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Much-loved women’s sport advocate ‘Dell’ named Freeman of the City


A humble Adele “Dell” Saunders OAM has added another accolade to her list of achievements, Freeman of the City of Newcastle.

The champion for women’s sports in the region was recognised with the city’s highest honour at a special ceremony on Saturday 11 May.

Before an audience in City Hall, which included dignitaries, cultural leaders, members of the sporting community and fellow Freemen John McNaughton, Margaret McNaughton and Father Nicolaos Zervas, the 88-year-old lifelong Novocastrian became the 11th person inducted into the exclusive fold.

Dell started netball at the age of 11, playing for her primary school, Mayfield West.

She would grow into a state level centre, later becoming an All Australian umpire and president of the Newcastle Netball Association (NNA) from 1978 to 2019.

She’d already served as secretary to the NNA, since 1955, winning the NSW Country Championship with the Newcastle representative team the same season.

Dell insisted on a modest ceremony with the dimmest personal spotlight.

However, she allowed a reflection on her character in netball terms.

“To be an umpire, you have to be completely unbiased,” she explained.

“You have to be fair.

“You should never penalise someone or inhibit their skills as long as it’s within the rules.

“And, you have to be able to ignore the brickbats that come your way.

“If the spectators crowd you, sometimes it pays to run with your elbow out.

“I’m still at the umpires’ office every Saturday; it’s rewarding to see someone make it.

“That’s what comes with being a volunteer – you set the standard and they remember.

“We don’t just give them sport, we make them citizens.”

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes described Dell as a pillar of netball as a player, official and administrator, who brought empathy and a social conscience to every voluntary role she performed.

“If you’ve lived in Newcastle, you’ve been helped by Dell Saunders, it’s as simple as that,” she said.

“She has time for everyone and she’s part of the fabric of our city.

“You can get a sense of Dell’s legacy from her longevity… and over seven decades of serving Newcastle in sport, cultural and civic life.

“But, the richness of her contribution continues to elevate people in big and small ways.

“This honour goes some way towards recognising that.”

Dell was also a vocal advocate for more and better netball courts in Newcastle, which recently came to fruition.

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