Holding court


Arthurs Pt umpire calls shots in all-Aussie netball grand final.

Queenstown mum Paula Ferguson has landed the dream job of umpiring one of the biggest games in netball – the ANZ Championship grand final this Sunday.

The 35-year-old whistler will be seen by a huge TV audience on both sides of the Tasman when she takes charge of the Melbourne Vixens v Adelaide Thunderbirds clash at Melbourne’s Hisense Arena on Sunday.

Ferguson only found out she’d been handed the game after umpiring the roughhouse preliminary final between Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic and the Thunder­birds in Hamilton last Sunday – the Aussies won 51-37.

“I’ve umpired at the world netball champs before but the grand final is the biggest game of my career,” she says.

“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t nervous about a match like this.

“But I’m excited too, as there will be a sellout crowd and a big atmosphere – it’s been on my mind all through the week.”

Ferguson lives at Arthurs Point with her bar-restaurant manager husband John and their baby son Jack, who turned one this week.

She started umpiring in the ANZ Championship this year after shifting to Queenstown from Perth, Australia, for “a change of scenery” 18 months ago.

Although an Aussie, Ferguson is in the pool of New Zealand officials for the trans-Tasman league.

And it means jetting around the country to matches every weekend – often flying by the seat of her pants.

“Getting in and out of Queenstown [Airport] over winter has been a nightmare,” she explains. “I don’t think I’ve left on time once this season.

“On two occasions I got to Rotorua an hour and a half before the evening game started despite leaving early
in the morning and sometimes taking three flights to get there.

“You always have to make sure there’s a backup so that if something goes cactus then there’s a second flight up my sleeve.

“I’ve got to bunny-hop my way around NZ and I’m usually away from home for two or three days at a go.”

And then there’s the times her luggage goes AWOL…

“Before the preliminary final in Hamilton, the bag with my uniform in it went missing for days in between airports.

“I eventually got the stuff back in Queenstown just in time to wash and pack it before heading off again, but I was still pushed to get it dried in time for the match.”

Ferguson has been umpiring netball since the age of nine and was a player, then an official, at state level in Western Australia.

“I gave up playing after having two knee reconstructions and didn’t want a third.

“About 10 years ago I concentrated on umpiring and really just worked my way up through the ranks.”

After Sunday’s grand final, Ferguson will prepare for the New World International World Netball Series in August.

She’ll be on duty when the Silver Ferns take on a world invitational team at glamour games in Auckland, Wellington and Rotorua.

“Having a one-year-old child to look after, juggling everything around requires a fair bit of forward planning and organisation,” she says. “But I absolutely love what I do and I’ll keep going at it for as long as my legs hold out.”