Horseplay on the sand: Cable Beach Polo

By Cathy Finch 8 May 2017
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For one weekend each year, the camels on Broome’s famed Cable Beach make way for thundering teams of men on horseback, swinging long-handled mallets.

IT SHOULD PROBABLY come as no surprise to find an international polo tournament underway on the beach at Broome. After all, this far-flung West Australian town has been a place for eclectic ­experiences ever since it was founded in the 1880s as a port for pearling luggers.

Broome was populated in those early days by a multi-cultural mix of Japanese, Malay, Filipinos, ­Europeans and local Aboriginals all hoping to make their fortunes from the trade in lustrous local pearls. More than a century later, Broome’s vibrant mix of culture and promise remains strong, contributing to the town’s exotic and unpredictable air.

The Cable Beach Polo was instigated in 2010 by Marilynne Paspaley – the daughter of Nicholas Paspaley, the founder of Paspaley Pearls, one the of the world’s leading producers of cultured pearls. Each year in May, famous polo players and their well-heeled followers make the trek to this remote location for two days of horseplay on the sand.

Cable – with its stunning 22.5km of white sand lapped by turquoise waves – certainly ranks among the world’s most beautiful beaches, and this tourist drawcard is undoubtedly a major attraction.

cable beach polo broome

During the Cable Beach Polo games, each team consists of three players and each game is normally made up of four periods, known as chukkas. (Image: Carly Finch)

The tournament is accompanied by a schedule of social events and community initiatives such as the Kimberley Challenge, during which Aboriginal stockmen get the chance to showcase their horsemanship skills by competing in the sport. In 2015 two young indigenous stockmen were offered scholarships to develop their skills in polo at a training camp in New Zealand – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to demonstrate Aboriginal horsemanship.

“This event has something for everyone, [from] the breathtaking spectacle of international and local polo players battling it out on the sand, to the barefoot fun and club atmosphere of our Kimberley Beach Polo Lounge,” says Marilynne. “You check your shoes in on entry and collect them when you leave.”

The tournament has also become a showcase for Broome’s ‘Kimberley Girl’, a group of young ­Aboriginal women who model clothes for the event.

“Broome isn’t just all about Cable Beach and ­beautiful resorts,” says Kira Fong, founder of ­Kimberley Girl. “The hidden heart of Broome really is its cultural side.”

Kira is based at Goolarri Media Enterprises, which helps to develop Aboriginal communications in the Kimberley and also supports local musicians.

cable beach polo broome

‘Kimberley Girl’ models Katina Coffin, left, Shona Coffin and Marlikka Perdrisat soak up the sun. (Image: Carly Finch)

Kimberley Girl began as a positive representation of Aboriginal women with the intent of instilling confidence in the local girls, she says.

“They were so beautiful but didn’t seem to be proud of themselves. We now run five weeks of workshops over six communities within the Pilbara and ­Kimberley region, and cover everything from professional development and work-readiness, to how to be a success and overcome adversities.”

Kira says she is proud to see her girls mingling at and modelling for the tournament: “If you look around you have Aboriginal stockmen learning to play polo and Aboriginal models walking among the crowd.”

Marlikka Perdrisat, one of the models and a young Nyikina woman, is just as enthusiastic. “It’s the mixed diversity of Broome that does it for me,” she says. “I have travelled all around Australia and [nowhere else] has this unique mix of Asian, Aboriginal and European people… It’s just a lovely place, and being involved in the polo has been so much fun.”

Out on the sand another important match is about to be fought and students from Broome Primary School are scurrying in with gloved hands and brushes to clear horse dung from the sand. “We’re the official pooper-scoopers,” schoolteacher Lorelle Giesen says. “We actually like to call ourselves ‘dung-removal technicians’. It sounds so much more official.”

Lorelle is overseeing 15 kids from years six and seven who are fundraising for school camp. “This weekend I’ve loved watching the kids interacting with the horses,” she says. But the highlight is about to come for these kids. Barry Southgate, a star from the television show The X Factor, is about to perform, and has asked the kids to join him on stage.

The music stops as the next polo match gets underway, and bikini-clad spectators wander down to line the safety barriers along the beach. Sam Hopkinson, one of New Zealand’s top-ranked players, delights the crowd, along with champion players from Colombia, and homegrown talent such as Jack Archibald.

And as a giant red sun begins sinking below the horizon, the sounds of galloping horses mix with yells of encouragement from the swelling crowd.

“This town is truly unique,” says local Sue ­Luketina. “Where else can you sit on the beach in barefoot elegance watching the glamour of a polo match?”

And the thing is, you can sit here in a marquee and have such a range of people around you. A cruise boat owner sits next to a jeweller, who might be sitting next to a judge or someone unemployed. I really like that.”

Bearings: Broome

Where: 2250km north of Perth

Population: 16,000, but can swell to 60,000 in tourist season

Postcode: 6725

Beach Polo: The only polo event of its kind in Australia, held annually in May. Free to watch from the sand or buy a ticket to the Cable Beach Polo VIP Marquee

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