Sure they have been the subjects of documentaries, but there haven’t been dramatic recreations of their life stories and their extraordinary achievements.
While we do have a long history of Indigenous-themed films, from Jedda in 1955 to more recent productions like Samson and Delilah in 2009 and 2018’s brilliant Sweet Country, they are all pretty harrowing to watch. And given their subject matter, so they should be.
Not quite as heavy as 2012’s Sapphires, a movie which celebrates Aboriginality, while still being a compelling tale of young women overcoming significant obstacles and discrimination.
One of the film’s stars, Jessica Mauboy, recently told me she felt she had been “muzzled” for many years when it came to speaking about Indigenous Australians. As a fledgling pop star, she felt covert pressure from within the industry not to bring up potentially divisive topics.
No doubt Goolagong would understand that feeling better than most, especially growing up in an era when open discrimination was commonplace in this country.
But just like Mauboy, by simply being present – and visible – Goolagong has made enormous contributions when it comes to race relations in this country, subconsciously or otherwise.
Having ranked as a former world number one women’s player, winning 14 titles including seven singles (four at the Australian Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Roland Garros), Goolagong’s name is forever etched among this country’s sporting legends.
But her story is also about race and overcoming discrimination.
Nicknamed the “Sunshine Supergirl”, Goolagong grew up in Barellan, a country town in regional NSW where she often heard her mother’s fears that her children would one day be taken away.
“Whenever a car would come down the road, my mum would tell us to hide ‘or else the welfare man would take you away’,” she said during an interview with CNN in 2015.
Even after winning Wimbledon, Goolagong was still treated as a second class citizen in her homeland.
“Before I started travelling overseas and I was with a friend and in those days I loved music and I loved disco dancing, so she took me out but I wasn’t allowed in. That happened again in Brisbane and I was with two Aboriginal friends and this was just after I won Wimbledon. I said ‘don’t worry we’ll go somewhere else’. I think it hurt my friends more than me.”
Thankfully, those experiences were outweighed by the good in others when it came to launching her career.
Goolagong was first invited to play on a court when a neighbour, Bill Kurtzman, caught her peering through the fence of the local tennis club.
Following encouragement from locals, tennis coach Vic Edwards travelled up from Sydney to see the then 10-year-old play.
He persuaded her parents to let him bring her to Sydney where he enrolled her in school, coached her and, for a time, put a roof over her head.
She arrived in Sydney with her first tennis dress made by her mother from sheets and with equipment paid for by the people of Barellan.
Today Goolagong is helping young Indigenous people through a tennis foundation she has set up with her husband, the former British tennis player Roger Cawley.
“The reason why I’m doing this is because I wouldn’t be here unless I had the initial support of the townspeople of Barellan. That’s why I am doing what I am doing today, trying to help young Indigenous kids find their dream.”
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.