Last Thursday, Takapuna lifted the Pearl Dawson Trophy, Auckland’s Premier Women’s T20 Championship. Trevor Auger delves into the life of Pearl Dawson in the next instalment of An Eye For the Past.
The return of Covid Alert Level Three put paid to the scheduled Final of the Premier Women’s T20 competition on 28 February, leaving the Pearl Dawson Trophy temporarily undecided. But who was Pearl Dawson, and why does her name grace this symbol of short-form cricket supremacy?
Quite simply, she was a pioneer of women’s sport in Auckland, almost from the days of her childhood late in the nineteenth century. Born in 1887, her interest in games was aroused early when she saw some schoolgirls playing hockey. She so prized her own first hockey stick that she took it to bed with her. When she attended Wellesley St Primary School she wrestled, boxed and played cricket with the boys.
Going on to Auckland Grammar School, where the girls attended separate classes at a location shared with the boys before Auckland Girls Grammar opened on its present site in 1909, Dawson harboured ambitions of being a doctor. Her father felt this was an unsatisfactory profession for a young woman and would not allow her to leave home to study, so instead she was apprenticed to a veterinary surgeon.
Studying part-time by correspondence, Pearl earned the diploma which qualified her as the first woman veterinary practitioner in Auckland. She took the role very seriously – after the 1931 Napier Earthquake, she packed up her car with veterinary supplies and drove to Hawkes Bay to provide care for the devastated city’s animals.
By this time, Dawson was deeply involved in women’s sport. Hockey was always her first love and she played for the Mt Eden Club, which enjoyed an enviable record in the senior women’s championship. She represented Auckland on a number of occasions and chaired the Auckland Ladies Hockey Association from 1921 until 1946.
Unhappy with their treatment by the male hockey fraternity, in 1928 the women outbid the men for the lease of their Remuera Hockey Ground and this now became the home of the women’s game. In the same year the Auckland Girls’ Cricket Association was formed (it became the Auckland Women’s Cricket Association in 1934), and the cricketers were also able to use the ground.
The Auckland Ladies Hockey Association was one of the founding clubs in the new Cricket Association, and Dawson quickly became involved in the summer sport as well, both as player and administrator. From 1932 until 1944 she chaired the Association executive and she served several terms as president through the same period. In 1949, she became one of the Association’s first Life Members.
On the field, Dawson’s skills did not always match her enthusiasm, but she was an adept slow bowler who took a hat-trick at the age of 47 playing for the Auckland Ladies Hockey Association Second XI, against Suburbs. That same 1934-35 season she was awarded a trophy for the best bowling average in the club competition.
Sadly, in the aftermath of the Great Depression in the 1930s the sportswomen of Auckland were not able to maintain the lease on their Remuera ground and it again fell under the control of the men. Undaunted, Dawson and two colleagues approached City Councillor Ellen Melville with a proposal that a park being developed in Mt Eden by relief workers become a women’s sports ground.
When the women’s suggestion came to fruition it was Dawson who successfully proposed naming the ground Melville Park in recognition of another pioneering Aucklander – in 1909 Ellen Melville had become the first woman to independently practise law in Auckland, and in 1913 she was the first woman elected to the Auckland City Council, serving for the next 33 years.
In 1934-35 the Pearl Dawson Trophy was born. Dawson, then President, presented a silver cup to the Auckland Women’s Cricket Association to be controlled within that body and initially to be contested amongst the affiliated sub-associations in the region (of which Thames and Pukekohe had already emerged).
By all accounts, Dawson could be a daunting character. Her short hair and often masculine attire gave her a somewhat stern bearing, emphasised by a blunt manner, a willingness to express her strong opinions and a habit of calling other women by their surname.
However, her love of cricket, and hockey, proved enduring, as did the respect and admiration in which she was held. She visited schools encouraging young girls to take up sports. She became president of the New Zealand Women’s Hockey Association and she was the first New Zealander appointed a vice-president of the International Federation of Hockey Associations. In 1969, she was awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to sport.
Later in life, she was always an honoured guest at Melville Park, and often enjoyed the privilege of bowling the ceremonial first ball of the cricket season. When the Auckland Women’s Cricket Association celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1978, Dawson was one of three veterans of the Association charged with cutting the Jubilee Cake.
Pearl Dawson passed away in May 1987, just weeks after her 100th birthday. A few months earlier she had told her biographer Sandra Coney, “I loved sport. I would have sold to Satan for sport.” The perfect epitaph, and it is only appropriate that we remember her legacy each summer as Auckland’s women cricketers do battle for the trophy which bears her name.