Adelaide Polo Club History
From its humble beginning in 1879, the Adelaide Polo Club has evolved into one of Australia’s most successful polo clubs.
Originally located in the center of the CBD at the Old Victoria Park Racecourse, today the Adelaide Polo Club is based at Woodside, 25km from the CBD amidst rolling hills and big gums. The Adelaide Polo Club is always keen to attract new members who love the thrill of speed, horses, and team ball sports in a well organised, safe and welcoming environment.
Polo in South Australia was first conceived in 1874 when a young graduate from Cambridge University returned home to South Australia carrying with him some polo sticks and balls. Having recently watched a polo match at Hurlingham, the young Lancelot Stirling aspired to play the game in Adelaide. The first polo match was played in South Australia on Montefiore Hill in 1876. Robert Barr Smith, W Gilbert, WH Horn, Major Godwin and Stirling were listed as the initial participants.
So it was that in 1879 the Adelaide Polo Club was officially formed, seemingly at the instigation of WH Horn, although there are records of polo matches being played at garden parties of the Hon. Alex Hay at Linden and CB Hardy at Mitcham at the time.
Other clubs were formed in South Australia early on including a club at Burra and the very famous Mt. Crawford Polo Club in 1883. By 1880 intercolonial matches were being played between the Western District of Victoria and South Australia at Albert Park in Melbourne. The first two matches were won by South Australia. This was despite the South Australians playing the same ponies throughout the game while their opponents were on bigger more numerous horses and reportedly used mallets a foot longer. This was the beginning of the great state rivalry that exists in polo between South Australia and Victoria still to this today.
But when it comes to playing polo interstate, as now, distance has always been a problem. Much inter club polo was played at that time. Teams such as North versus South and Married versus Unmarried contested the games of the day.
Early Adelaide Polo Club was played at the Old Victoria Park Racecourse. It later returned to Montefiore Hill until a new grounds and a clubhouse were opened on the 22nd of November 1902 at the corner of what is now Morphett Road and Anzac Highway. Couch grass was sown and pipes laid out for irrigation to attract teams from the other clubs in South Australia which by now included Strathalbyn and Broken Hill.
The Adelaide Polo Club remained at Birkalla as it became known until 1960, when due to suburban development, it moved 25 kilometres to the north of the city to two irrigated fields at Waterloo Corner. This green oasis in the middle of the North Adelaide Plains was the Mecca of polo in South Australia for the next forty years. Waterloo Corner saw host to a number of international teams as well as teams from every state in Australia. But as the city grew and horses became used less except for pleasure, it was apparent that the club needed to be located closer to the horses.
So in 2000 the Adelaide Polo Club moved for the third time to its own fields at Mt. Barker, again two irrigated fields, amidst rolling hills and big gums. Its proximity to nearby Pony Clubs will hopefully see the influx of new and younger members. Other Clubs in South Australia now include Strathalbyn, Penola in the South East and Wentworth in NSW, all coming under the administrative umbrella of the South Australian Polo Association formed in 1899.
It is a game for people who enjoy the exciting mix of speed, horses and team ball sports. Well organised and umpired, it is safe and exhilarating. This, has not always been the case.
E. Reg White founder of the NSW Musselbrook club in 1890, complained in the 1930 ’s that the fun had gone out of the game that he had played in his youth.
“My word we used to see the skin fly then. Mind you, I ’m talking of 40 years ago. We used to put the ball in the centre of the field, the teams would retreat to their own goal lines and be given the signal to charge. I remember one day a chap had a leg broken, another was knocked out and still another had an awful spill. My, it was good! We used a solid hardwood ball, any kind of wood. No umpires in those days. And none of your cane sticks. You’d often see a player with a bit of hoop iron fixed to his stick to give it strength”!!
E. Reg White