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Polocrosse started in the then Territory of PNG in 1959, reputedly as a result of Mrs. Sefton giving her son Colin a polocrosse racquet. Col was manager of Koitaki rubber plantation, which was established in 1910 by his parents who managed it until 1948. Initially they had packed the rubber down from the Sogeri plateau to Port Moresby by mules. Horses were always a part of early plantation life. Managers and supervisors used them to check the workers and plantation trees; silent and more effective than motorbikes.
Mrs. Sefton lived in her new house on the edge of Koitaki Estate. She was the matriarch of the polocrosse and the Papuan Show also held nearby. Colin imported the first polocrosse horses, Rosie and Scarlet. Scarlet had won campdrafts at Moree in NSW. Horses on Koitaki, Itikinumu and Javere plantations were educated to the game. Notable among these, were Ginger ridden by Bruce Bond, Margo ridden by Steve Pederson, and Dinkum, which was sometimes lent to visitors. Early Australian visitors included the then guru of polocrosse Jack Riley, also sister and brother players Jenny and Malcolm Scott from New South Wales. They visited Koitaki to coach and play with the local players.
Jack Grimmer, manager of Iktinumu became the first official umpire. At the first carnival, Jack Riley who had judged at the Papuan Show, coached the players and umpires, also assisting with the umpiring.
Another Club was started in the lowlands, near Port Moresby, at Tiaba. Local builders Ray Catford and Tom Stewartson were leading players; others included Charles Locke, Don Lawton, Barry Black, John Egerton, and Don Murray.
Interest was kindled in the New Guinea Highlands, first at Goroka and later at Banz, Mt.Hagen and Kainantu, The players were mostly coffee plantation owners and staff. In 1959, the first trans-island competition was held at the Koitaki Country Club. The teams were as follows:
|Koitaki ||"Australia" ||Goroka ||Tiaba |
|C.Sefton ||Jenny Scott ||J.Collins ||R.Catford |
|A.Macgregor ||Malcolm Scott ||R.Collins ||T.Stewartson |
|S.Pedersen ||Jo.Pedersen ||M.Collins ||C.Locke |
|C.Dawkins ||Trevor Conrad ||R.Frame ||D.Lawton |
|A.Stephens ||Barry Ashcroft ||W.Mead ||J.Egerton |
|B.Bond ||Rob Grimmer ||Joyce H. ||B.Black |
Koitaki won the first Burns Philp Shield. In 1960, the much-improved Goroka won the Shield. Mick O'Brien succeeded Colin Sefton as manager of Koitaki, when Col moved to his own soldier settlement plantation nearby. Mick became a strong player. In June 1961, Bruce and Barb Jephcott visited Koitaki for a carnival. Bruce played No.1 for Tiaba on Dinkum and on that occasion Tiaba defeated Koitaki.
Polocrosse was played at Koitaki throughout the sixties, included among their players was Peter Eaton, then an apprentice builder. He was in Port Moresby from 1962 to 1964. He relates in “Behind the Goal Post” that he could hardly ride, but was given the half- broken plantation ponies to ride. That might apply to most of the horses playing as few were broken in by the Europeans, most by the local staff, who knew little or nothing of the art of breaking in horses. He later helped the PNG players when polocrosse started at Lae and Dumpu. Other young players at Koitaki included John Robinson, Tony Hearn, Fred Kleckam and Russell Hawthorn. The Papuan Show moved to a new showground in Port Moresby, and the polocrosse to the centre of the Papuan Turf's ground established at the 12 Mile, on land provided by Mr. Vince Neilsen.
In Goroka, the players improved markedly; they trained horses, mostly purchased from the Department of Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries' stations in the Highlands. Clubs were also formed at Banz in the Western Highlands, and Kainantu to the east of Goroka. The horses travelled to Goroka from Kainantu, a mountainous fifty miles, once on foot led by horsebois, and at other times by truck over hazardous highland roads at 5-8000 ft. The Western Highlands' horses were also trucked. Players from Banz included Jim Middleton, Noel Rutledge, Bruce Bowden, Noel Garth, Geoff.Gardner, Ken Godden and Allan Booth. Kainantu players were, from Ayiyura Coffee Research Centre, Aub.Schindler, Carl van Horck and John Barrett; from Aianora Plantation Bruce and Barbara Jephcott, from Arona Lionel Oxlade and Bert Wickham and from D.A.S.F. Mike Hawley. The Clubs played weekly at home, and inter-club about three times a year especially at the Goroka and Mt.Hagen Shows.
A Papuan team would play against a New Guinea team once a year for the Burns Philp Shield at home, and in Goroka for the Nitrophoska Cup donated by Colyer Watson. Mick Casey and Bob Frame played in early games and were regular umpires along with Ken James. The honours were evenly divided between Goroka and Papua; Western Highlands defeated Goroka on one occasion, and Kainantu rarely beat anyone, but they enjoyed the game and the parties. Pressure of work in the expanding coffee industry and changes of personnel saw polocrosse in the Highlands decline and cease for a number of years. In Papua, the game struggled on, but the scene changed from Koitaki totally to the field at the Papuan Racecourse.
1973-1996 - Revival
Polocrosse on the New Guinea side was revived in late 1973 at informal games at Arona, where Bruce Duffield was manager and Dumpu, home of Bruce and Barbara Jephcott. Old racquets were obtained or borrowed, and some who had played before helped teach the basic rules. Among these were Bob Simmons, Phil.Best, Joe Alexander, Dan Leahy, Neil Latimer, Peter de Ville and Bruce and Barbara Jephcott. Some had played in PNG in the earlier era; others had played in Australia. Over the years other experienced players from Australia, Zimbabwe and New Zealand joined the workforce and a PNG polocrosse Club, sometimes in the reverse order. Those, who joined in to learn the game initially, were Bruce Duffield, Noel Challis, Lex Bell, Grant Morton, Arthur Jones and Paul Bishop. In 1974 the game was well under way again in Lae, Goroka, Yonki/Arona and at Dumpu/Gusap/Leron [cattle stations]. We prepared to challenge Port Moresby whose players and play was often photographed in the Post Courier.
By 1973 horses had been bred and trained as stockhorses on major cattle stations and D.A.S.F. stations. The best of these horses were flexible, amenable and easy to train as polocrosse ponies. The players were more numerous and generally better horsemen and women. For the first time in the history of the game, PNG nationals joined white players, and international polocrosse became multi-racial. The stockmen from the cattle stations joined the owners and managers on the polocrosse field. They were excellent horsemen with a good eye for the ball. Some were among the leading players in PNG representing their country overseas.