On the 21st of January 1938, the largest group of New Zealand athletes to ever travel overseas assembled at Wellington’s Queen’s Wharf. In the harbour, the steamer Wanganella was being loaded in preparation for the 8pm sailing to Sydney. Australia was in the midst of celebrating its 150th anniversary and, in just a few days, the Empire Games would begin in Sydney.
On Queen’s Wharf, athletic champions stood alongside the Governor General, cyclists and rowers compared training notes, and the women of the New Zealand cricket side prepared for their very first overseas tour. The significance of the occasion made this perhaps the most celebrated cricket team to leave New Zealand. The morning of departure saw the team enjoy morning tea hosted by Prime Minister Savage, followed by a civic farewell at Wellington’s town hall.
The 13 members of that White Ferns side were bound for Sydney for a five match tour, highlighted by a 3-day match against New South Wales. Three years had passed since the White Ferns had made their Test debut, and it would be a further ten years before they played Test cricket again, making this tour vital to the continued development of the game.
The importance of development was exemplified by the age of the team which included 15-year-old Ida Johns and 25-year-old manager Dot Simons. The team’s oldest members were just 26, although four players had featured against England in 1935, giving the team some much-needed experience.
The first match the tourists played was on board the Wanganella against members of the Empire Games’ team. After a couple of days of rough seas that left even the wrestling team absent at dinner, the cricketers “cleaned up” their shipboard opposition. The weather on the voyage across the Tasman would prove a sample of things to come as the team’s first few games in Sydney coincided with torrential rain. This resulted in the match against NSW Juniors abandoned with New Zealand in good shape for victory, while the marquee 3-day game against NSW became a 1-day game which New Zealand narrowly lost on the first innings. A further narrow loss to South Metropolitan was evened out by comfortable victories against North Metropolitan and Combined Country.
As with the New Zealanders men’s side that toured England in 1927, the performances of this New Zealand team served to reinforce New Zealand’s growing skills on the cricket field. In fact, reports from the tour indicated that the Australians had expressed a serious interest in bringing their national team for a tour and Test matches against the White Ferns. Unfortunately, war would intervene and Australia would not visit until 1948 when their tour began against unusual opposition: Matamata.