March 26, 2021
WILDCATS WINNING WOMEN
Photography and story by Neville Newman
Introduction by Melanie Meggs
When the first whistle blew on the field to mark the start of the Hamilton Wildcats Australian Rules Football match, little did anyone know that it would be the start of an incredible journey for Neville Newman. For over several years, Neville has been the official photographer of the Wildcats, capturing moments of joy and celebration from the passionate female football team in Ontario, Canada. From the highs of wins and the lows of losses, he has been there with his camera, documenting every single moment.
Neville's role as photographer has been an essential part of the Wildcats' family. In winter, Neville spends his time in the darkroom, shooting and developing black and white film, while in warmer months, he concentrates on shooting 'footy'. His work brings out the character of each player and the unique spirit of the Wildcats.
Neville has an impressive story to tell about his journey with the Wildcats and we are lucky enough to have him here with us today to share it. So, let's join him on his incredible journey and get to know more about the Hamilton Wildcats Australian Rules Football club in Ontario, Canada.
While Canada and ice hockey are synonymous, thanks to the efforts of Australian expats and their Canadian converts, ‘Footy’ (Australian Rules Football) has established an enthusiastic following with a thriving league in Ontario, teams all across the country and internationally represented from both men and women. I began shooting the Hamilton Wildcats as the club’s official photographer in 2016. Whilst the men’s team has been in existence for thirty years, the ladies only formed a team for the first time in 2012. For that and the following four years they would win a Grand Final berth, but be denied the flag.
In 2017, things altered dramatically. With two influential players overseas in Australia and other team changes, the ladies were the recipients of the 'wooden spoon' (an award that is given to an individual or team that has come last in a competition). The ignominy was short-lived, however, and the Wildcats came back strong the following season, laying a foundation that would propel them to team history in 2019 when they took home the flag.
In 2016, as I began photographing the team, there was no way of knowing that the following year would be a washout, a year that in retrospect only served to instill new determination in the team that would pay off with the 2019 flag. But all that was in the future. The team would make the Grand Final in 2016, but would not take the ultimate prize.
2018 just felt different. The ladies put the disappointment of the previous year firmly in the rubbish, and the team oozed confidence. There was a sense that they were in a rebuilding mode at so many levels. Every win is a celebration, but the renewed energy was shining through as the victories started to follow each other.
Determination was the watchword throughout the buildup that began in 2018. It was a matter of contesting, no matter the odds. It was a psychological battle too. Every game was a reminder of defeats they had suffered the previous year.
Although the ladies’ season ended with a semi-final loss that year, the disappointment would act as a spur in 2019 when they took home the first flag in the club’s history.
Teamwork, having your mate’s back, is what successful footy is all about. It is also about taking advantage of the slenderest opportunities when they become available and making space where none previously existed.
The club is a welcoming mob for new players. In 2018, Kendal Wales joined the crew having become smitten with footy when she left Canada to attend university in Australia. She brought her enthusiasm and effervescence to the side as it rebuilt and quickly became a stalwart. In 2019, her perseverance paid off as she was one of the team that lifted the flag.
The social side of the club is as much fun as the footy. Awards nights, jumper presentations and alumni evenings are always a bunch of laughs. I like to catch some candid moments and the combination of good spirits and good tucker gives me some excellent opportunities. The Wildcats' ladies team might only have a nine year history, but the club has made its influence felt in Australia too.
Acknowledgements: Lia Vansevenant; Victoria Baran; Kelli Gruhl; Hailey Jones; Michelle Grynberg; Selina Amaral; Lise Kiefer; Gabriela Arias; Emily Spicer; Jenn Minchin; Kendal Wales; Jacqueline Josephine; Kendra Heil; Ainslie Pope; Andrea James; Kylie Marie.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and are not necessarily shared by The Pictorial List and the team.