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Margaret Isabel (Marg) Pewtress (1932–1995)

by Judith Smart

This article was published:

Margaret Isabel Ann Pewtress (1932–1995), women’s sport leader and netball administrator, was born on 21 November 1932 in Melbourne, elder daughter of Tasmanian-born Robert William Stanley Tubb, shearer, and his Victorian-born wife Margaret Pearl, née Green. Marg grew up in Albert Park and South Melbourne and was educated at Middle Park Central and Albert Park Primary schools. Encouraged by her mother, she continued her studies at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School (MGHS) and completed the trained primary teachers’ certificate at Melbourne Teachers’ College (1951). She joined the State teaching service and taught in several schools before being appointed (1953) to the physical education staff and then returning for a period to MGHS. On 28 December 1953 at the Presbyterian Church, South Melbourne, she married William Alex Pewtress, a plumber who later taught in technical schools.

A talented player of women’s basketball (renamed netball in 1970), Margaret Pewtress was a member of the Victorian team and was awarded (1954) the coveted national All Australia umpire’s badge. During the 1960s, she coached the State (1960–62, 1964–66) and national (1967) teams with an innovative emphasis on circuit training and physical fitness. She also co-founded and coached the successful Palladians club, named for the MGHS alumni association. As a national selector (1967, 1979–88), she was noted for encouraging the inclusion of young players in the team. In 1967, having helped to amalgamate the three associations into which the Victorian game had been divided, she was elected president of the reconstituted Victorian Women’s Basket Ball Association. During the following two years she inaugurated the Victorian schoolgirls’ championship and successfully campaigned for an indoor State netball stadium at Royal Park. In 1973 she was awarded life membership of the Victorian Netball Association. That year she began studying arts part time at Monash University (BA, 1985).

Noted for her problem-solving skills, sense of humour, and down-to-earth manner, Pewtress proved to be a talented administrator. She was appointed to the Victorian Sports Council in 1982 and then recruited to join the new Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in 1984. As one of only five women out of twenty-one members selected, she relished the challenges offered. She served on the commission’s children in sport committee in 1985 and chaired the women’s sport promotion unit formed in 1987. The unit’s National Policy and Plan for Women in Sport was published that year, and she lobbied the press for greater coverage of women’s sporting achievements to encourage commercial sponsorship and to increase participation. She was appointed OAM in 1989 and that year retired from teaching.

Pewtress had been elected president of the All Australia Netball Association (later Netball Australia) in 1988. She restructured the organisation, developing its first strategic plan. In 1990 she was appointed chair of the World Netball Championships Company. The AANA staged the championships in Sydney in 1991. Considered to be ‘the most successful event that Australian netball has been involved in’ (Dix 1995, 14), the national team won the final by one goal. During the same year she negotiated with Mobil Oil Australia Ltd to sponsor a super league pre-season competition and a national coaching program. The breakthrough into live telecasts of games followed soon after. At the same time, she warned against expanding too quickly at the expense of grassroots and interstate competitions. She argued too for the preservation of the game’s amateur status, while encouraging leading players to secure personal sponsorship. She also supported a national players’ committee initiative for a regular trans-Tasman competition. In answer to those who claimed the sport had ‘awakened,’ she replied ‘I sometimes smile and think “it took you a long time to find us”’ (Active 1995, 4). She was presented with the AANA’s service award in 1994.

As part of the campaign for Olympic recognition, Pewtress aimed to extend netball beyond Commonwealth countries. She had led a tour of players and coaches to China in 1990 and to Japan in 1992. While visiting South Africa on behalf of the ASC’s sport program for children in mid-1993, she attended an interim meeting to discuss the amalgamation of that country’s four racially based netball associations. Although she acknowledged that further measures were needed to ensure racial integration was effective after the merger was finalised, she supported South Africa’s readmission to the International Federation of Netball Associations in 1994. It was South Africa that the Australian team defeated in the final of the World Netball Championships in Birmingham the following year. Too ill to travel, she watched the game from her hospital bed in East Melbourne. The Australian captain declared in an interview after the game, ‘This one’s for you, Marg’ (Dix 1995, 14). Pewtress died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma eight days later on 6 August 1995 and was cremated. Her husband and their daughter and two sons survived her.

Contemporaries judged her to have been ‘a role model for sports administrators throughout Australia and the world’ (Dix 1995, 14). The ASC created the Margaret Pewtress Individual Contribution to Sport award in 1995 and Netball Australia named the Margaret Pewtress Team of the Year for her in 2002. She was inducted into the halls of fame of Netball Victoria in 2001 and Netball Australia in 2010.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Active. ‘A Lasting Legacy.’ 3 (October 1995): 4
  • Dix, Noeleen. ‘Netball Doyen’s Goal Was Excellence.’ Australian, 23 August 1995, 14
  • Netball Victoria. Personal communication
  • Pearce, Linda. ‘Netball Legend a Mentor to Many Sportswomen.’ Age (Melbourne), 13 August 1995, 10
  • Pewtress, Bill. Personal communication
  • Pewtress, Margaret. ‘The Wisdom of Keeping Options Open.’ In Living Generously: Women Mentoring Women, edited by Jocelynne A. Scutt, 305–16. Melbourne: Artemis, 1996
  • University of Melbourne Archives. 2014.0089, Melbourne Teachers’ College—Student Course Record Cards and Registers
  • Victorian Netball. ‘Margaret Pewtress OAM President All Australian Netball Association.’ October 1995, 3–4

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Citation details

Judith Smart, 'Pewtress, Margaret Isabel (Marg) (1932–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2019, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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