Australian rules football trailblazer Peta Searle has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Searle, who lives in Yarraville, was recognised in Monday’s list for her extensive service to Australian rules football.

As player and coach she has spent more than two decades spearheading the involvement of women in Australian Rules football at both community and professional levels.

Searle was head coach at the VFL Women’s Academy and coached the Western Bulldogs women’s team to the AFL’s first exhibition match in 2013.

She made history in 2014 when appointed by St Kilda as the first full-time female assistant coach in the men’s AFL competition.

Searle told Star Weekly she was “honoured and a little bit overwhelmed” by her Honours List medal.

“I just feel privileged that I may be helping shape things for girls and boys towards fairness and creating positive attitudes,” she said.

Working her way up in such a male-dominated sport has not been easy, but Searle’s passion and determination never wavered.

“I probably had my blinkers on in terms of it being unprecedented and how I was the first,” she said.

“I’ve fought my fair share of battles, I think there’s resistance right through your career in any field … girls are always being told they can’t do this or that, so it’s just always something you are working through.

“Hopefully I have helped inspire others and they think it will be possible for them to follow a dream.”

St Kilda has rewarded Searle’s hard work with the men’s team by appointing her as their inaugural AFLW coach as they enter the expanded league next season, alongside new teams from Richmond, Gold Coast and West Coast.

She is proud to be playing a key role in helping to develop the AFLW competition, seeing the support for women in AFL as a sign of a healthy shift not just in the game but more broadly in society.

“I think sport is a really good medium for changing attitudes, breaking down barriers and also getting people thinking in terms of respect and responsibility,” she said.

Searle said she was heartened to see people embrace the AFLW, particularly younger fans.

“I have gone to a lot of games with my own family and I always walk away with a really warm feeling,” she said. “The atmosphere it’s created is really positive, you’ve got these nine-year-old boys and girls running around idolising the women as much as the men.

“The real power of the AFLW will come through in 10 to 15 years when those young boys and girls grow up.”