Muchea’s Mary Day was awarded an Order of Australia medal in the King’s Birthday Honours this year, for services to polocrosse — services which have ranged from player, tournament organiser and administrator; to a compassionate coach and mentor to many.
Mary’s first introduction to polocrosse came as a child when John and Pearl Marriot brought the property neighbouring Mary’s family’s station between Wiluna and Meekatharra.
“They were the start of polocrosse in WA really,” said Mary. “They had the most beautifully educated and bred horses, talent and know-how.”
“We were brought up with horses, used them for mustering and would compete in gymkhanas, but any new sport with horses was great! However, being so isolated it was near impossible to compete. It was not until I was around 20 and left home and started playing at Harvey that I really got into it.”
Alongside decades on the field as player and coach with Perth Polocrosse Club, Mary was instrumental in keeping the club at the forefront of embracing technology in her role as secretary/treasurer. Mary’s goal was to make the long-term running of administrative tasks smoother for anyone who stepped into the role. Creating a webpage and going cashless are easy tasks for a not-for-profit in 2023, but in the early nineties it was a bold proposition to head into this territory. In his reference for her OAM, Perth Polocrosse Club member Richard Lester summed up this progressive attitude perfectly. He said, “Mary’s style is that she always plans ahead and is moving toward a solution well before other members a conscious of a looming change.”
Mary explains, “I realised things were beginning to change — administration, litigation – you couldn’t put your head in the sand. Our President gave the club a laptop and I went from there. I started to do everything electronically, including money and our polocrosse club would have been one of the first, if not the first, to have a web page.
“I was in that position forever, I had to do a lot of learning and trained the next one and the next one – it is so important to have a succession plan for these roles, actively canvas for people and make sure they are well trained and supported.”
Fellow member Hayley Saunders agrees — “Our club’s success is a direct result of Mary’s tireless work in recruiting new members and assisting current ones.” — although Mary is quick to point out, “I am only as good as the team and support I have behind me,”
Hayley has also directly benefited from one of Mary’s other great strengths, her capacity to build and foster relationships on a foundation of patience and compassion.
A broken back from a fall from her horse and extended break from riding saw Hayley facing much fear and anxiety when she returned to the saddle. Mary’s support over six months was instrumental in Hayley not turning her back on the sport for life.
“Mary’s vast understanding and empathy for the struggles of mental health made her able to help in unique ways,” says Hayley. “There’s no shame.”
Again, while today’s society is well-versed in mental health and positive behaviour models, Mary has had this approach and been imparting it onto others for more than thirty years.
“I try and mentor our other coaches about compassion – you see a little bit of bad behaviour and might think that is it all is. But I know a lot of the time it is not, there’s other stuff happening.
“You don’t know their story, so go and find it out — make the time to meet the family, interact, see how their day is going.”
These breakthroughs, along with a passion for breeding and educating horses, are what fuels Mary to keep up her seemingly tireless efforts.
“I just like seeing, especially teenagers, how it really helps people. It brings them out into a different world, and into a community where everyone is on the lookout for everyone else.
“They feel like they belong, even the ones who are different.”
Another volunteer role that formed part of Mary’s OAM reference, was her twenty-three years with the Chittering-Gingin St John Ambulance Subcentre, primarily as an Emergency Medical Technician.
Mary says, “This can be one of the most rewarding volunteer roles to fill, because you are helping your community in their most time of need. You meet the most amazing patients, and other people who work in our emergency services, volunteers and paid.
“The training I have had in both coaching and St John’s can be very similar when communicating and helping people.”
Mary believes her upbringing — in an isolated area and as one of nine children — contributed to her altruistic outlook and willingness to share her time with others.
“In a large family, there’s no other option but to share!” she laughs. “My father was very community minded and it was instilled in us that we always help people, didn’t matter who they were.”
While Mary’s OAM is undoubtedly well-deserved, acknowledgement of her efforts is not something she would ever have sought out.
Hayley says, “With Mary, there is no need for grand gestures of thanks or recognition of what she has done, just an expectation that when called upon to help someone else that you will.
“What an amazing, uncynical world it would be if there were more Mary Days.”