By HARRY CLARKE | SPONSORED
FROM a patch of black soil that risked becoming a washout “if you had a cloud in the sky” to a fully equipped facility with five irrigated grass fields, the Wandoan Polocrosse Club has come a long way since it was founded in 1952.
When the club celebrated its 70th anniversary carnival this month, its rich history and the generations of dedicated players, committee members and volunteers who’ve made the town’s polocrosse scene what it is today were at the forefront of participants’ minds.
The current president’s family is steeped in the Wandoan Polorosse Club’s past.
Robert Hoffmann took up polocrosse when he was just seven years old. His father, Don Hoffmann, was one of polocrosse’s pioneers who in 1956 sent his prized mare ‘Starlight’ to showcase the sport to city folk in Brisbane.
It was back then that the fields used by the Wandoan Polocrosse Club were little more than a dry dustbowl that became a soup of black mud at the slightest hint of rain.
“I starting playing here in 1968 and when you see what we have out here now, compared to what it was, it’s just unbelievable,” Hoffmann said.
“We had 40 points of rain the night before our carnival and there’s absolutely no way you could play after that back in those days. The whole ground has just evolved.”
“In the early days they actually just played on people’s properties and even had a field down behind the Gulugaba shop. When we first set up the club at the showgrounds there were just three fields.”
From decades of revenue reinvestment, support from local businesses and the local council, the Wandoan Polocrosse Club now has five well manicured fields which have hosted state carnivals numerous times in recent years.
For a tiny town, Wandoan has had its fair share of top tier players as well, which Hoffman said was courtesy of the club’s nurturing of its junior members.
“We always get a great representation in the Queensland side and we really get behind our juniors,” he said.
“We subsidise our junior membership because they’re the future of our sport, and because we’re a great club they come from everywhere. We’ve got players from Bundaberg, Killarney and Mitchell.”
Sixteen-year-old Emily Bowden is one of the rising stars of polocrosse. Last month she was named in the Australian juniors team which will host a trans-Tasman test series against New Zealand in Narrabri next month.
Her family hails from Bundaberg but has been involved with the Wandoan Polocrosse Club for six years. Her mother, Stacey Bowden, is the club secretary.
“I just really like the people here. Its a great club and everyone’s very friendly – I just like playing with this group,” Bowden said.
“The thing I enjoy most about this sport is playing with friends and family, especially playing with my sister, Jasmine.
“It’s very exciting to be in the junior Australian team. The whole tournament in Narrabri will be fun. It will be a different experience playing against the Kiwis. It feels really good to be playing for Australia. It’s exciting but I’m a bit nervous as well!”
Another young gun representing Wandoan is 16-year-old Travis Betts from Calliope, another Australian juniors representative.
“They’re very friendly people here in Wandoan. It’s a big club and you’ve always got a team to play with,” Betts said.
“I enjoy the social life, all your mates, getting away for the weekend and forgetting about work. I love training horses, riding them and playing them.
“It feels pretty amazing. I’m stoked. I was stunned when I got picked and I’m very happy to be representing Australia.”
For John “Jacko” Bowling (main picture), a Wandoan local and veteran of the club with a decorated representative career, it’s the home town carnivals which have been the highlight of his family’s involvement with the sport.
His grandfather, Jack Snr, and father Keith were both there when Wandoan Polocrosse Club began. At this month’s local carnival, Bowling, his wife and three children were all saddling up and swinging the racquet.
“I think I played my first game at 11-years-old and I turned 50 the other day. The only year I didn’t play was when I was over working in Western Australia,” Bowling said.
“Polocrosse is a sport that at any age, shape or size, you can be very good at it. So there’s no real discrepancies. Parents and grandparents are often playing with the kids and grandkids. A lot of the time these days I’m getting belted up by a junior!
“We’ve run some big state carnivals here but some of those great club carnivals have been some highlights, and there’s nothing better than winning your home carnival.
“And every year after the carnivals the members have put money back into the club and the grounds and have created what you see today.
“This is and all weather field now. You can handle an inch of rain and still play. Before it was just a blacksoil track so if you had a cloud in the sky you pretty much couldn’t play.”
One person who’s witnessed the steady growth and evolution of polocrosse over the decades is Howard Hobbs, patron of the Queensland Polocrosse Association and former member of state parliament.
In the 1980s Hobbs was among a group of association representatives including President John Thompson who travelled to New Zealand to showcase the sport.
“The Kiwis were interested to know about the sport so we sent a team over there and within five years they were beating us. How fantastic is that!” Hobbs said.
He said the strength of clubs such as Wandoan were fundamental to polocrosse becoming the widely popular sport it is today.
“Seventy years is a long time to build up. There’s a lot of people who have grown up with this club and now their kids and their grandkids are playing.
“That’s where a lot of our growth has come. It’s such a great family sport. We’ve had ups and downs over the years with commodity crashes and droughts and things like that.
“But we’ve still got a very diverse group of people who play the sport, and once you get stuck into it you just love it.”