Click here to download a History focused on Fullbore Shooting – by Jill Gill.

A Brief Look at Ranges and Clubs – by Graeme Veale

Several members have enquired about different aspects of Coffs Harbour Rifle Club and how the Club reached its present day situation so I have decided to put pen to paper to try to record some history of the Clubs and the Rifle Movement, as I recall it, whilst time permits.

I have been a member of the Rifle Club movement for a period of 54 years which is an involvement which began as a student of Coffs High School and has continued until the present day and it is my intention in this article to give you a brief overview of the Rifle Movement, the Ranges and some of the characters involved along the way.

After World War 2 the Ranges were in a very bad state as they had been closed down for the period of the War and Clubs didn’t have much money to refurbish them It became a matter of propping them up a bit and if you loved shooting you simply got on with it. Army Range inspectors were non-existent for some years so it was up to the Clubs to make them as safe as possible with what they had.

In the early part of the century and between the World Wars the Clubs flourished, as patriotism was the name of the game. Simply put, if you were not a member of a Rifle Club in those days you were not really accepted as one of the better citizens around town. My father was very keen to see me join a Rifle Club at an early age owing to the fact that in his younger days he was a paid marker for the Armidale Rifle Club, the members of which assisted in keeping him in work during the Great Depression and he also considered it was a great way to meet the right people.

Shooters in the Sydney area could attend the Range in a specially provided train and many did mostly dressed in their suits and hats and almost all the towns in the State and in the vicinity of Coffs had their Rifle Ranges which in most cases were across two or more properties and provided a lot of competition for local shooters. The Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) was the generally used firearm with even earlier models used in the pre World War one era. At the outbreak of World War two the Rifle Clubs were closed down and all SMLEs were confiscated to be refurbished for the Army.

It was then found that the local Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) had virtually no firearms to offer even token resistance and any local defence from a possible Japanese invasion and they had to make up wooden guns as replicas of the SMLE to try to convince the Japanese they were protecting installations at the aerodrome, rail and harbour.” Tokyo Rose” a Japanese propaganda lady, who broadcast on short wave, mentioned Coffs and the VDC and their wooden guns on several occasions. As always the Aussie humour came to the fore with sentries protecting installations, challenging: “Halt, who goes there, advance and be recognised or I’ll fill you full of white ants.” (Some people might like to reflect on how close we came to being on a permanent rice diet at this point).

After the cessation of hostilities the old Clubs and Ranges were reopened and the old SMLE’s were readily available again through the Dept of Defence, they were refurbished and usually fitted with a slightly heavier barrel and very cheap. The SMLE was the backbone of the Clubs as whilst it was probably the most reliable and efficient of the rifles used by any of the combatants in WW2, its accuracy virtually put everyone on a very level playing field on the Rifle Ranges when used for target work.

Club membership was very popular during this period with ammo available free from the huge left over stocks from WW2 to Club members providing they could show constant attendance which then gave them an efficiency rating as a trained marksman and made them liable for call up by the Army if required. This situation of free ammo did not last long however and members were forced to pay for it instead by the Pollies.

About 1957 the Department of Defence decided to adopt the NATO calibre of 7.62mm (.308) and also adopted the Self Loading Rifle (SLR.) The ammo factories ceased producing the. 303 rounds and the old WW2 stocks of ammo were still being dumped at sea rather than let the Clubs use it. The Rifle movement was then faced with the fact that we would have to update to the new calibre. Conversion of the MK111 and No4 .303 were tried and only some of the No4s were able to be converted to 7.62mm (these by “crack testing the actions”) the MK1 was unsuitable as the rear locking action was not strong enough to withstand the increase in breech pressure from 44,000 lbs per sq inch of the old MK7.303 round to the 56,000 lbs per sq inch of the 7.62mm NATO round. Several WW2 actions were then tried, with some success, these being the Mauser, M17, P14 etc. A very unusual rifle was also produced by Lithgow Arms in very small quantities for the Rifle Clubs which was built on the SLR action but in single shot only. It was very inaccurate for target work, but would sure be a collector’s item today. The Coffs Club owned one for some time.

Sportco, an Aussie firearm and engineering company then produced the Omark. It was an immediate success as it was very strong and extremely simple to maintain. Barrels could be changed by screwing one out and the other in with head spacing corrected by replacing the bolt head. No lathe work was involved and their accuracy was first class with the NRAA having to immediately drop bullseye sizes to stop the number of “possible” scored.

Members should be aware that throughout this period only military ammo could be used on a rifle Range, reloading was not allowed until the late 198O’s. Many members left the movement at the time of the calibre change due to the expense of both the ammo and the rebuilding of rifles or the purchasing of a new Omark. In the early 1990’s the concept of Field Class target shooting was first mentioned. At the time the Coffs Club was very short of members and it appeared to me to be a logical step in attempting to build up membership. Many hours were spent by Coffs Club members in perfecting the running of the discipline and we are now recognised throughout the Rifle Movement for our efforts in pioneering the sport with many successful State Queens shoots and we have even staged it successfully at the National Queens in Brisbane. Its great appeal is that sporting rifles are used and no special target rifles are required.

This brief summary of the Rifle Movement probably gives you some idea of the overall picture of the sport. Up until the mid 1990’s the Army was the controlling body and all members of Australian Rifle Clubs were actually also members of the Army Reserve Forces (on paper at least). The Defence Act which the Clubs were under was then changed in 1996 to exclude them and we were then subject to State Police control from that time on which also made us subject to the State Firearms Laws instead of the military involvement.

This probably gives you some idea of the basic history of the movement. It is arguably the oldest sport in Australia as Competitive Rifle Shooting can be traced back to the Red Coats of the first fleet.

Six members of the Rifle Club Movement were awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery in the many conflicts Australia has been involved in and many more members have contributed to the great record of the deeds of Australians at War. The New South Wales Rifle association can trace its roots back to 1860. It can be very interesting to inspect the old photos of the International Teams and the Victoria Cross winners in the main Council room and John Fitzgerald’s office which can be arranged at any Queens Shoot visit. The peacetime sport of competitive rifle shooting also produced many of the snipers in both World Wars. It always has been a perfect training ground for the shooters ability to calculate range to target, wind velocity and projectile deflection, mirage and perfect shot placement. The luxury of driving to the mounds to shoot at some of the old ranges was virtually non-existent with most requiring a long carry of all the gear required.  Gleniffer was one such range locally with shooters leaving the vehicles some 500 metres away and access to the Range gained by wading a fairly deep creek with the gear above the head.

All the old Clubs had their characters, a lot of them were old diggers and there were some pretty rough cookies in their ranks.

I recall one such old gentleman who was stone deaf from the guns in WWI who having spent much time in the trenches was definitely not bashful when it came to calls of nature at working bees and would simply move off to one side from where we were working, dig a hole with his shovel and squat. He would then survey the landscape for some time in perfect tranquillity. Some of the other diggers said that he obviously enjoyed it because no one was shooting at him at the time. One of the members sneaked up behind him and gently filled the hole in whilst he was squatting one day, which was easy because of the deafness. The look of amazement on his face when he stood up and found nothing there still brings a smile to my face.

One of our other members had a great habit of breaking into song especially under the influence of the usual amber fluid after the shoots; his ability to get the high notes was mainly controlled by someone rubbing a lump of ice up his back at the critical time.

Another shooter I recall was so upset with his score that he put the boot into the old SMLE as it lay on the ground. I remember making the smart arse comment “Geez that’ll do it good”. The shooter looked at me very hard and said “Is that right. Well, if that’s the case I’ll do it properly”. He picked it up and promptly hurled it into the swamp and went home.

The sport of Competitive Rifle Shooting and the Ranges has been around for a long time. I don’t think anyone in the early days would have envisioned the fact that we now use them for our “Genuine Reason” to own and fire a firearm and without them and our affiliation to the New South Wales Rifle Association we would not be able to participate in the great sport of rifle shooting.

Participation in a “Queens Shoot” in your lifetime as a competitive shooter and winning a Queens Badge or Medal is considered to be one of the ultimate experiences in anyone’s shooting career.

The Queens Shoots are held once a year in each State and are named after Queen Elisabeth who is the patron of the event. A National Queens is also held. The earlier shoots were called “The Kings” who was the patron at the time.

The Queens shoots are a very important part of our Heritage and attendance by Field Class members is also very necessary to comply with a section of the Firearms Laws which states that all disciplines must have final direction to State, National and finally International competition to be legal.

All grades are catered for and members should be aware that the coveted Queens Badges and Medals are struck for all grades not just the “A graders” The Coffs Club members are very lucky in that we own our own Club range at Dairyville. This combined with the popularity of Field Class Target shooting and the hard work of your Executive and Range Officers make the Coffs Rifle Club arguably the best in Australia.

You as a Member are entitled to enjoy your present day visit to a high tech Range to use a high tech firearm, this brief history of the Ranges and incidents as I saw them are also a of your heritage.

A Brief History Of Coffs Rifle Club and Coffs Small Bore Rifle Club – by Graeme Veale

The Coffs Rifle Club origins can be traced back to the early 1900s with Jill Gill and the late Fred Hurley doing much work in tracing early member’s names and the Club history. The Club celebrated its centenary in 2000. When I joined the Club in 1950 the Coffs Rifle Range was on the site of the Rimfire Range in Howard St. It was a 900 yard range with mounds situated at 300, 500, 600, 700, 800 and (earlier) 900 yards and shot towards Sawtell. The 800yds mound was slightly to the right and ahead of the present Rimfire covered firing point which was the original Club house. The stop Butt was man-made and consisted of sand, sleepers and many sand bags which had been filled with one shovel of cement to the bag of sand, apparently as an experiment (which provided a great surface for ricochets off the curved hard surfaces of the bags as the cement mix aged). The mantelet was a sand mound with sleepers to support the gallery side with sleepers also providing the support for the top overhang.

Targets were stored in a wartime shelter on the Airport perimeter and necessitated a target carry of some 200 yards to the Butts before shooting could commence.

It was virtually impossible to drive to any of the mounds except 300yds and gear had to be transported from the Club House (now our Rimfire covered firing point) through the swamp to whatever Range was in use with the first person removing the red bellied black snakes which abound in the area.

All communications with the Butts was by ancient telephone and lines were strung all the way to the butts with droppers to each mound.

Many incidents occurred on the old range due either to its construction or condition.

I recall several which have remained imprinted firmly in the memory:

 Joe was marking a target next to me when a ricochet came off the butts and struck him in the middle of his rather large and shirtless belly. Joe let out a yell accompanied by the smack of the impact of the round and after saying a few choice words added insult to injury by picking up the offending projectile off the ground which being very hot, stuck to his fingers. He had a very large blood bruise on the belly and burnt fingers.

An experience of mine:

I was marking for a shoot held against the local Gun Club and was trying to get one of the Gun Club shooters on the target who was constantly missing, I stood slightly to the left of the target trying to see a strike somewhere on the butts when a round struck the sleeper on the top of the mantelet behind me, turned down at a very sharp angle and blew the leg off the target just above my right ear. The target fell on top of me. Some intensive first aid was required with pocket knives by other shooters ( ex diggers who had done that sort of thing before)to remove the wood splinters from my face and the paid Marker employed for the day on the other target sacked himself and went home.

As I said previously, we didn’t have the money to rebuild Ranges at that time and I shouldn’t have been out from under the overhang anyway. It was a great lesson in safety or lack of it on my part and what was also of great interest to me was the incredible angle of deflection of the WII .303 as they were deliberately designed with a displaced point of balance to accentuate wounds.

I joined the Club whilst still at High School and rode to the Sunday shoots on a bike from Bayldon at Sawtell with a SMLE .303 across the back. The trip required the crossing of the Boambee rail bridge (which had no foot bridge) and a ride up the beach at low tide or up the rail tracks if the tide was too high.

On some occasions I was not allowed to shoot when I arrived, as juniors were considered only useful for marking in the butts and coaching was virtually non-existent. The .303 WW2 ammunition was supplied by the Department of Defence in the form of a grant of so many rounds per NRAA registered shooter. These rounds were ex-stock from the millions of rounds left over from WW2 and each member had to fire so many rounds per year to qualify and was then considered to be a member of the Army and could be called up at any time.

This system worked well, until the pollies decided it would look better politically if shooters were forced to pay for the ammo in spite of the fact that 8,000,000 rounds per year were dumped at sea.

The local Club had to stop shooting when a passenger aircraft was in the vicinity. The shooting could not be resumed until the aircraft had landed and taxied in to the airport buildings. This was a ruling from the Department of Civil Aviation who were sure we were going to shoot down an aircraft.

Many attempts were made to stop the Club from using the range with the Department of Civil Aviation eventually getting an assessment from an ex Dam Buster squadron RAAF gentleman for use in closing the Range. Much publicity was given to this visit which proved to be a mistake on their part. He flew over the Range in a light aircraft whilst shooting was in progress and promptly told them very publicly that after all the flack thrown at him during the war, if we could shoot him down with our bloody pop guns he would f—–ing give up. So we stayed on a temporary basis only, until the Club decided to leave the site due to maintenance problems with the stop butt and then continued to shoot on the North Beach range which was adjacent to the Bowling Club at Mylestom. Many strange incidents occurred on the oId Coffs Range whilst it was in use with one old gentleman making history by accidentally shooting the markers dog which was chasing a rabbit up the stop butt at the time, the range was 800 yards and the score on the target was an outer 2.

So much for the way it was for me as a kid being introduced into the sport of long range rifle shooting. I imagine if a 13 year old was riding his bike around with an SMLE on his back now, the riot squad would be called. I also found the smelly excellent for shooting freshwater mullet at the back of Bundagen Beach as I grew up at Sawtell. As indicated earlier, Rifle Club Members of that period prior to WW1 and for sometime after WW2 were considered to be among the Towns’ most influential citizens. Ranges were scattered around almost all country towns and it was a weekend activity sport for many patriotic people. Before purchasing the Dairyville site we followed up on many of the old ranges locally. Some of these being at Coramba, Woolgoolga, Nana Glen, Glenreagh and Gleniffer, with the idea of rebuilding one of them but all were tied up with site problems with owners etc.

In the late 1970s the Club members were heartily sick of always seemingly being at cross purposes with Government departments as we were now confronted with a refusal to renew the lease on the Mylestom Range by the Department of Lands who wished to sub divide the range land into building blocks. They closed the Range and then spent many dollars surveying etc only to find it really belonged to the Forestry Department.

With no Range to shoot on, the Club decided to buy its own, with proceeds of grog sales which we gained by having an Army canteens licence which enabled us to buy grog cheaply and resell to members only.  Membership of Coffs Rifle Club went through the roof. I shudder to recollect a seemingly endless stream of cars pulling into my place every afternoon and weekends for their grog supplies. The same occurred with Keith and Fred. One of my best customers was the local licensing Sergeant, who was also a member.

We finally had enough money to buy the Dairyville Range site at auction, which cost $10,000 for the 80 acres. We then had to build the Range which was officially opened in 1981.

The number of people who helped in so many ways in the building of the Range is, I believe, a credit to the towns people and the few members who gave it their all, such as Fred Hurley, Keith Swanston, Jim Dow, Eric Dodds and John Winkle, Barry and Brenda Duncan, Harry Walters and Noel Amos to name a few. We did so to create something that all of us should be able to enjoy for many years into the future. John Winkle was the Club Captain of the Dorrigo Club and had his own earthmoving business.  John and his son did most of the bulldozer work for just the price of the diesel fuel. Jim Dow and Keith did most of the concrete work on the butts with the Coffs Tech College people laying the concrete blocks as a training exercise. Fred’s forte was the land and mounds etc whilst mine was the building and locating of the six target machines in the butts. On reflection it was a pretty good team.

More information on the actual building of the Dairyville Range is available with these documents in the form of copies of Newspaper articles on the opening of the Range in 1981.

Many Coffs Rifle Club members of this era were also members of the Coffs Harbour Small Bore Rifle Club which took over the site of the old Coffs Range as the Small Bore was considered great practice for Full Bore.

The Small Bore Club which developed the present Rimfire range was formed in 1964 from an idea I saw in Lismore which had me absolutely flabbergasted. The Lismore Small Bore Club was run by the Church of England to provide a venue for kids and other interested shooters. It operated on the showground at Lismore on a Wednesday night with the Captain being the local head of the Church and back up provided by his trainee Ministers who attended complete with collars and with the Church ladies providing the eats. The Church goers and shooters picked up the kids from disadvantaged families and off the streets and transported them to the shoots which were very popular. The stop butt was made up of pine construction, plate glass cases filled with sawdust which were lent against the wall under the grandstand. To me it was a great idea will get people interested in the sport (and the Church). The old gentleman who ran the shoot was a shooter who had spent much time in Europe where this type of thing was very common.

I introduced the idea to Coffs and we formed a club and started shooting also at the showground where we shot off the side of the cage bids pavilion and also set up a daylight Range further down towards the creek which we continued to operate for some years.

We didn’t seem to be able to interest any of the local Church Ministers as far as the kids were concerned but made up for that with coaching Cadet shoots and had many Junior Members in both Clubs over the years such as Geoff Slattery, Peter Richards, Steve, Kerrie and Andrew Veale, Michael Walker and many others with some of the earlier Small Bore members such as Peter Blacker, Roly Palmer and Jill Gill still enjoying their shooting in other disciplines these days.

The destiny of both the Coffs Rifle Club and the Coffs Small Bore Rifle Club have always been inextricably mixed and in 1997 I transferred all assets of the Small Bore Club over to the Coffs Rifle Club to allow for the Field Class Rimfire shoots which we now enjoy.

In October 1987 I was successful in Incorporating the Coffs Rifle Club. The Act allowing Incorporation of Clubs was one of the best things which could happen, but even more so for the Coffs Club which had to purchase the Dairyville Range in the name of the New South Wales Rifle Association as Clubs could not own their own land at that time.

The NSWRA appointed two Trustees to oversee the ownership, which after the Club became Incorporated; I was able to switch to full ownership by the Club itself.

Many of the older members of some of the Clubs resisted the change to Incorporation with the idea that they didn’t need it before so why now?

The Clubs who were not incorporated put their Members at great financial risk as it made every Member liable on a personal basis for any debts the Club may incur through lack of Insurance and also for many different complex reasons such as: I was a member of a local J.C Club who was asked by letter to ASSIST in raising money to build several housing units for a charity organisation. In reply the Secretary mistakenly stated that the Club would raise the money for a unit. Contracts were let on the receipt of his letter and I suddenly found that I was up for a grand as being my share (pre decimal currency) as each member was liable and there was no way the Club could raise it. The matter was eventually resolved but it was a great lesson and a close thing.

An unincorporated Rifle Club in the South of the State allowed a pyrotechnics Company to test fireworks on the range. One of the testers was killed and all the Members were then threatened with legal action individually for their share of the claim. This case is still ongoing years later.

Incorporation legally makes the Club a singular body which must carry the appropriate insurances and lifts the responsibility on each individual Member (through blanket Public Liability insurance with NSWRA).

The documents I used to incorporate the Coffs Club were then used by NSWRA, with changes of Club names, to incorporate all the other Rifle Clubs in the State, so it was another Coffs Harbour Club first.

The Howard St Rimfire Range deserves a mention as it is now a very popular section of the Coffs Rifle Club.

Briefly: the Range was constructed by the Coffs Small Bore Club in the early 1970s. The site was obtained by the availability of the old Coffs Rifle Range which was about to revert to the Dept of Lands as the lease holder was the Anny who was cancelling all Rifle Club leases. We were able to successfully obtain the top end which included the present covered firing point (the old Full Bore Club house).

We constructed the first stop butt which consisted of four logs laid with ends facing the firing point and sections of old flooring erected on edge and braced back with the usual sand catcher. The Army Range inspector grudgingly passed it for use as the only floating stop butt he had ever seen and also went along with the idea that it became higher when the tide came in as we had just received a lot of rain before his inspection.

The Range was improved several times with a larger stop butt, new roofing iron and a road improvement. This work took place over the many years of use prior to the turn over to Coffs Rifle Club in 1997.

The purchase and building of the Dairyville range was a huge project which fully extended the people involved. Most out thousands of hours of labour into it They had a single purpose in mind and that was to create something which would give a lot of pleasure to the shooters of the future.

We didn’t know then that we were also creating a “Genuine Reason” for these shooters of the future to continue in the sport of Rifle shooting in accordance with the Firearms Laws.

Before I get off my soap box I will make this statement: This Club and its Ranges form your “Genuine Reason” to own and fire a Rifle, yet we seem to have the same people each year doing the same jobs on the Committee. I often go out to Dairyville to work at the range on my own. I’m never really alone, for me there are many ghosts out there. They are however the friendly ghosts of people who would never have let someone else do the work for them. They were DOERS not DREAMERS.

Coffs Rifle Club is Unique in Australia in that it is one of a very few Rifle Clubs who actually owns its own land. I have heard that another exists in Townsville. To be a Member of such a Club has to be a great honour.

To me, the situation should be very clear to all members: The ability of shooters to continue in the sport and own a firearm hangs by this slender thread of the “Genuine Reason” With this fact in mind it appears to me that all members, even the four shoots a year people, would have a vested interest in making sure that the Club and its ranges receives your assistance in whatever way possible, to continue to prosper and exist in what is the very unfriendly environment of the Firearms Laws.

The Club and its ranges were built by workers. We still need them, the people on the Committee and the Range Officers who control your shoots are doing a great job. The problem is, it is the same people all the time. The Club ghosts who are building that big Range in the sky where all shooters eventually go would, I imagine, be already sorting out the future entries and giving preference to the workers.

After the new range was completed and in use, we realised that we had built one of the most difficult and demanding for contestants to shoot good scores on. The contours of the floor of the Range and the variation of wind direction as it blows through the different valleys and around the hill features cause the wind flags and the rifleman’s mirage to move in many different directions making it a real challenge to handle the conditions on Dairyville. Shooters have to read the wind velocity on these flags and must be able to use them and the mirage (which is the distortion of the target by heat waves as seen through a scope) to allow for the deflection of the projectile and with suitable sight correction, remain in the bullseye. Fred Hurley apologised to the shooters at the Range Opening Shoot for the fact that we only had eleven wind flags on the range.

Some clown yelled out from the back “for God’s sake don’t put up any more we are confused enough now.”On the open ranges wind flags usually all blow in the same direction but very seldom does this happen on Dairyville.

We then designed a Club badge to suit our particular Range. The wind flags displayed on the badge point in opposite dictions and the Latin” Finis Coronat Opus” roughly translated means: “The Finish Crowns the Work”. Wear it with pride. The work carried out to stage our last Prize Shoot and its finished product exemplifies the attitude of a great Club which has every reason to be proud of its professionalism.

I was discussing the administration problems encountered by someone like myself who has seemingly been in this organising section of the Rifle Movement for most of my time in the sport and I made the comment “I don’t know why I bother to extend so much sweat, blood and tears in trying to make something run so that people involved will enjoy it”. The gentleman to whom I was speaking who was also very much involved in this same way in a different sport observed: “We do it because someone did it for us”. How true, at this point in time I currently hold four positions in the NSWRA and three in the Coffs Rifle Club.

By doing these jobs to the best of my ability, I hope I am contributing in some way to our great sport and that I am also returning to it some of the good fun, mateship and competition created for me over the years by past members and Office Bearers.

This has been a brief account of some 54 years as a member of the Rifle Movement and with most of it spent in Coffs Rifle Club. It has been a very rewarding journey and I wish all members the same fun and competition afforded to myself over the years and that current and future members will continue to appreciate and enjoy the sport as I have.

Best Wishes, Graeme Veale

NSWRA Chief State Range Officer FCTS

NSWRA Chief State Range Officer Accreditor

NSWRA Councillor and FCTS Queens Shoot Organiser

CHRC Committee Member

CHRC Public Officer

CHRC Dangerous Goods License Holder (Ammunition)