History of Polocrosse
Just prior to visiting England in 1938, Mr and Mrs Edward Hirst of Sydney read an article in an English Horse Magazine on “Polocrosse”. As both were keen on horse breeding and horse sports they decided to find out more about it when they got to England. On arrival they visited the National School of Equitation at Kingston Vale near London where two riding instructors had developed an exercise to supplement the work at the riding school and to make the young riders take better charge of their horses. The exercise was played with two a side, indoors, and with markers on the wall from which the ball bounced back into play. The goals were elongated basketball nets hung at each end of the arena. The sticks were old polo sticks that had the polo mallet removed and replaced with a squash racket head. This had a shallow string net which they used to scoop up the ball. The idea was to scoop up the ball, which was a little larger than a tennis ball, ride with it to the end of the arena and drop it into the net to score.
Realizing the great possibilities of this exercise as an outdoor horse sport, Mr and Mrs Hirst returned to Australia with sticks, balls and rule books where they sought the assistance of Mr Alf Pitty, a well known and experienced horseman and polo player. After many hours of discussion, practicing, much trial and error and with constant revision of the rules, they finally came up with a new and exciting game, using only one horse and able to be played by a person of any age. They called the new game “POLOCROSSE”.
They designed a polocrosse field 160 yards long by 60 yards wide with three separate areas namely a goal scoring area at each end 30 yards long and the centre area 100 yards long. The goal posts were 8 feet apart and had an 11 yard semi-circle in front of each goal. To score a goal the ball had to be thrown from within the goal scoring area but from outside the 11 yard semi-circle, through the goal posts at any height. To open up the game they decided a player could not ride from the centre area into the goal scoring area with the ball in their possession. The team was to consist of 6 players divided into two sections of three each who would play alternate periods of time called “chukkas”. This was to permit each section to have a rest whilst the other played so as to necessitate using only the one horse. The No. I in each section would be the only player to be able to score goals for the team, the No. 3 the only player able to defend the goal and the No. 2 would be restricted to the centre area. Designing the Team in this way they felt would ensure that the ball would be passed about amongst the players thereby making it a better skilled, faster and more attractive horse sport.
Historical Polocrosse footage from 1946
Over fifty years later despite numerous ideas on improvements the same basic philosophy, size of the field and team combination is still used to make it “King of the One Horse Sports”. After all their careful designing Mr Pitty then helped to give what would appear to be the first polocrosse demonstration at the Ingleburn Sports Ground near Sydney in 1939. He showed those present how to pick up the ball and the basic idea of the game. Such was the immediate interest and enthusiasm that it was not long before all the club members were practicing this new game. A short time later in 1939 a meeting was called at Ingleburn to form the first Polocrosse Club. At this meeting the first book of Rules of the Game was established. During World War II naturally the game suffered a set-back, but a few keen enthusiasts mainly the women of the Club kept it alive with charity days for the war effort. In 1945 Australia’s second Polocrosse Club, Burradoo, was formed near Bowral, 120 km south of Sydney and in 1946 the first inter-club game was held between the Ingleburn and Burradoo Clubs at Ingleburn. The game spread quickly with great interest being shown which led Mrs Marjory Hirst to believe that there should be an overall controlling body formed consisting of representatives of all the existing Clubs.
On the 17th October 1947, Mrs Marjory Hirst as Ingleburn Club President convened a meeting at which all representatives from the Ingleburn, Burradoo, Nowra, Parrakeet and Wollongong Clubs were present. At this meeting it was unanimously agreed to form the Polocrosse Association of Australia. From 1946 polocrosse spread to the New South Wales country areas with some of the first country Clubs forming in the west of the State at Mudgee, Wellington and Dubbo, and in the south at Wagga and Albury. By 1949 it had spread to Queensland around Toowoomba and Bundaberg and into Victoria around Hexham and Ballarat. It then continued to spread to South Australia and Western Australia and finally into the Northern Territory and Tasmania. At present there are some 3,682 players, both male and female, of all ages and from all walks of life registered in 197 clubs participating in the sport throughout Australia.
The sport is administered by the Council of The Polocrosse Association of Australia which is comprised of representatives from each of the seven affiliated State Associations. Each State Association elects it own State Council, each Zone or Region its own Committee and each Club its own Club Committee. All Councils and Committees are elected annually. In 1985 an Accredited Coaching Scheme was established under the guidance of the Australian Coaching Council and with the valued support of The Australian Sports Commission and Rothmans National Sports Foundation. In 1997 there were 317 Accredited Coaches, comprising 50 Level II and 267 Level I Coaches with more accreditation courses being planned. Great emphasis has always been placed on the coaching of our Junior and Under 21 players who are the players who will keep the sport going for the next 50 years. All coaching is administered by a National Coaching Committee comprising the State Coaching Directors under the Chairmanship of a National Coaching Director who meet regularly to monitor the coaching programs throughout Australia and in each State. A high priority has always been given to safety for both horses and players through a well organized umpiring system. Umpires are graded on their ability for practical application of the rules of the game, and in 1997 we have some 895 Umpires, 13 National, 92 State, 263 A Grade and 527 B Grade. All umpiring is administered by a National Umpiring Committee comprising the State Chief Umpires who meet under the Chairmanship of the Australian Chief Umpire. An Accredited Umpiring System is also established in the sport. A Polocrosse Season usually runs for approximately 5 months each year with the normal playing season in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory running from May to September and in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia from December to April. Every Club conducts a local Club Carnival each season and in most Zones a Zone Carnival is conducted with the State Championships usually being held towards the end of the season in each State. The first Interstate Championships were held in March 1953, at Ballarat in Victoria between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Jack Reilly’s famous Kuring-gai Team from Sydney representing New South Wales won these Championships for the next 3 years and thereafter they ceased to be held on an annual basis. In June 1968 the First Australian National Polocrosse Championships were held at Dubbo in New South Wales with Teams representing New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. They are conducted every second year on a regular basis each occasion in a different State in rotation. Teams of 6 Men, 6 Women, 6 Under 21′s and 6 Juniors (under 16 years) compete in their own divisions for the title of Australian National Champions.
On the World scene Australia has played a very significant role in promoting Polocrosse. Australia hosted teams from New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in 1976 and in 1983 conducted the first International Test Match Series between New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe and Australia. In 1988 Australia hosted a Bicentennial World Test Match Series between Australia and a World Team which comprised top players from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe, Australia hosted a Test Series for a New Zealand Womens Team in 1991 and 1996, a New Zealand Mens Team in 1994 and a New Zealand Under 21s Team in 1995. South African Ladies and Mens Teams visited Australia in 1995. Australian Mens Teams have visited Papua New Guinea in 1976, New Zealand in 1977, Zimbabwe in 1985 and to New Zealand in 1991. An Australian Womens Team visited New Zealand in 1988 and 1995 and an Under 21′s Team in 1990. A Ladies and a Mens Team visited Zimbabwe and South Africa in 1993. A Mixed Team visited South Africa in 1997 for the quadrangular test series. Exchange visits have also been made by State and club teams between Australia and New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe, United States of America and Canada. Polocrosse was first played in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1948 and then in South Africa in 1951. Papua New Guinea began playing in 1958 and New Zealand in 1967. Although both America and Canada started showing interest in Polocrosse in the mid 1970′s it wasn’t until 1983 that polocrosse really got going in those countries. In the UK polocrosse was revived in 1987 with steady growth and recently great interest shown in the UK Pony Club movement. Polocrosse is also now being played in Ireland, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina and Vanuatu. Interest is also being shown recently in getting polocrosse started in India, Indonesia, Denmark, France and Cyprus.
Due to the interest and growth of Polocrosse around the world in the 1970′s the International Polocrosse Council was formed on 19th June 1976 with Mr Max Walters AM MBE, of Australia as its foundation President. The aim of the International Polocrosse Council is to promote international competitions and exchange visits of teams, draw up a common set of Rules of the Sport and generally promote the sport throughout the world. In 1989 Max Walters, on behalf of the International Polocrosse Council, conducted a promotional tour by visiting Zimbabwe, England, America and Canada which proved very successful in bringing these countries closer together. In 1996 Max visited South Africa then the UK and Ireland. Whilst in the UK he implemented an accredited Coaching and Umpiring Scheme for the UK Association. Polocrosse is typical of the Australian seeking a hard, fast sport played outdoors, with plenty of room for clean enthusiasm. It has made a very valuable contribution to the steadily growing interest in horses and horsemanship whilst at the same time promoting close friendships within Nations and throughout the world. It goes without saying that polocrosse is definitely “the king of one horse sports”.