The purely Australian horse sport of polocrosse was derived from an equestrian exercise in England.
During a visit to England in 1938, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Hirst of Sydney, who were both keen on horse breeding and horse sports, read an article on ‘Polo La Crosse’ in a riding magazine. Wanting to find out more about the exercise, they visited the Nationals School of Equitation at Kingston Vale near London; where it had been developed to supplement the work at the riding school and to teach riders to take better control of their horses. It was played two to a side, indoors, with markers on the end walls from which the ball bounced back into play. The goals were elongated basketball nets on the end walls.
Realizing the possibilities of it as an outdoor horse sport, Mr. and Mrs. Hirst returned to Australia with sticks, balls and rule books. They sought the assistance of a Mr. A. Pitty, a well known and experienced horseman and polo player. After many hours of discussion, practice and trial and error; and many revisions of the rulebook, the three of them came up with a new and exciting game which they thought would be ideal for Australian conditions. They called the new game ‘polocrosse’.
Mr. Pitty then helped them to give what would appear to be the first polocrosse demonstration at the Ingleburn Horse and Pony Club Grounds near Sydney, NSW in 1939. He showed those present how to pick up the ball and the basic principles of the game. Such was the immediate interest and enthusiasm, that it was not long before all the club members were practicing the game. A short time later, a meeting was called to form the first polocrosse club at Ingleburn, near Sydney, in 1939. At this meeting, the first Book of Rules of the Game was established.
During World War II, the game suffered a set back, but a few keen enthusiasts of the Ingleburn Club kept it alive. In 1945, the second club in Australia was formed at Buradoo near Bowral and in 1946, the first inter-club game was held between Buradoo and Ingleburn.
The game spread like wildfire and with such success and enthusiasm that Mrs. Hirst, then the President of the Ingleburn Club, felt that there should be a controlling body made up of representatives of all the existing clubs. These were Ingleburn, Buradoo, Nowral, Parakeets, and Woolongong. Accordingly, on November 14, 1946, Mrs. Hirst convened a meeting at which all these clubs were represented, and the result of the meeting was the formation of the Polocrosse Association of Australia.
From 1946 on, polocrosse spread to the country districts of NSW and some of the first country clubs formed in the west of the State at Mudgee and Wellington. It then spread inter-state to Queensland, with Toowoomba and Bundaberg being among the first clubs formed. Then it spread into other states. At present, polocrosse is played in every state in Australia. The combined total of Clubs is rapidly approaching the 400 mark with new ones being formed each year.
Each polocrosse season, the Clubs conduct their local tournaments, which provide great sporting and social entertainment. Zone and State Championships, in which all areas are represented, are held regularly each year culminating every second year since 1968 with the Australian Nationals Polocrosse Championships. All States are represented. The National Junior Championships have been held since 1975.
Polocrosse is played in New Zealand, Papau New Guinea, South Africa and Zimbabwe; and has been for several years. Several other countries have also shown an interest in playing polocrosse; these include England, Ireland, Israel, Philippines, Switzerland, Norway, Uruguay, Chile, USA and Canada.
Due to the interest and growth of polocrosse in several countries, the International Polocrosse Council was formed on June 19, 1976; with Mr. Max Walters, MBE, of Australia as its President. Its aim is to promote international competition, to draw up a common international set of rules of the game and to promote the sport throughout the world.
International matches have been played regularly between South Africa and Zimbabwe for several years. In 1976, representative teams from New Zealand and Papau New Guinea played at the Australian National Championships in Queensland. Australian teams have visited Papau New Guinea in 1976 and New Zealand in 1977. There have been many inter-country trips since then. In 2003, Australia hosted the inaugural Polocrosse World Cup at Morgan Park in Warwick, Queensland. Eight countries attended: Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, South Africa, United States, England, Ireland and Canada.
Polocrosse was first introduced in the United States by students at Lake Erie College in Painsville, Ohio. The students had been to Australia on Academic Terms Abroad to play and study polocrosse. Of the first group of women to travel ‘down under’, Kathy Nelson is recognized for returning to the United States with racquets and balls in tow, ready to teach others. Upon her return she organized evening practices at the college for all who were interested. One student who participated in these practices was Darcy Deming, who went to Australia for her Academic Term Abroad, then returned for an additional 9 months after graduation. When she returned to the U.S., she formed what is now the American Polocrosse Association.