Aussie tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley has made the startling confession that she thought she would become a victim of Australia's stolen generation when she was a child.
Goolagong Cawley is one of Australia's most successful and widely celebrated tennis players, but the former World No.1 has now revealed how her career was almost over before it began.
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The 69-year-old is this week celebrating the 50th anniversary of her first grand slam title at the French Open, however her career and life could have gone very differently.
Figures state that between one in three and one in 10 Indigenous children in Australia were forcibly removed from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970.
Goolagong Cawley, who went on to win seven grand slam singles titles from 18 finals appearances, said she was frighteningly close to being one of those children.
The 69-year-old said the relief of avoiding being "stolen" offered her the freedom to play tennis without fear of failure.
"I just loved being there (on the court). It didn't matter where I was playing, really," she told Tennis Australia on Thursday.
"I just felt I was very lucky to be there in the first place.
"Lucky to be found in my home town, Barellan. Lucky not to be taken away by the stolen generation because I've had to hide a few times under the bed.
"We visited my cousin in Griffith, which is where I was born, in the mission there.
"Every time a shiny car would come down the road, my mum used to say 'you better run and hide, the welfare man's going to take you away'.
"So I remember hiding very nervously under the bed, 'cause I didn't want to get taken away.
"So I think that's why losing a match never really bothered me.
"I just felt I was very lucky to be there in the first place to enjoy this wonderful game and it was my own little world.
"I felt this is my world. No one can touch me here."
Evonne Goolagong Cawley's incredible tennis career
Goolagong Cawley won her first major on her French Open debut as a teenager in 1971, while also winning the doubles crown with Margaret Court.
She then backed that up to claim the Wimbledon crown just a month later, before reigning again at The All England Club as a mother in 1980.
"That was my first grand slam so obviously that was a really big thrill for me and I just felt fantastic," Goolagong Cawley said of her Roland Garros breakthrough.
She also won four Australian Open trophies, as well as six grand slam doubles titles and one mixed championship.
In 1971 she was named Australian of the Year and appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire a year later.
She was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1982 and then elevated to a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2018 "for eminent service to tennis as a player at the national and international level, as an ambassador, supporter and advocate for the health, education and wellbeing of young Indigenous people through participation in sport, and as a role model."
She was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 and the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1988.
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