Sister Act: Kerry and Joanne Millman's journey from backyard to world stage

From the first time they could kick a ball, sisters Kerry and Joanne Millman travelled their football journeys side by side for almost two decades.  

Decked out in green and gold t-shirts and with Australian scarves draped, two women follow the sea of Aussies navigating the streets of Sochi on their way to watch the Socceroos take on Peru. 

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As Advance Australia Fair rings out at Fisht Olympic Stadium, Kerry Hetherington (nee Millman) and Joanne Millman proudly stand and sing alongside their fellow Australians.  

Unlike most of the 44,000 supporters in the stadium, the two sisters know what it’s like for the 22 players below them; those moments before you play for your country on the biggest stage.  

“I am so Australian that I can hear the national anthem for the Matildas or the Socceroos and still it gives me goosebumps to this day,” said Hetherington.  

To stand there and sing that anthem, you just think ‘oh, this is the ultimate privilege to be able to have done that.’”

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Kerry (left) and Joanne (right) supporting the Socceroos at the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Born in Queensland, Kerry and Joanne are unique in Australian football. 

While there have been instances of siblings earning caps for national teams, the Millmans are the only pair of sisters to have played together for the Australian Women’s National Team.  

From the start, it seemed pre-destined that the sisters would become footballers.  

Growing up in a family of eight children, all the Millmans were involved in sport of some kind, but it was football that was at the heart of the family. A respected figure in Queensland sport, the Millman matriarch --Hazel -- brought up her children alone after the passing of their father.  

With five brothers playing for Eastern Suburbs, it wasn’t long before Joanne and Kerry were both lacing up the boots.  

“I'm going to take my hat off to my Mum,” Hetherington said.  “She had eight kids between two and 20 years old.

“Because our brothers played football, we thought we would just play this. It’s easy and we are all in one place.”  

They might have started out due to their older siblings, but soon Kerry and older sister Joanne were captivated.  

“I absolutely loved it,” Hetherington said.  “We had always kicked around but there weren’t a lot of women’s teams in the 70s.

“Because you had to wait until you were old enough to play in the women’s competition, when it was my turn, it was just fantastic.

“I loved the athleticism. I loved that you got to learn something new every time you played and I hadn’t found that with any other sport.”

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Millman Sisters lining up for Australia in the 80s (Photo: Supplied)

After teaming up together when Kerry was 11 years of age and Joanne was 13, the two sisters would travel their football journeys alongside one another for the next two decades.

First, there were the representative sides.  While the sisters were always close, those state team matches made things interesting in the Millman household.  

With Joanne captain of the Brisbane Open team and Kerry captaining the Brisbane Youth Team, it made for some tense clashes between the two sides.  

“That’s when things got really competitive,” Hetherington laughed.  

“They pretty much always beat us but it wasn’t for want of us trying!”

This was the rare occurrence where Joanne and Kerry were pitted against one another. The rest of the time, though, the camaraderie of the sisters drove one another to greater heights.  

We were mates. Forget that Jo was my sister, she was my best friend.” 

“I was having fun with football. I just loved it. I loved learning new skills but it was never a goal to play for Australia, to be honest.

“Jo had the goals. She had the determination to work at it. And she wanted me there with her as well as me wanting her with me. 

“She dragged me up to be competitive, to be disciplined and competitive. I think she's the only one who ever could get away with throwing a rocket at me.”

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Part of the national team in 1989

With Joanne being the quintessential older sibling and pushing the standards, it was a strange twist of fate that Kerry would be the one to debut first for the national team.  

Normally a midfielder, Kerry stepped back into the sweeper role for Queensland and not long afterwards, the 18-year-old became cap number 19 for the Westfield Matildas.  

“I don't think I was better than Jo at that stage, and I'm sure she would tell you she was better than me,” Hetherington laughed. 

“I really think that the coaches were just looking for a defender at that time, and I was playing that role for Queensland.”

It was another two years before Jo would join Kerry on the national team, but on 28 November 1983, the older Millman sister became cap number 29. 

What followed was a whirlwind six years of international football filled with laughs and lifelong memories. And always, wherever Joanne went, you would find Kerry. 

“We played together virtually 12 months of the year,” Hetherington said.

“The good thing with us is that both of us were mostly in the first XI. So we were always together for that anthem.

We were standing together in that moment and it was just so special; to be able to play for your country with your best friend, your sister beside you. ”

From 1983 to 1989, the Millmans represented Australia at the Oceania Cup, the 1984 Women's World Invitation Tournament and the 1988 FIFA Women's Invitation Tournament -- the precursor to the FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

While Kerry hung up her boots at the age of just 26 with 40 games (including 21 A-Internationals) to her name.

Joanne,however, continued on for another five years.  All up, she amassed 600 senior games in eight international tours (40 games), 15 national championships (110 games), 15 State championships (90 games) and 16 domestic seasons (360 games), earning her a spot in the FFA Hall of Fame.

These days, the two sisters are happy to cheer on the current Socceroos and the Westfield Matildas at home and abroad.  

For Kerry, she is particularly proud of how the women’s game has developed in the 31 years since she retired from the national team.  

“I love it,” said Hetherington. “I love how the standard has improved.”

It’s absolutely wonderful. I couldn't be happier for the girls and I hope they can continue it on.

“I will be at as many games as I can be in 2023 -- it doesn’t matter if they are across the ditch!”

As has been the case all their life, Joanna won’t be far behind. 

“We still go on holidays every year together,” Hetherington laughed. “We went to the World Cup in Russia together. We are still best of friends. 

“She probably wouldn't say it but if you asked her quietly, she would say I was her best friend.”