Sturgess stays in the saddle after 50 years in polocrosse
MURRAY Sturgess has reached a milestone that few sportsmen or women ever achieve - he has just started playing his 50th consecutive year of the sport he loves.
Riding ponies for as long as he can remember, Murray played his first polocrosse gae when he was just eight years old, and at the weekend started his 50th season of the sport, still riding in the watermelon pink colours of Chinchilla Polocrosse Club.
The Bush Telegraph caught up with Murray at the Cunningham Polocrosse Carnival, the second carnival of the 2016 Queensland polocrosse season.
Murray is proud of his sporting achievements.
He represented his state in polocrosse on more than a dozen occasions, and has been a familiar face around the dusty grounds for half a century.
He played all his polocrosse for the Chinchilla Club, except for two years when he studied for a Certificate in Animal Husbandry at the then Gatton Agricultural College and played in the college team.
Murray grew up with polocrosse, as his father, Bill, played for Allendale Polocrosse Club and then the Chinchilla club.
He fondly recalls his first game playing for the Chinchilla 2 junior side.
Murray was one of four Sturgess brothers playing the game back then.
"I played with my brothers; Warren, Kevin, and Brett, as well as my sister, Leesa, who played for a short time," he said.
"Dad was never in favour of girls playing, and not a lot of women played the game back then, not like today."
Murray said the game had changed a lot from those days.
"Nearly everyone playing was off a property, and horses were a big part of their everyday lives," he said.
A pony his parents bred, Smokey, was Murray's first polocrosse steed.
"I rode him a few years and handed him onto one of my brothers to play," he said.
"I also played on a very smart mare named Theresa, and she won me my first trophy.
"It was the Leigh Allen trophy for the champion junior player of the carnival at the Gold Coast."
Murray was 13 years old at the time, and counts that as one of the trophies he values most in his career.
"That was the inaugural awarding of the trophy and it is still awarded today," he said.
However, Murray's most famous mount was Chip, also known as Colt, whom he rode for 18 years during some of his most successful polocrosse days.
"In 1973 I played Chip at his first carnival. It was the Tansey Carnival and we won C-grade," he said.
Chip went on to carry Murray to six polocrosse nationals in Queensland teams, but at the age of 20, the horse died of a heart attack just before the Naracoorte Nationals.
"It was a very sad day for me, as I had won a lot of trophies on him at club, zone and state level," Murray said.
Murray and Chip attended the 1976 nationals at the Gold Coast, where Murray was picked in his first state team as a member of the second Queensland mixed side.
Then in 1978, the duo was selected again in the second mixed team to contest the nationals at Glen Innes in New South Wales.
Murray ranks the 1980 Nationals at Capel in Western Australia as one of the highlights of his competitive polocrosse career.
"It was the first time I was picked in the Queensland open men's team, and we were beaten by one goal in the finals by NSW," he said.
He also played at nationals in 1982 at Benalla, Victoria, 1984 at Warwick, and 1986 at Walkaway in WA.
The highlight of Murray's career at club level, was winning three state championships in the Chinchilla club's A-grade side at Mareeba, Guru and Blackall.
He cites fellow Chinchilla player and teammate, Peter Jones, as the best player he has played alongside.
"I played with Peter for 20 years. He was a number two and he was hard and tough. If we needed goals he brought the ball down field to me as number one. We were a great team," Murray said.
"I also have great regard for Roger Madder as a player, as I played with him for Chinchilla for many years also," he said.
"The greatest player I've ever played against without a doubt would be Darryl Smith from Quirindi."
But apart from his representative selections and trophy wins, Murray says what gives him his greatest joy is watching his sons and grandchildren now play the sport that has been a major part of his life for so long.
His three sons, Kyron, Cameron and Bryce, have all played for Chinchilla, and their state as juniors or Under 21s.
Now he has five grandchildren, with two playing and three keen to go in mini juniors next year.
"That is really what it's all about - seeing your grandkids play, and in another couple of years, god willing, I will get to play with them," Murray said.
"Polocrosse is by far the best sport there is.
"I've tried campdrafting and roping, trained racehorses, and been a pick-up man at rodeos, but nothing else compares to the speed and excitement of polocrosse."
Murray agreed it is an extreme sport.
"But the family side is great. It has always been like one big family - made up of genuine people here for the fun," he said.
"It has changed a bit over the years, but you can still let your kids roam around the camps at night and you know they are safe."
Murray said he hoped to have another 10 years in the sport, but admitted to getting a "bit sore" some days.
"However I don't try as hard nowadays - there's no good getting older if you don't get smarter," he said.
Murray met his wife, Wendy, at a Dalby carnival in 1976, and the couple have become well known in polocrosse circles.
They now run their 1417- hectare family property, Evandene, north of Chinchilla, gaining their livelihood from cattle and watermelons.
"We usually irrigate about 40ha of watermelons each year, and run about 340 breeders on a 16,000ha forestry lease," Murray said.
"I've also bred my own horses for a lot of years now, and pulled a few wrong reins over time," he said.
"I've seen a bit of quarter horse creep into the sport, but they are not suitable for the game as they don't have enough stamina.
"The best breed for polocrosse is the stockhorse/ thoroughbred cross."
Murray, his family and members of Chinchilla Polocrosse Club are looking forward to hosting the first of their two carnivals for the 2016 season, this weekend, April 16 and 17.