A public outcry at the prospect of two scantily clad and unchaperoned female swimmers competing in the 1912 Olympics did not stop Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie from heading to Stockholm, where Fanny became the first Australian woman ever to win gold in an Olympic swimming event. And while a global pandemic might have forced the cancellation, twice, of Melbourne Writers’ Theatre’s plans to celebrate the stories of Fanny, Mina, and their trailblazing counterparts in 2020, it did not dampen their enthusiasm. The Best, The Fairest, The First, a co-production between MWT and Gasworks Arts Park, will now be presented on March 3 – 6 for International Women’s Day.

Through a series of original short plays that explore the lives of these largely unsung heroines, The Best, The Fairest, The First spans more than 100 years of Australian sporting history. On this journey, which begins in 1912 with Fanny and Mina and ends with the story of marathon runner Sinead Diver, her own Olympics ambitions thrown into chaos, we are entertained by unstoppable 60+ fitness advocate Monica Wong, along with a rising callisthenics star whose autism won’t stop her from reaching for the stars. And then there’s the ‘mystery guest’ – the top Australian athlete who is the inspiration for The Best, The Fairest, The First and, her dreams of winning Tokyo gold in 2020 put on hold, now has her sights set on Tokyo 2021. But it is perhaps the story of legendary cricketer Betty Wilson – who in 1958 became the first cricketer of any gender to both score a century in a test match and take 10 wickets, right here at the Junction Oval – that captures the essence of what it means to succeed against the odds. Born in Collingwood, Betty rose to fame as the ‘Lady Don’ and is regarded as the greatest female cricketer of all time, yet is relatively unknown.

We need to know more about all of these remarkable women. Historically rich and uplifting to watch, The Best, The Fairest, The First promises to be a feel-good show of the highest order. It’s a great way to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021 – and, for Victorians recovering from 2020, a reminder that even the longest battles can be won.

March 3 – 6


Image: Elizabeth Walley