Club history

The Yarra Valley Polo Club plays polo at “Flowerfield”, in the picturesque Yarra Valley and home of the Lithgow family.

The club bases its strength on community involvement with a strong social membership. A team of committed Yarra Valley people are involved in developing the game of polo in this region as well as social activities for players and supporters.

The Yarra Glen & Lilydale Polo Club was formed in 1952 at “Flowerfield,” home of the Lithgow family since 1854. For nearly 50 years, polo was played at Flowerfield attracting large crowds with tournaments such as the prestigious “Gold Cup” and international matches including Prince Phillip’s 1967 polo tour.

The club renamed in 2010 as the Yarra Valley Polo Club to reflect our regional roots and to continue a significant polo tradition in Victoria.

The following is an excerpt from "A History of Victorian Polo" – by Geoff Norris. 

YARRA VALLEY (formerly, the YARRA GLEN - LILYDALE) Section C.14

1952

As the saying goes;’like so many good things in life, the club resulted from a chance meeting in a pub“! i.e. ‘Gracedale House’, Healesville at the 1952 Hunt Ball. Suggested by Geoffrey Norris to fellow Hunt members John Houghton, Bill Rule- a seasoned polo player with Cooronwarrabul club, Paddy McKee- president of the Pony club and John Lithgow, [later Master of the Hunt] a farming friend at Coldstream with paddocks destined to be shared by cattle and ‘ponies‘. The Lithgow family property “Flowerfield” was described a few years later by Sinclair Hill as having “Australia’s most beautiful polo grounds“, and to host two polo princes, Prince Philip and Prince Charles, the 1965, 1969 and 1976 Australasian Gold Cups and many state titles.

 

Welcomed by John and his mother Mrs. F.B. Lithgow, convened by the new hon. secretary, Geoffrey Norris, coached by Bill Rule, twenty recruits, about half youngish fellow ex-WW 2 servicemen/district farmers that included Bob Benson, Tim Branigan, Gavin Everard Casey - [descendant of a prominent 19th.century pioneer player Everard Browne], Lex Davison-a ‘Formula One Legend‘, Jim Doake, John and Vasey Houghton, John Lithgow, Tom Luxton, Tim Maughan, whose son David joined a year or so later, Paul Napthine, Chester Nevett, Geoffrey Norris, David Nicolson, Fred Selman, Sid Seymour, Graham Turner, John Turner. Teenagers John Ford and Darren Kelly joined soon afterwards. They were drafted into teams by April 1953 when ’home and away games’ were staged assisted by Hilton Nicholas of the Melbourne Hunt polo club. Many of us were fit, fun-deprived, horse lovers and users, unmarried or recently so, still nearly childless and with no farm-motorbikes or TV, and rid of the wartime “team living”. Weekly practices and ‘polo strategy’ evenings were hardly enough to prepare for the fun, only polo can give. Several new wives muttered about a selfish game. With the continuing generous hospitality of the Lithgow family, the seasons at Flowerfield had many highlights.

 

Matches with overseas based players or teams included New Zealand, U.K, U.S., Indian, South African and Zimbabwean. Prince Charles, almost a ’regular’ at Flowerfield’s weekly chukkas while at Timbertop, Prince Phillip on one of his visits as a house-guest travelled in a ‘cantering Cobb & Co coach and six’ from church in Lilydale to Flowerfield, arranged by a prayerful club hon. sec. Then post lunch and pre polo on board his host’s fire-truck to a nearby bushfire. John Lithgow was the C.F.A. hon. Yarra Valley Regional Group Captain. Annual charity tournaments were held for the Yarra Valley Group of Melbourne Legacy over 30 years. Rolls-Royce and Mercedes [1990] Owners’ club parades were other highlights. Polo days for recruits introduced Arthur Angliss, Matthew Axelsson, John-Balfour-Brown, John Balharry, R. Barnett, S. Barrow, Jeremy Bayard, Noel Beattie, Julian Blackburn, Chris Blair, Les Carlyon, Steve Carroll, Jim Castricum, Ian Church, Steve Coridas, Renny Ellis, Peter Evans, Derry Francis, John & Ed. Goold, D. Grimshaw, Michael Herman, Irwin Hunter, Peter Hurley, Tony Jones, Glen Kavanagh, Jodey Kelcey, Bill Kelly, Graeme Kelly, Max Lind, Howard Lister, Craig Macaulay, Andrew (senior) & Andrew (junior) & Hugh McKenzie-Smith, Michael McNeill, Chris McPherson [half-field polo advocate] Peter McVean, J. Marshall, A. Moodie, Dr. Bob Myers, Hilton Nicholas, David Nicolson, John Newton, Jim Nolan, J. & B. Officer, Sally Penwill, Andrew & Michael Rivette, Tony Scarff, David Selleck, Adrian Seymour, Richard Simpson, Jaimie Sutcliffe, Ric & Susie Thomas, John Turner, Graham Turner, Frank Underwood, Sam [Lord] Vestey, Gary White, Stuart Wilson, Peter and David Yunghanns.

 

For different seasons the Melbourne Hunt and Berwick polo clubs shared Flowerfield as their home-grounds. Canberra polo club, founded and captained by John Gorman and later Wentworth comprising Shane Ryan, Dougal Whyte, Steve Loritz and Gus Whyte were two of the visiting clubs. Members Sue Axelsson, Sue Kavals, Fiona Simpson and Gill Wilson competed for the club.

 

David Axelsson, Noel Beattie, Jim Nolan and Stuart Wilson played at Werribee Park under the club’s name during the early 2000’s. The Coldstream Cup was one of the trophies at Werribee in 2006.

 

In 2010 after several no- polo summers at Flowerfield, the club was reformed with the enthusiastic support of Patron, Mrs. Elizabeth Lithgow and her daughters Julie and Amanda. The initial approach was from the then V.P.A. president John Taylor. Immediate past president and player, 1952 to 1979, Geoffrey Norris senior, helped gather resources from previous years both in equipment and with old and new players, some again as in 1952, also Followers of the Hunt, taking to ’summer mounts’.

 

Darren Kelly, a club player since the 1950’s, a popular link with our past, was elected president. Fortunately for the club, Julie [Lithgow] Sampson agreed to be honorary secretary. Her sister Amanda Lithgow undertook co-ordination of ground management. At the 2011 Yarra Valley club tournament with sixteen teams, the club won the Flowerfield Cup. Yarra Valley had wins at Werribee Park, Yaloak and the Surf Coast club in 2011 and 2012. Players were the President, Darren (wife - Farley), their son and club captain, Philip Kelly (wife - Jenny), Geoff Norris jnr., son of the Club “Factotum’’ Geoffrey Norris and the late Felicity. Geoff junior had played seasons in the U.K., N.Z. and interstate. Faith and Nic. Vann who both played for several years in Singapore; Greg and Elizabeth Browne, Barry -‘Most Improved 2012’and Sandra Deacon, John and Mary Grant, Priscilla Gorton, Richard - ‘Most Improved 2014’ and Sally Harman, Michael and sisters Nicole and Karen Holzer, Geoff Sinclair - a former President of Equestrian Australia, his wife Jill - a renowned equestrian instructor, Simon-‘Most Improved 2013’ and Elizabeth Wincer and Katrina Metherall.

 

With more than twenty club players, the Yarra Valley tournaments usually comprise 14 teams. Spectators have numbered some two thousand. Newer players include Matt Lindh, Tony Burrows, Kelly Fernandez , Jeremy Marriot, Ben Mould, Sam Stott, Jack Berner and Oscar Kelly Darren’s grandson,13, won the ’MATTHEW AXELSSON MEMORIAL Award’ for the Most Improved young player in 2014.

 

Lady players have included Priscilla Gorton, Katrina Metherall, Nicole and Dr. Karen Holzer, Sally Harman, Elizabeth Wincer and Mandy Lithgow. They follow in the stirrup-irons of Sue Axelsson, Gill. Wilson, Fiona Simpson [as she was then], Susan Kavals, Jodey Kelcey and Sally Penwill of the 1900s’.

 

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