapt the game to accommodate these restrictions.
An early netball game © Netball Australia
In 1898 the court was divided into thirds, the number of players increased from five to nine and a smaller ball (a soccer ball) was used. There were two umpires, two scorers and two timekeepers – almost as many officials as players for each match.
In those early days the nets were not open at both ends and after each goal was scored, the umpire had the task of retrieving the ball from the top of the post.
In England in 1901 the first set of rules was published and ‘netball’ officially came into existence in that country. At the turn of the century school teachers from England travelled to many countries of the then British Empire, and the game of netball or “ladies basketball” (if prior to 1901) went with them.
Once established, the game developed locally and soon each country had its own separate rules and distinct methods of play, even its own name for the game. In Australia and New Zealand where the game was established before 1901, it was called Women’s Basketball and the name was changed to Netball in these two countries in 1970.
The All Australia Women’s Basketball Association was formed in August 1927, and the first official National Championships was held in Melbourne in 1928, although a number of interstate matches had taken place earlier.
Australia’s first International match was played in 1938 against New Zealand during the National Championships in Melbourne, with Australia defeating New Zealand 40-11.
In 1939, an Australian team was selected to tour New Zealand, but with the outbreak of war the tour was abandoned and it was not until 1948 that a tour took place. Australia by this time was playing a seven-a-side game but New Zealand (until 1956) played nine-a-side, although the seven-a-side game was played on this tour.
A landmark in the history of Netball was when Australia travelled by ship to be the first overseas team to visit England. It was a Women’s Basketball team going to the birthplace of netball, and having to adapt to different rules, but the Australian team won 54 of 57 games, including the Test against England (14-11) at Wembley Stadium before a crowd of more than 5,000.
Following this successful tour, a conference was held in London in 1957 to agree on an International Code of Rules to be trialled in each country over the next three years. Countries represented at this conference were England, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, South Africa, USA, Wales and Australia. In 1960, the International Federation of Women’s Basketball and Netball Associations became a reality at a conference in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) attended by representatives from England, Ceylon, South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand and Australia.
In 1963, the first World Tournament with 11 teams competing, was held in England and Australia were undefeated. World Championships are staged every four years and Australia has been titleholders on eight occasions.