By LAUREN MARER
LIKE many bush kids, Sam Coulton’s first taste of polo was on the sidelines.
With a mallet in hand, Sam paced up and down the field to the echo of horses thundering after the coveted white ball.
He watched his uncle and dad ride where his grandfather once did and hoped that, one day, he could do the same.
Sam (pictured above) had the horsemanship to play. He grew up riding on his family’s cotton farm in northern New South Wales, but the skills with the mallet and ball were missing.
He enrolled in Kildonan Polo School in the late 90s; the final ingredient in his polo pursuit.
On the field now it’s a family affair. Sam’s brothers, Andrew and Tom, play alongside their dad, Dave, for the Goondiwindi Polo Club.
“Dad was worried about how many horses we’d need,” Sam said.
“But he was excited when we all wanted to play, because what other sport can you play with your father competitively? When your fathers in his 60s, you can still play together as a family.”
Every August the club holds the annual Goondiwindi Polo event, revived in 2012 after a hiatus through the millennial drought.
But this year’s affair affirms the club’s importance in local history as it marks 110 years since the Goondiwindi Polo Club was first founded.
In 1911 when the club was established, the game was different, but the aim was the same.
“The horsepower now is certainly a lot stronger, but the game is, and always has been very inclusive,” Sam said.
“No matter who you are, what age you are, or what skill you, have there is always a spot on a team for you.”
There has even been a spot for a Duke. 50 years ago the club famously hosted Prince Phillip for an exhibition match while he was touring Australia.
The Duke of Edinburgh made sure he wouldn’t forget the visit by borrowing Mr Coulton’s grandfather’s tie, and ‘forgetting’ to give it back.
“My brothers were lucky enough to meet the Duke a few years back, and they asked if he still had the tie and the Duke just laughed and winked at them,” Sam said.
Ensuring the survival of the club has come with its challenges. The club was forced into a 20-year hiatus in the post the war years and reformed again in the 1950s with 24 founding members.
More recently the drought made it tough to maintain polo fields, horses and morale. This year the club’s annual event returns to the Goondiwindi Polo fields on Saturday August 7 following last year’s cancellation.
“It has been a really challenging few years but we live in an extremely resilient community who come together when times are tough, and that’s why they club has lasted so long,” Sam said.
Crowds will be treated to a full day of polo action. Players will be travelling from the Gold Coast, Scone and the Packer family founded club of Ellerston in the upper Hunter region.
There will also be a celebration of the Goondiwindi region’s producers, with the signature lunch event ‘Grazing at the Polo’ featuring food sourced sourced the local area.
Lunch organiser Elizabeth Africano said “We are so spoilt when it comes to what is on offer throughout the Goondiwindi region, and the polo offers such a great opportunity for us to showcase that to the wider community.”
Sam, his father, and two brothers will all be taking to the field again this year, with the hope of the club lasting another 110 years.