In anticipation of Still kicking: a century of women in football we spoke to Belinda Ensor and Joel Checkley, the creators of The Lucas Girls: A match to remember, about the story behind their short film.

The Lucas Girls tells the stories of the historic first recorded women’s football game in Ballarat, 1918, and the very first AFLW game on the first Friday in February, 2017.

What inspired the concept and theme of The Lucas Girls?

Way back in 2014 we were working on a short film project for Culture Victoria on the First World War, specifically focused on the many Ballarat miners who enlisted.

As part of this project, we were undertaking research and stumbled upon this publication in the SLV collection. On page 15, there is this amazing image showing evidence of a women’s football match in 1918. We did a little more research and found an article written by academic and historian Dr Rob Hess, and then some articles via Trove printed in the Ballarat Courier at the time.

We decided that someone had to find out more and tell the story of the women who played.

Do you have any personal connection to the topic of women in sport?

We are both Melbourne born and bred but neither of us has ever been particularly into in AFL football or spectator sports. But we’re interested in the extraordinary stories of ordinary people, and we both love the opportunity film gives us, which is to set into other people’s worlds and soak up a different way of being.

In some ways our detachment from the topic has made this project perfect for us – Bel particularly had fairly firm ideas about a hyper masculine culture existing within football clubs and this project changed this notion quite a lot.

A large part of the production of this short film was research during your fellowship at the Library. Are there any moments or discoveries which really stand out for you?

For us, what really stood out as we tried to get the project rolling in 2015 was just how little documentation we could find.

We felt very positive when we started, that we would be able to find lots of primary documents like photographs and records, as well as family connections (not players from the match, but the children and grandchildren of players, etc.) We were also hoping we might find a uniform in the Gold Museum’s collection, or family albums or diaries.

Instead, we didn’t really find anything. There are Council minutes that noted the event at PROV in Ballarat, lots of newspaper articles from the time but not much else emerged.

What was the production process like? Did you face any particular hurdles?

We felt like the project was a bit of a disaster once we realised we couldn’t find much material, and that we’d promised to make a film that we couldn’t really deliver. We popped the project on hold and felt guilty about it.

But then the first match of the AFLW was played in 2017 and women’s football in Victoria just got this buzz that changed everything. Those early matches, the incredible stories of the players and all the barriers they had faced in playing; this warm, empowering and welcoming female culture of sport.

It wasn’t until 2018 when someone we’d met through Redan FC got in touch and said that the club was planning a centenary match to celebrate the Lucas Girls. And that was the turning point – we met Kirby and started documenting what they were doing and it just grew from there.

It was freezing on those production days, but the clubs and the players were so open and welcoming – they gave us full access and were really generous with their experiences and their stories.

Also, it was so humbling and empowering to see Kaitlyn Waldie and her teammates at Essendon VFL training (nothing like a room full of people at peak fitness to make you assess your own fitness goals). There was always such an inclusive, supportive, generous and warm energy surrounding these players – the enthusiasm is fairly contagious.

Do you have a favourite moment in the film?

I love the difference between the younger players and the senior players when they talk about their football journeys.

The senior players are all so positive, but if you dig a little deeper they have these stories of all the ways people told them no. They younger players don’t have this trail of barriers. There is still a long way to go, but there is a clear pathway for young women from AusKick through to AFLW.

I think my favourite part of this project is the strength and generosity of the senior players and their leadership and determination.

The premiere of The Lucas Girls ties in with International Women’s Day (8 March 2021). In your research, what did you learn about the plight of women from the first recorded women’s football game in 1918 to the first AFLW game in 2017?

There’s a wonderful amount of respect that today’s players have for the trailblazers of women’s AFL. This encompasses both the Lucas and Khaki Girls, but every football playing woman since 1918 who’s shown up, copped abuse, mistreatment, discrimination, harassment but has persevered.

AFLW didn’t just happen in 2017, it was the tireless work of generations of women and men who didn’t accept the status quo.

Where has your careers taken you since your fellowship with the Library in 2015?

Since 2015 things have changed quite a lot for us. Back then, we’d been working together for about three years, fitting film projects in where we could around other jobs.

We officially became Tiny Empire Collective in 2015 and our company has grown a lot. We don’t have other jobs anymore, and we have a lot more equipment, resources and wider networks. We regularly work with other cinematographers, photographers, directors and editors and love to collaborate.

We like to think that despite being a little less tiny these days, we are still true to our roots. We have continued to work with organisations that we love like Museums Victoria and AMAGA Victoria, and we both still get a huge kick out of stepping into other people’s worlds. We are forever humbled and honoured when people trust us to help them share their stories and we love all the time we get to spend in regional Victoria.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now?

We are working on a few projects at the moment, we’re currently in the process of collaborating with Indigenous artist Charmaine Clarke and Warrnambool Art Gallery on a series of short films that capture the essence of Charmaine’s poetry.

We’re also working with an arm of the Somalian UN on an animation and publication that document the Baidoa Relocation of internally displaced persons in Somalia.

In addition, we’ve spent lots of time recently filming at the shiny new Geelong Arts Centre, telling artist stories for the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre, exploring the public art in the City of Darebin and interviewing frontline workers in hospitals for the National Communications Museum.

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