Tayla Fraser laughed, “I love this question”. It’s a smile that might seem a bit surprising for an athlete who has just covered five states in four weeks and sat through multiple Zoom calls prior to this one; but it speaks volumes about New South Wales Swifts star, Tayla Fraser .
What is the meaning of that colour? Is it the command of a red traffic light? Is it the intoxicating allure of a beautiful woman in a deep crimson dress? Could it be the political statement from a candidate’s red power suit or pocket square? Or a shiny red rock on “Day 1” of the Boxing Day test? Whether it’s clothing, food, or holiday decorations, red excites us.
To Tayla Fraser, New South Wales Swifts player #60, red symbolises power, courage, bravery and determination. It foreshadowed where she is today when, as a five-year-old, she put on her red Glenwood Netball Club dress – eager to take the court in Baulkham Hills.
“They wore a red dress as well, which I think is really funny now that I reflect back… I had so many great years there,” she says.
“So it just means absolutely everything to play for the red dress every week.”
And you can just see she means it; her grin is blinding,
“When you’re little, the basics are so important, I loved playing at Glenwood. They have a special place in my heart.
“I was just so “red dress” at heart that I didn’t ever change… [now] it’s every day, every week that I put my red dress on. I’m like, ‘wow, when I was five, this is what I wanted to do’.”
Growing up in the Hills District of New South Wales, Fraser always wanted to follow her dreams. Determination and that competitive edge run in her veins.
“Obviously being a New South Wales Junior, I’ve grown up playing in New South Wales, I’ve grown up watching the Swifts,” she says.
“They were the yellow Swifts before they became the red Swifts. I loved the yellow Swifts as well [and] this past season, we’ve gotten to wear our heritage dress.
We associate yellow with warmth, sunshine, and positivity. Bright yellow is an attention-getter, it is enthusiasm and enlightenment. Yellow is the opposite of dark and dull; it is spring daffodils. It was an attention-grabbing colour for Fraser who saw her idols grow up in “the yellow dress”.
“The likes of Kim Green, Susan Pettit have all played for the yellow dress. So, it’s kind of like we are being a part of such a cool legacy and inspiring the next generation because that was me… 15 years ago.”
That legacy extends to other talent in the current squad, like Maddy Proud, Paige Hadley, Helen Housby and Sam Wallace.
It all started at Baulkham Hills netball courts. A young and invigorated Fraser, with blonde hair and her sandshoes on, ready to take the court. The umpires’ piercing whistles were enough to wake the neighbours at 7am; netball parents were prepared to wait 47 minutes at the coffee van – 967 parker jackets with fur attached to the hood.
“I played all of my junior netball at Baulkham Hills, up until I was 15, before I progressed into the Netball New South Wales pathway.
“I played for my state in the under-17s and under-19s teams. I was also lucky enough at that time to be picked in Australian underage teams, which was super cool.”
Fraser played in the Australian Netball League as a teenager, before moving to the Swifts as a training partner in 2019 where she made her debut in Perth in Round 10.
That debut changed everything. It is the moment that will stick with Fraser forever. Becoming New South Wales Swift #60 (a Swifts tattoo on her wrist is worn with pride), means so much to her.
“It was a super weird moment,” she recalls. “It was around 8pm the night before [the game] and we were just having a team meeting. Briony [Akle] our head coach… just started going through the starting seven and she got to wing attack (WA) and she said ‘Tay’ and then just kept going on.”
“I was like, did she say my name? I’m not really sure. I just sat there and Briony was like, ‘you can smile’.”
“’Did you just say my name?’ I asked. ‘Am I debuting’. And she was like, ‘Yep, you’re debuting tomorrow, you’re starting’. That was so surreal.”
Fraser has certainly told this story multiple times. Her hand and arm gestures are perfectly synchronised.
“I called my Dad, he was so shocked,” she continued.
“He just had disbelief that I was even going to play, let alone start.”
What happened next is heart-warming.
“I walked out onto the court, RAC Arena, and I looked into the crowd, and I saw two people waving and I was like ‘is that my parents?’ Yeah, my parents flew from Sydney to Perth to watch my debut and I am so grateful to them.”
For a modern-day athlete, living in a bubble is not uncommon. But what does it look like for those in the Suncorp Super Netball during a pandemic?
“I can try and put it into words for you.” Fraser says, and you could feel her mood change.
“To sum it up, we’ve been in five states, or four states, but five times since we left Sydney on the 23rd of June.
We were given four hours to pack our stuff and get out of Sydney. Pack for three weeks, at most. We headed to Brisbane to begin with. We ended up going to the Gold Coast, just for two days to “settle in”.
“We were given a call, they [Netball Australia] said you need to leave the Gold Coast now, drive to Brisbane Airport, because we’re flying you to Melbourne.
“So we ended up flying to Melbourne. We were put in isolation, we weren’t allowed to leave our rooms. I’ve never ordered so much Uber Eats in my life.
“We [then] got wind that the AFL teams were leaving Victoria to head to Queensland, so we headed to Melbourne Airport to fly to South Australia.
“We were called into a meeting and told we had been around someone who had been a close contact of a confirmed COVID case. So we ended up going back into isolation again. Once again, Uber Eats.
“We’ve got such a family culture [that] it doesn’t feel like we’ve been away from family for eight weeks, because we’ve got a family here.
“We are all just super grateful that we get to be here and play the game that we love. So, it’s all worth it.”
One of the biggest names in club netball all over the world, the NSW Swifts have a proud history. In the Australian sporting landscape they have been at the pinnacle of the game for 20 years, and have won seven premierships – their latest in August this year.
“I love every day I go to work and we always talk about how grateful we are that we get to go to work and hang out with 10 of our besties every day.
“We have 10 different personalities and we bond to make a family, we all buy into the culture and it makes us so successful.”
Swifts teammate Lauren Moore is like a sister to Tayla.
“We live together in Sydney as well,” Tayla says, “we love getting to the beach on our days off – we’re both pretty adventurous.
“Some people question how we spend so much time together and [not] get sick of each other.. [but we’re] just so comfortable with each other that being in silence feels so nice.
“Getting to play together in the red dress that we always dreamed of is [so] cool… and I absolutely love stepping on court with her.”
Tayla Fraser and the New South Wales Swifts are seen as role models in the wider Australian community, but rarely get the attention they deserve.
“Not really… in the mainstream media,” Fraser says. “[But]I think we’re heading in the right direction with professionalism. And I think our game is growing as well. It’s not the skirt flicking netball that they used to say it was. It’s obviously super competitive and physical and we’re training in the gym as much as the boys are.”
We both laugh, what does the next few years look like for Tayla Fraser? Full-time Swift, full-time study, living away from home, already 2021 has had it all.
“I’m going to say it now I’d love to play 100 games with a red dress, that would be super cool. But that’s obviously a long way in the future.
“Individually, I’d love to play for the Australian Diamonds one day. It’s always been a goal of mine to play for my country. I think if I can just keep working on my game I can progress towards that.
Tayla hesitates, then says with a grin: “I’ll just say it now to put it out in the universe.”
— Adrian Sciglitano @adrianscig