Sabrina’s the most easygoing, ruthless fighter you’re likely to meet. Warm without a touch of arrogance, but when she steps over that white line she transforms into a superhero, a fierce competitor with a will to dominate. She wears these contradictions with absolute ease.
Taking to the field as a marquee player for the Brisbane Lions she will be unmissable: her height, her strength, and her trademark long braids that whip and whirl as she powers across the green. Sabrina Frederick is one of the new breed of heroes who will be born out of the NAB AFL Women’s Competition.
It’s a typical Australian family scene with Sabrina’s family in Mandurah, an hour outside Perth. Their home nestled on a bush block amongst Australian scrub, BBQ sizzling on the patio, all the family come together for the Christmas break; her brother, sister, mum, dad, grandparents as well as the extended members, six rescue cats, a dog, chickens and geese. It’s a strictly vegan household her Grandfather explains, while flipping chickpea patties which he names as Sabrina’s favourites. The Fredrick’s are immigrants from England, her Australian Mother, siblings and step-father moved to WA when Sabrina was just seven. She inherited her striking Caribbean looks from her Father, who still lives in the UK.
Sabrina was three and befriended a group of boys around 8 or 10 by telling them she was 5 and she could swim. “She couldn’t swim and wasn’t five. That’s Sabrina all over really, she makes up her mind and does it regardless if she can do it or not.
They’ve invited me to dinner as part of filming Sabrina’s documentary. There’s no need to ask them to act natural; there’s an easy warmth amongst them as they reminisce about Sabrina’s formidable talent and her early aptitude for tackling. Her grandfather teases that he wouldn’t like to run into her a dark alley. They’ve been part of her success at every step: her parents providing transport to games all over the state, siblings cheering from the sidelines, and her grandfather taking hundreds of team photos every year. Her mother is matter-of-fact proud. Sabrina’s physical ability has always been a given, apparent since birth: “she stood up at 7 months, walked at 9 months, climbed and ran at 11 months,” Jane explains. She remembers a family holiday when three year old Sabrina befriended a group of boys around 8 or 10 by telling them she was five and could swim. “She couldn’t swim and wasn’t five. That’s Sabrina all over really. She makes up her mind and does it regardless if she can do it or not.”
There’s a trophy cabinet in her bedroom, shelves packed with awards, ribbons and memorabilia. In her first team photo, with the Pinjarra Tigers, she’s the only girl— like almost all the AFLW leaguers, Sabrina grew up playing footy with the boys. She didn’t have many female friends and coming from the semi-rural town in WA many of her male friends were indigenous. She remembers arriving as an immigrant, an outsider, finding herself connecting to Australian culture while learning about dot painting with the aboriginal kids. Digging deeper into the cabinet, she finds a self-portrait drawn when she was nine. She’s emotional as she remembers an art teacher asked the class to draw themselves how they’d like to be in ten years. She drew herself in an AFL guernsey. With the launch of the AFLW season just a month away, the significance of this dream-come-true hits her. How grateful she is to the people working behind the scenes who fought for the pathway.
- Sabrina and her siblings, Mathew and Emilia, in a family portrait
- Sabrina in Thunderbirds Guernsey, age 12
- Emilia and Sabrina in Sabrina’s bedroom, Mandurah WA
- Sabrina at Pinjarra Tigers football grounds, her first AFL club
Leigh Elder, Football Development Manager for AFL Tasmania, is one of these people. Elder was a major figure in female football in WA at the time: “I owe a lot of my footy to him,” Sabrina says, “a guy who is passionate about women’s footy and threw every opportunity at me.” He first met Sabrina as part of the Female Talent Academy in WA. She was getting quite of bit of attention; at only 11 years old, her athletic ability was already remarkable. On her first fitness beep test she scored an 11.4, a result that made him roll his eyes and think “you’re kidding me. I struggle getting senior players to do that.”
Legally Sabrina had to quit playing with the boys before she hit fourteen — a rule born to protect girls from changing physical capacities during puberty that historically lead to scores of aspiring girl footy player exiting the code. Fortunately, Sabrina found a women’s team, the Thunderbirds. She was by far the youngest at 13 years old, playing alongside women in their twenties and thirties. Elder fondly remembers the team as a force to be reckoned with; they wore pink uniforms and dubbed themselves “the glamour girls” but they were tough, known for tackling and constantly putting pressure on the opposition. Sabrina remembers how empowering it was to see other women who went hell for leather and weren’t judged for being strong.
Also in this series:
Sarah-Jane Woulahan is an award-winning director of drama, comedy, music video, documentary and transmedia who is known for her visual flair and original ideas across all genres in moving image.
Sarah-Jane’s short films have screened at festivals including South By Southwest and Melbourne International Film Festival. Acts of God was chosen for the MIFF Accelerator program for emerging feature filmmakers in 2014 and Ward of State won best film at the 2015 Australian Dance Awards. The feature incarnation of A Terrible Beauty was funded by Screen Australia’s Gender Matters Brilliant Stories initiative.
Sarah-Jane has directed ARIA and MTV nominated music videos for Australia’s most recognized musicians including Silverchair, Missy Higgins, Evermore, The Sleepy Jackson, Little Birdy, Claire Bowditch, Youth Group, Tim Finn and The Living End.
Sarah-Jane is a cross-media auteur and pioneer. She has created numerous multi-platform projects that integrate film, live performance and online interaction in genres that straddle narrative, documentary and comedy. Her satirical short form series, Forlorn Gaze, which first featured on ABC’s JTV, was nominated for an AACTA award for innovation.