stories, photos, anecdotes….. sharing the past
The Boer War. Bush poetry. The sport of polo. All three have links to Australian history. All three also merge together uniquely in one point of time in the country town of Bogan Gate. The town’s name that often reduces outsiders to fits of giggles – the meaning of the name is quite the opposite of what most people think – featured the first “unofficial” international game of polo between Australia and Great Britain. This historical event came about due to the persuasive charm of Harry “Breaker” Morant and Scottish-Australian poet Will Ogilvie. The game itself has been immortalised by Will Ogilvie’s poem For The Honor of Old England and The Glory of the Game.
Bogan Gate is mentioned as one of the towns in award-winning writer Bill “Swampy” Marsh’s collection of yarns Outback Towns and Pubs. A more detailed history of Bogan Gate and the people who lived there can be found in Gateway To The Bogan (1973) and its sequel Gateway To The Bogan Book 2 (1997). Gateway To The Bogan, which was compiled and edited by C.R. Judson, explains the meaning behind the name:
The word “Bogan” means the birthplace of a notable headsman of an Aboriginal tribe and the members of such a tribe were known to have had their camping grounds in close proximity to the Bogan River.
The “Gate” section of the township’s name was derived from a gate on the boundary fence between Burrawang and Gunningbland Stations, which gave access to the stock routes to the Bogan country, which lies further to the north. For convenience sake it was known on Burrawang as the “Bogan Gate”. This gate was known far and wide by overland drovers and has been mentioned in books on this subject.
John Meredith’s fantastic book Breaker’s Mate: Will Ogilvie in Australia details the polo match and how it came about:
Nelungaloo Station, where Ogilvie met Morant, was owned by the Lackey family and was situated about halfway between Parkes and Bogan Gate. After leaving the station, Morant rented a paddock near the Bushman’s Mine where he broke-in horses for the townspeople of Parkes.
The Breaker taught Will and a few others to play polo, and they joined forces with local enthusiasts to form a club. Organising a working bee, members cleaned up a large natural clearing known locally as The Little Plains, and converted it into a polo field. Situated on the Trundle Road, it was conveniently close to the Bogan Gate Hotel, owned by Simeon Levi West of Botfield Station, and officially titled The Selectors’ Arms Hotel.
After the club had played a few chukkas among themselves, somebody had the bright idea of forming two teams, to consist of the ‘Sterling’ – migrant, or “imported” players – and the ‘Currency Lads’, all Australian-born. Then they announced a grand international match: Great Britain versus Australia.
Local oral tradition and the rural press of the day have preserved the names and status of the teams which were as follows:
The Australians: Captain, Victor Foy of Mordialloc Station; Bert Balcombe of Coradgerie Station; Arthur Pike, Stock and Station Agent in Trundle; and Will Black, storekeeper of Bogan Gate.
The Great Britain Team: Captain, Harry Morant, representing England; ‘Swinglebar’ (Ogilvie, playing under an alias) for Caledonia; Paddy Ryan and Ed McDonald for Ireland. Paddy Ryan was trainer and jockey for West of Botfields, and later married one of the West daughters; of Ed McDonald, nothing appears to have been recorded, particularly the reason for his playing for Ireland.
J. Meredith (1996) p.45
The polo match is also described in detail within Joe West & Roger Roper’s book Breaker Morant The Final Roundup: Horseman Bush Balladeer War Criminal (2016):
In late 1896, [Morant] and Will Ogilvie cleared an open space at Bogan Gate near Parkes, NSW, and created a polo pitch. The Breaker had taught Will and a few others to play polo and the ground adjacent to the Bogan Gate Hotel (officially the Selectors Arms) became the scene of the first unofficial polo international between Great Britain and Australia. This was sponsored by Victor Foy whose family ran a large Sydney Department store and he put up a liberal purse for the winners in the pub. The captains were Foy and Morant and the match was seriously contested with Great Britain ending up the winners. Ogilvie wrote a piece for The Windsor and Richmond Gazette published in 6 February 1897 that described how ‘The Breaker bathed in gore went sailing through the scrimmages more fiercely than before.’ Banjo Paterson wrote a poem entitled The Geebung Polo Club that undoubtedly describes the same event.
*** Parkes Library also has several books with collections of Australian poetry that contain poems by Harry “Breaker” Morant, Will Ogilvie and Banjo Paterson. There are also two books on CD with poetry by Will Ogilvie Tribute To A Horseman: Poetry of Will Ogilvie read by Colin Munro and David Howard; and Echoes of the Outback: Identifying the character of the outback. Please contact Parkes Library (6861 2309) should you desire to borrow any of these items.