Netball farewells much-loved character Gweneth Benzie

Gwen with Nat Medhurst

Netball has lost one of the sport’s most-loved characters following the passing of Hall of Fame member Gweneth Benzie.

The manager of the Australian team that won the first ever World Netball Championships played in England in 1963, Benzie passed away in her hometown of Adelaide last Friday at the age of 99.

Her netball involvement spanned almost six decades as a player, umpire and administrator.

Gweneth Benzie, left, poses with current Australian Diamond Natalie Medhurst after last year’s Constellation Cup Test match in Adelaide. 

In 1938, at only 24, she was awarded the All-Australia Umpire’s badge and in 1983 the International Federation of Netball Associations (INFA) Service Award.  She was made a life member of Netball SA in 1945, was awarded the AANA Service award in 1965 and in 1978 was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to netball.

During World War II Benzie was responsible for arranging and implementing competitive matches for members of the Women’s Forces.

While proud of all of her achievements in both Australia and abroad, Benzie’s son, John, said that his mother never gloated about her achievements as everything she did was for the love of netball.

“Everything she did was to benefit women who were involved in netball,” Mr Benzie said.

“I remember her receiving the AM award at Government House in South Australia and basically saying afterwards that it was fantastic and that she was really honoured, but that she was accepting [the award] on behalf of all women who play netball.”

Benzie always showed great passion for everything netball and once found herself negotiating with the Federal Government to ensure a South African tour of Australia went ahead.

The tour was very successful and even saw the South African team billeted across Adelaide’s northern districts and put on well-received exhibition matches for the community.

This was one of the many reasons why she was inducted into Netball Australia’s Hall of Fame in 2009, which she said was one of the many highlights of her life and the night is remembered by everyone who attended for her wonderful acceptance speech.

“The privileges, honour and opportunities I have received are food for my ego, but the trust placed in me, the friendship … are food for my soul. I have indeed been blessed,” Benzie said on being presented with her Hall of Fame honour.

Netball Australia president Noeleen Dix said Benzie had made an outstanding contribution to netball and would leave a lasting legacy.

“She’s been a wonderful ambassador for our sport and very well-loved.  She had a bubbly personality and a twinkle in her eye; everyone enjoyed her company,” Dix said.

“Her inclusion in our Hall of Fame in 2009 was a richly deserved honour and one that she was incredibly proud of.  She wowed the crowd with her speech and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place afterwards. She leaves in indelible legacy on netball, not just in Australia but internationally as well.

“She will be dearly missed and on behalf of Netball Australia I’d like to express our condolences to her family.”

Netball SA President Graeme Gilbert said Benzie was an inspirational woman who very successfully helped raise the profile of netball in South Australia.

Gilbert says her contribution to netball will always live on, especially within the prestigious ‘Gweneth Benzie Award’ presented to the athlete who could potentially become an Australian Diamond.

“On behalf of all netball followers, the Board and all of our members we send our condolences to Gwen’s family,” he said.

“She was a wonderful woman filled with … vitality (and made) a valuable contribution to netball.”