Why Moana Hope is so much more than an AFLW star

Woman sitting with leg up on white background.

Peter Hanlon

Posted January 31, 2019

The AFLW’s Moana Hope in her own words.

I’m not against make-up, I’ve just never worn it. If you’re using me it’s because I’m me, leave it that way. One photo shoot I did I asked them to keep it natural, and they pulled out fake eyelashes. I’ve never seen someone on the footy field with fake eyelashes.

Growing up we couldn’t afford Nike – we could barely afford food or clothes. I used to draw swooshes on things that Mum got me from the op shop. I do love getting dressed up now – going to the Brownlow was pretty awesome, getting measured for a suit, having fancy shoes and getting your hair done. But I’m still most comfortable in trackies.

I’m about 20 kilos lighter than when I went back to playing footy with St Kilda Sharks before the AFLW started, and I feel great. But I teach my little sister Vinnie, who is special needs (Vinnie has Moebius syndrome), that we don’t use the S-word – we don’t say “skinny” in our household. I don’t feel like the prettiest woman in the world because I lost weight, I just feel I can compete better as an athlete.

Playing footy at AFLW level, a lot of stuff happens that people don’t see. I was depressed. I would finish training and I’d cry for hours. Not being able to sleep, not being able to perform, I nearly got to the point of questioning, “Is it worth putting myself through this?” The only thing I can do is change things. I changed who I wanted to play for, and I wanted to be happy when I played.

Bella (Mo’s partner Isabella Carlstrom) didn’t know who I was when we met, she’d been living in India for four years modelling. I was at a bar at a birthday, and she had no idea why I had a little gathering around me. When we went to the Brownlow Medal last year and were referred to as “friends”, Bell got on social media and added in “girl”. I think we broke the internet that night. I still fan-girl the (AFL) guys – I love being in the same room as Paddy Dangerfield and Dusty Martin, but it was pretty cool that us being there together opened that conversation of saying, “she’s at the Brownlow with her partner and that’s okay”.

A lot of things upset me that are not working. I heard a sleep expert at a university say our economy is bad because we don’t sleep well enough. They’d asked politicians for a $20 million grant to look into sleeping so we can fix the economy. Then I go through the city and see homeless people. I watch clips about people beating up elderly people in nursing homes. I see kids that are stuck in the system who don’t have families and have been neglected and need a home. I’m thinking, “Why aren’t we taking that $20 million and putting it into that?”

Whenever I post something about (my sister) Vinnie on social media I feel like the pageant mum – people just go nuts. It’s beautiful. People tell me it’s pretty awesome what I do for her, but the thing is what Vinnie does for me. I don’t see it like I’m her carer, she’s my best friend. People label her as disabled, but she’s the most normal person I know. She learns basic life skills at school. I picked her up one day and she said, “I’ve gotta tell you something you can’t tell anyone.” I thought she must have stolen something, which she’s never done! She was like, “Under our skin, we have a skeleton! But don’t tell anyone!” The smallest things make her so happy.

I still run a traffic management business with about 90 people working for me. Our Christmas party last year was a room full of misfits, and I’ve hired them all. People who were rejected from job after job. I’ve got a 70-year-old man who nobody would hire, and he’s my best worker. I’ve got a single mum with six kids who works her backside off – nine til three, so she can be there for her kids. Everyone who works for me has a story.

When we have a child – boy or girl, doesn’t matter as long as they’re healthy and happy – I joke to Bell that hopefully the first one is a girl and by the time she’s 18, AFLW will be professional and she’ll be making a lot of money. And Bell’s like, “She can be whatever she wants.” And I say, “Yep, she sure can.”  

Female footballers sit together for a group team photo.

After the second World War, women's football teams were sponsored by the VFL, but support quickly diminished. Photo: The Leader


Women first played football in Victoria just weeks before the Great War ended in the spring of 1918. Cheered on by a packed grandstand, the employees of a Ballarat textiles firm defeated their South Melbourne counterparts, raising £320 for the town’s Arch of Victory. 

One-off women’s charity matches subsequently took place in dozens of locations across the state, but the infrastructure to ensure the games became part of the football landscape was lacking. In 1933, teenager Myra ‘Mitzy’ MacKenzie represented her beloved Carlton when they played the women from Richmond’s Bryant & May factory at Princes Park. Nine days later, she was thrilled to watch the match in a cinema on a Movie-Tone newsreel. 

After World War II, women’s teams sponsored by Victorian Football League clubs competed in a round-robin series that generated funds for the Red Cross. But over the decades, support for women’s football lagged.

In 1981, an ongoing competition for women was formed, the Victorian Women’s Football League, an initiative driven by the players themselves. In September 2016, the AFL Women’s was formed; the first season kicking off in February 2017.

Associate professor Rob Hess, Victoria University

Pictured above: Carlton Ladies Football Team, 1933. Photo: The Leader.