On Saturday 4th of March it was the 103rd Anniversary of the Annual Goulburn Polo Club Match.
The Goulburn Polo Club has a rich history. The club was started in 1920 when Col McCarthy of the Royal Artillery gathered the young men of the district to play polo in an attempt to recruit them to the Army. The Club became a huge success for polo, not such a success for the Army recruitment! Their colours were Blue and Red of the Artillery. One team captained by Jim Ashton, was the famous Goulburn Polo Team which played with distinction in both England and America in 1930 and were foundation members of the Club in 1920. The four Ashton brothers used to ride their horses over 90km every Friday from their property at Markdale to the Goulburn Polo and play fast polo over the weekend. Exhausted from the activities, they got the grooms to do the return ride on the Monday following.
The Maple-Browns were also an important family for Goulburn Polo over the years. Erwin Maple Brown, who was possibly the best player in Australia between the wars supported the club immensely and Jimmy Maple-Brown's commitment through the late 70s and 80s is what kept polo alive in the south. One of the Ashton Brothers, Bob also provided advice and coaching during this period which helped Richard Walker to make Goulburn the dominant Club team between the 70's and 80's. That team comprised a Bell and a Maple-Brown.
The Goulburn polo club is a family club in the old tradition. Since the 1990s up until now, Wal Ashton and the Bells, and many others have put a lot of energy into keeping the club alive- an issue so many regional areas are facing.
The Event had been postponed by three years due to Covid and then last year due to huge rain. Historically this event has been played at Springfield , Goulburn over the Mother's Day weekend in May. However, Goulburn is bitterly cold at this time of year and so several months ago the date for the celebrations had been brought forward to 4th March.
A month before play, it became clear that due to the rains and the substantial time that the field had not been played on and prepared it was decided, for safety reasons, to transfer the game to Muddy Flatts polo field in Richmond, Sydney. This beautiful polo field, owned by Wal Ashton, a resident of Goulburn since 1975, looked magnificent.
The weekend of 4th March was a challenge match between Goulburn Squares and Goulburn Stripes. The family ties of polo were demonstrated when Jim Ashton's son Wal Ashton and his Great Grandson Toby Goodman played for the stripes. The Bell family are also long standing members of the Goulburn club and were represented by Henry and Sinclair Bell and their cousin Rob Archibald playing in the squares. The Walkers and Maple-Browns were at the game who have played a central role in the club over the last century. There was an enthusiastic crowd, many having travelled from Goulburn. It was played at 6pm to escape the heat and the event had the real feel of a garden party.
In a very exciting six chukka game Goulburn Squares won 9 to 8. Jimbo Fustner (English 5 goals) playing for the stripes said it was one of the fastest high standard games he had played in Australia. The last goal was scored with just a minute remaining.
The evening transported the significant spectators back to another time. It captured the essence of what polo has meant to so many of us over the years, the impossible dream of it, the addiction, the love of horses and above all else the people.
For that precious moment in time we were surrounded that night by fellow survivors of that era.
Even the next generation visibly took on something of the ambience that was expected of those around polo, regardless of wealth or privilege .
If only we could bottle that precious night of polo.
Wal Ashton, who is about to turn 76, mounted the Goulburn Stripes team. He is having a dispersal sale of his ponies for the first time ever on 12th April 2023 as he is retiring from all fast goal polo over 4 goals.