As this abridged oral history of the Falcons makes clear: Darebin is more than a sporting club, more than a place to play and watch sport. It’s more than its multiple premierships, booming participation numbers and elite pathways. Just how special Darebin has been and still is to so many in so many ways is what makes Darebin, Darebin. Throughout the Falcon’s 30 year history, the values at the core of the club have been consistent.
The Falcons are a resilient club. From the early struggles in the foundational years, to homelessness, losing players and sometimes getting soundly beaten on field. But each setback steeled the nerve of the club and brought them closer.
“The first year, it was a real hard slog for us,” Sal Rees said. But it wasn’t just the effort of establishing a club, it was the effort on-field as well.
“We were terrible,’ Fiona Macauley said. “We just got flogged every week. I think one week we got within five goals of the Ballarat team, and we actually took a photo of the scoreboard afterwards. We were so excited that we got within five goals of them.”
“It was a lot of work, but it was well worth the work, to be able to do what we wanted. To be able to hold events there whenever we wanted. To train whenever we wanted, to run it how we wanted. It was great.”
“It sets a standard. The club leads by example, in terms of that inclusivity and diversity and just being such an important part of the community,” Daisy Pearce said. “To see them do it so successfully, and then be able to run the club so successfully off field despite the challenges and the barriers that there have been along the way. It’s a testament to the determination and teamwork… of the people involved.”
For many, the Falcons provided a space where they could be themselves, fully and openly and proudly. This inclusive culture was a haven for so many women who were consistently being treated as second class citizens at men’s clubs.
“From fairly early days, it became family. It became my safe place where I could be myself,” Bec Hickmott says. “And most of my best friends are from the club. My partner is, I met her through [the] Darebin Falcons. It’s been a huge part of my life.”
These sentiments are shared by many others. “It didn’t matter who you were with or who you were, or what you identify as, whatever. It was a safe environment. It was inclusive…they call it a Falcon Family for a reason,” Lousie Potter said.
Jane Lange agrees, explaining that the club gave her an opportunity to be part of an environment where she could be herself. “At no point did I ever reign anything in or need to pretend that I kind of wasn’t everything that I am.”
From the beginning, the Falcons prioritised women. The development of the junior soccer program demonstrated how much girls needed and deserved that same focus. It’s a sentiment that has long run through the Falcons—by women and for women. Now it’s for girls too.
“It’s a chance for girls to take the centre stage,” Jasmine Hirst said of the junior soccer program. “There just isn’t that competition for resources… Everything that we do is planned around the girls. It’s not like it’s planned around the boys and then whatever is left over we can provide to the girls. They’re really the stars of the show.”
This inclusive culture that prioritises women and girls has long attracted a diverse and passionate community to the club. But what makes Darebin even more unique is the coexistence of different sporting codes, interests and personalities at the club. These differences can cause friction. However the fundamental club vision is shared by all.
Daisy Pearce arrived at the Falcons as a teenager, and spent many years with the club. She says it was “honestly, one of the biggest, most constant things in my life. My parents separated, we were always moving houses… life was always fairly turbulent… so to have that place and all those family sort of figures in my life for such a long period of time, like it really did shape me. And I think one of the things I was really grateful for is just how diverse and inclusive it was. Because to have that from the age of sixteen to now, like I still say it influences me. But I think it’s been a great influence in my life. You see so many different people from different walks of life come and go and all be part of the same team and trying to work together. You can’t buy that experience, I’m so glad that I’ve had it.”
In many ways, it is these differences that make the Falcons stronger.
“You can be really different about a lot of things and not everyone is your person,” Claire Flynn said. “But there’s something about your willingness to be in a team that makes them your person.”
Much of the success of the Falcons has been forged by doing things their own way. Rather than conforming to traditional systems that had supported men in male sporting clubs, the Falcons chose new models with women and girls front and centre. The question at the Falcons is more often than not, why not? It’s a culture of openness and creative thinking that has worked to change the system, not the women the system serves.
“It really is part of our success, actually, Jasmine Hirst said. “Because we know we’re different we’re not afraid to do things differently. And I think we don’t look at something and say, ‘oh, well, that’s the way it’s always been done everywhere’. We look at something [and say] ‘so, how could we do that better? What would we do differently?’… We would not assume that the way that things are always done is the way you have to do.”
“For me, Falcons [were] the first place I really saw a genuine whole of club, women’s club, with women in all the decision making roles,” Patty Kinnerlsey said. “When I look back… to see a feminist version of governance, where people, women were all in all the key roles and equally respected for those roles, whether it was the runner or the amazing women who cooked amazing things in the canteen, or the social club or the finances, I [could] see some women who were doing amazing things and just working so hard to create this space…. [The] Falcons aren’t holding this space until the men come along and fix things. It’s its own model. A wonderful women’s only, feminist model that’s welcoming for all, not exclusive and not extreme and not divisive. But it demonstrates that that model, that is a women’s only model, that works.”
The story of the Falcons is much like the story of feminism itself—gains that are fought for become the accepted norm for the new generation. Through grit, determination and resilience, the women of the Darebin Falcons have carved out a place for themselves in traditionally male dominated sports. They’ve built a safe and inclusive environment for women and girls and have drawn a blueprint for how others might do the same thing too. In these ways, and in many others, Darebin’s role in creating an environment for the AFLW to be established and thrive cannot be understated.
“They’re the groundbreaking women’s football club in Victoria,” Colleen Vale, founding member and former Falcons coach and VWFL president, said. “They’ve just gone from strength to strength, and they really show the importance of sport to women…. I think they’ve been great leaders for women in sport, just fantastic.”
“The values and the spirit of the club are no different now to what they were in 1990. That has been a constant no matter who the president or the committee are, that has remained a constant the whole way through. And I think that’s why the club’s been so successful and, and is where it’s at now,” Sal Rees, founding member and past president, said. “And it’s pretty amazing that you’ve got, for 30 years you’ve got the same mission and values and you’ve got the same people and they don’t even realise that they’re pushing what we were pushing way back.
“I think that the opportunities that the club [has] given women over the 30 year period is quite amazing. Quite amazing, because we’ve had amazing players who’ve gone on and done bigger and better things. We’ve had coaches who have done the same, administrators. I just think that just the amount of women that the club’s actually played a positive role in their lives, it’s amazing.”
This history is a tribute to the brave and determined women who dedicated themselves to the Falcons over the past thirty years. It’s also a reminder of how far the Falcons have come. More than that, this history illustrates that change is possible, that the old ways are not always the best ways and that there is value in difference. Now it’s over to a new generation of women to grab the opportunities in front of them.