Dynamic duo shape south-west netball

South-west netball stalwarts Val Bertrand (left) and Pam Davis standing in the stadium named in Bertrand’s honour.
South-west netball stalwarts Val Bertrand (left) and Pam Davis standing in the stadium named in Bertrand’s honour.

A wall doubled as a boundary line. There was a stage at one end and players almost stood on spectators when they threw the ball in at one side. 

It was at Temperance Hall — a narrow venue now home of regular Warrnambool bingo nights — where Val Bertrand’s netball journey began more than half a century ago.

She remembers telling her first white lie at the Koroit Street venue.

Desperate to play netball and too young to grace the Temperance Hall court she fibbed about her age.

“I was so nervous when the lady said ‘how old are you?’ and I said ‘ohh 12’ and I was like 11 and three quarters,” Bertrand said.

Bertrand, now 66, has a stadium named in her honour — the Caramut Road complex that she and her Warrnambool City Netball Association team brought to fruition in 1989.

But she has vivid memories of her early playing days at Temperance Hall and Warrnambool Showgrounds, which sheltered city netball before it moved to its new home 25 years ago.

Bertrand — a goal shooter who stopped playing regularly at 22 to focus on her board duties — said playing conditions at Temperance Hall would not pass today’s stringent safety standards.

“The ballroom dancing used it on a Saturday night and when we had to play on it Monday, it was like a bloody skating board,” she said. 

“The only thing that could take away the rosin was soap powder so we used to put Fab or something on it.

“We’d sprinkle this stuff on it and then you wouldn’t slip as much but it would cover the ball and you’d be covered.

“For finals, you’d just get crowds of people there, well as many as you could fit in. They’d be out the doors.”

Bertrand, who was proud yet embarrassed when the Caramut Road centre was named after her, said the move had helped fast-track netball’s progression in the south-west.

“When this place first started we had the Trans-Tasman series so we had all the states come here and we also had Canada come when the world cup was here,” she said.

“Michelle Fielke, the Australian netball captain, was envious.

“She was a special guest when this was opened. They were so envious of what we had here because no one else in Australia had what we had.

“That was back in ’89. Now we can see it on tele — netball has evolved into a major, major sport.

“When Canada came here they were still putting their own lines out and that was in 1990, so you can see how far it has evolved worldwide since those days when a country had to do that to practice.”

Bertrand met Pam Davis in 1995 when the Melbourne-raised coach moved to the south-west after a six-year stint in Ballarat.

The pair were both long-running Warrnambool City Netball Association presidents.

Bertrand took on the role in 1970 when it fell under a different umbrella and stepped aside in 1993.

Davis’ 17-year tenure started in 1996 and she’s notched coaching honours at Hampden league clubs South Warrnambool and Terang Mortlake along the way.

They’ve watched netball develop at a rapid pace, from the development of the Hampden and Warrnambool and District competitions, to style changes and advancement in athletic ability.

Bertrand — a rower who is celebrating her 54th year of involvement locally — said the development of Netta and midweek competitions, formerly known as married ladies, had far-reaching benefits.

They ensure people of all ages and abilities can enjoy a sport with origins in the south-west dating back to the early 1930s.

“When day time (netball) first started my sister Thelma used to co-ordinate that and she’d be nursing a child on her arm and umpiring and corralling another child as she was going because we just didn’t have the facilities for crèche up there (at the showgrounds),” she said.

Davis, 58, played midweek netball until she was 54.

She has the long-term effects of three broken fingers to remind her of her playing days as a goal defender. “Judy Stewart only retired a few years ago at 60,” Davis said.

“It was very social but once you got out on that court you were quite competitive and there was some really good players playing in that.

“Jackie Smedts, I remember played in a team with myself and there was Louise Jacobs, Lisa Arundell, who is coaching Old Collegians.

“It wasn’t just the old people, it was for people who had children and who wanted to do something.

“So again you had variety, from 22 or 23 to us silly people at 55.”

The game’s rules have altered over the years, as is the case with most sports.

Davis remembers her younger years in Melbourne — she played for a well-known club called Palladiums — and the major advantage shooters had.

Nowadays goalers use their height to full effect and shoot from above their heads.

“There was very little contesting. When I first started you couldn’t actually defend a shot — goalers had a piece of cake really,” Davis joked.

“It was a lot slower. Umpires are taught now if it interferes — did that interfere with me getting the pass off? No, well then we’ll play advantage.

“Players understand the rules better than probably we did in a lot of ways and I am just amazed at the sheer physicality.

“Watching it it’ll just keep evolving.”

Davis has had an impact in the south-west from the elite level to children learning the game.

But it is the growth of an all-abilities program, which involves teams from Warrnambool, Hamilton, Mount Gambier, Camperdown and Colac, that fills her with the most pride.

“When I came down here there was an all-abilities section but we built on that,” Davis said.

“We started off with 10 or 12 and was able to hand it over to the wonderful Jodie Carey who’s done a magnificent job.

“They now have five teams and they compete everywhere so to me that was as good as teaching Netta or teaching the elite.

“It was something I loved, absolutely loved.”

Netball is in Davis’ blood.

But she is contemplating stepping away from coaching for good -— “next year might be the end for me”.

The mother of four knows it won’t signal the end of her family’s involvement.

“I am just seeing this funny vision because I am hearing (my daughter) Rhiannon saying ‘I’ve done my umpires course and I’ve done my coaching course’ and I start thinking ‘uh oh, here it goes again’,” Davis joked.

Davis knows south-west netball is in capable hands. 

Sitting next to Bertrand, Davis looks up at a row of photos at the Caramut Road stadium.

She sees Jacqui Bowman, Leah Kermeen, Stacey O’Sullivan and Leah Sinnott. 

“Out of some of those teams are the best coaches we’ve got now,” she said.

“They were all kids that represented here and then played.

“To see them all putting something back in is just wonderful.”


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