Australian sport has seen a huge surge in public interest around women’s events, and on March 17–18 the famous, picture-postcard Ellerston-Onassis Polo Club, deep in the Upper Hunter north-east of Scone, NSW, hosted its Ellerston Ladies Interstate Challenge.
Story by Jessica Owers Photo Stephen Mowbray
In only its second year, the competition promised to be a fast and exciting four-state affair, with South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland facing off over the two days. Teams comprised four on-field riders, with a reserve rider, and in perfect autumn conditions the event lived up to its billing.
Day one of competition saw Queensland defeat Victoria and New South Wales beat South Australia, leaving old foes Queensland and New South Wales to fight out the final on day two. It was a repeat of 2016, when New South Wales got the better of its northern rival, but despite a strong hand from New South Wales this year, including Australia’s highest-rated female player in Kirsty Sullivan, Queensland won by a half-goal.
“It was one of the best ladies’ games I’ve ever seen,” says Glen Gilmore, Ellerston’s polo manager. “It had everything. It was tense. It was tight. It was fast and open. It had some very good penalty hitting. The girls put on a fantastic show, and should be very proud of themselves.”
The club deemed the event an enormous success, with Glen confirming the Ladies Interstate Challenge would be an ongoing fixture on the Ellerston calendar. “If we can encourage women’s polo, we will certainly do so,” he says. “The girls ride better, they listen better. They absolutely love their horses, and they have a better understanding of what they want. This isn’t the only event at Ellerston at this time of year, but we made sure that for that final day the girls were the main game.”
Rider Sian Barnacle has ridden polo tournaments around the world. An English ex-pat now settled in Beaudesert, Qld, she was part of the winning squad at Ellerston. “This tournament is the pinnacle for ladies playing in Australia,” she says. “You’ve got to work hard to get there, and you’re prepping horses for months beforehand.”
Sian believes women’s polo is one of the fastest growing female sports in Australia, and says the Ellerston events are known around the world. “We all aim to get there, and we’re so proud to be chosen to play for our states,” she says. “Representing Queensland was a great honour.”
Friday, March 17
Game 1 Qld def Vic 6–3
Game 2 NSW def SA 9–2½
Saturday, March 18
Game 3 Vic def SA 7–5½
Game 4 FINAL Qld def NSW 5½–5
This story excerpt is from Issue #113
Outback Magazine: June/July 2017