The world today may look a little different to the first time horses took to the Goondiwindi Polo field, but some things haven’t changed since 1911 – the spirit of a bush community, the competitive nature of country guys and gals, and the love of a good social gathering.
A club with royal ties, that flourished during prosperous times and survived the impacts of drought, and continues to bring the city and the bush together, this year Goondiwindi Polo Club will celebrate its 110th anniversary.
Making a comeback after COVID-19 caused its cancellation last year, the annual polo event in early August will be a nod to not only the history of the club, but also the next generation of players and supporters keeping it alive.
Event organisers Elizabeth Africano and Bridget Coulton say the event will be more special than ever, as the club celebrates 110 years. Photo: Alisha Reading
Famously hosting the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during a tour of Australia for an exhibition match back in 1968, club vice president Andrew Coulton said the visit had been met by much fanfare.
“It was such an honour for the Duke to show an interest in a small bush polo club and it really helped in putting the club on the map to the rest of the country,” he said.
During its long history, the club has brought the community together on the sporting field, while generating a social event which continues to bring crowds to the region today.
Alongside royal interest, the club is also well respected and supported by the Australian polo community.
HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (centre), on top of the secretarys office at the Goondiwindi Polo fields, with Dick Doolin to his left and Sinclair Hill to his right in 1968. Photo courtesy of the Doolin family archives.
Each year, the renowned Ellerston Polo Club located in the Packer private estate sends a team to the event.
But ensuring the survival of the club has come with its challenges. The club was forced into a 20-year hiatus following the war years.
“The club was reformed back in the 50s with 24 founding members, and a few of their grandchildren still play for the club today which is a wonderful way to honour their legacy,” Mr Coulton, who is a third-generation player, said.
The ramifications of the Millennium drought further challenged the club from 2001 to 2011, forcing the club into a decade of dormancy.
But the club was revived in 2012, with the support of the North Star Polo Club and a new generation eager to reinvigorate bush polo.
“We’ve been through a few challenging years. But the club and the local Goondiwindi community are extremely resilient, and everyone does come together to support each other when times are tough,” Mr Coulton said.
The Welltown Challenge Cup was first contested at the Goondiwindi Polo Fields in 1911. It was first won by Inglewood but then Goondiwindi bounced back to win the following three years before World War I intervened.
This year the infamous bush-style event returns to the Goondiwindi Polo Grounds on August 7, featuring the Welltown Challenge Cup.
Crowds will be treated to a full day of polo action, country hospitality, live music, bonfire and the signature lunch event. Grazing at the Polo will offer a unique experience that will celebrate local produce from around the region.
Event organiser Elizabeth Africano said it will be a beautiful lunch event for attendees.
“We are so spoilt when it comes to producers throughout the Goondiwindi region, and the lunch provides the perfect opportunity to hero these products,” she said.
Co-organiser Bridget Coulton said the club prides themselves on throwing a great bush party, and this year will be more special than ever.
“The passion for the horses and for the game is so evident at bush polo tournaments, including Goondiwindi, and it is hard for any visitor not to get caught up the intoxicating polo action,” she said.
“The passion, determination and adrenaline on the polo field infiltrates the crowd and it creates one hell of an atmosphere. And if it isn’t the polo action that gets you, the unrivalled country hospitality will.
“For over 100 years, the women of the club have been bringing an array of home-baked goods to serve with complimentary tea and coffee. And there is always a barbecue firing and a cold beer – there’s not much more that you need.”
In addition to the Grazing at the Polo lunch, the club will also unveil the recently-restored shed bar and beer garden area.
“On dusk, the bonfire and live band start firing up as people come together to enjoy a great catch-up under the night sky,” Ms Coulton said.