The Big Issue : Edition 446
THE BIG ISSUE 22 NOV – 05 DEC 2013 21 The rules of cycle polo are simple and involve the same principle of most ball sports: get the round ball into the square hole. Players start with their back wheel touching the back boundary and return to their own half when a goal is scored. If a player’s foot slips off the pedal and hits the ground, they’re out of play until they touch their mallet to the halfway point on the side boundary walls. To get a goal, you have to hit the ball with the head, rather than the side, of your mallet. Collins wins the joust but fails to score. Benee Loher, on D’Mello’s team, chases his shot. His mallet quickly finds the ball and he begins shuffling it to the other end of the court. The others challenge, circle, and are soon negotiating wheels and cranks and mallets to get at the ball somewhere on the court below them. Bearings whizz like runaway fishing lines and mallet heads smack concrete. Players and their bikes become single entities. They spin on their wheels like ballerinas, buck and hop, accelerate from standing, and stop like they had never moved. Mattie F Seeber – the tattooed, bearded plumber who built the trailer – plays with a cigarette in his mouth. For long shots, D’Mello stretches out like a figure skater, his left leg extended to counter-balance the reach of his mallet arm. “Everyone just played on junk bikes when I first started,” Loher explained to me as we were car-pooling up from Fremantle. (Although we would have preferred to ride up to the venue, the low gearing on polo bikes made it near impossible.) “Back when I started, guys would just find an old frame that was lying around and build it up from random parts.” Loher has been playing polo since around 2008, when it started in Perth as a social activity among bike couriers. Now players fly interstate, even internationally, for tournaments and championships. “Now some people’s polo bikes are the best bikes they have,” he continues. After 10 minutes, the kitchen timer sitting on the trailer starts beeping, signalling the end of the game. Julius Bower, a quick, left-handed bike mechanic from Fremantle, takes the six mallets leaning on the boundary – an indication of who wants a spot in the next game – shuffles them behind his back, and separates them into two random teams. His left-handedness can be an advantage in a game played almost entirely from one side of the body. He hoots and scrambles up and down the court, hooking the ball away and slinging it towards the goals. As for me, well, the first time I played I was placed into a team with two very experienced players, and became acutely aware of letting them down. Though good on a bike, I was clumsy in most other aspects of the game – my mallet didn’t seem capable of making contact with the ball, I was never in the right place at the right time, and if I made a pass the ball usually went to players on the other team. My teammates passed to me regardless, while opposing players gave me space to negotiate this strange new combination of ball, bike and stick. “She’s good,” someone said, standing next to my boyfriend at the sidelines, a comment that kept me buoyed for several subsequent games. Eight or nine games later, I’m noticing improvements. I’m still having trouble with positioning, but the ball is beginning to behave how I want it to, and I’m developing an awareness of plays outside my immediate field of vision. “You start getting good maybe after a month, or a bunch of games,” Bower had told me on my third Sunday. “You reach that point where you can control the ball and your positioning gets better – you start to score more. That’s when you get hooked.” A group of very new players show up while I’m playing, and a few rounds later Loher orchestrates a newbies’ game. Suddenly, I’m one of the better players. I get a couple of good long runs and score my second-ever goal. Towards the end, there’s a tangle at the goals and I go down, hard, earning a fist- sized bruise on my thigh and a swollen knee. It really freaking hurts, but in the previous game someone had dislocated their shoulder, popped it in again, and continued playing. I find my mallet, pull myself up and do the same. » Zoe Barron is a writer living in Fremantle, Western Australia. She has a bit of a thing for bicycles. THE BIG ISSUE 22 NOV – 05 DEC 2013 21 IN A CAR-PARK COMPLEX IN MT LAWLEY, PERTH, CYCLE POLO PLAYERS TAKE A BREATHER BETWEEN 10-MINUTE ROUNDS. THE SPORT GAINED TRACTION IN PERTH IN 2008 AS A SOCIAL ACTIVITY AMONG BIKE COURIERS. PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL CRITCH.