An away day shoot for most club members usually entails a ride down the motorway. Accommodation in a B&B, a few pints and a curry. The next day, an early start followed by a full breakfast and then careful preparations, checking of rifles, calculation of wind, range and temperature; followed by the actual shoot.
This was a strange away day. While I am actually a full member of the Hill End RifleClub; I am an effective “upcountry” or “overseas” member. So this “away day” started at Heathrow Airport and took twenty hours of flying and a five hour drive to get to the range. Being sensible I stopped in Singapore and Moruya (NSW) to adjust to the time zones. This brought me to the rifle range at Hill End, in the mountains of New South Wales. Once a prosperous mining town the settlement is now almost deserted. The town has been relegated to a series of empty plots, a hotel, pub and shop and lies within a national park. As such it is very much in the Australian Bush. Gum tree forests cover the hills, full of feral goats and Kangaroos who bounce out of the bundu across the road and back into the bush. Its a scene I am familiar with, it looks like the hills of East or Southern Africa, but so much more peaceful; and more desolate.
The Hill End rifle club owes its heritage to the same conflict that created so many British Clubs. The Australian Colonial forces provided troops and horses to fight the Boer War; When the Boer Kommandos out shot the forces of the Empire with their 7mm mausers, the Imperial government eventually took note. Clubs sprung up in the city of London, as well as Sydney, Bathhurst, Lithgow, Mudgee and Hill End. Letters were sent to the club secretary addressed:
“To the Riflemen of the Empire”
Rifles and Ammunition were issued to the clubs and marksmanship was promoted. This was to stand Australia in good stead in the first world war, but even more so in the second world war, as by this time the shooting clubs of the Commonwealth were firmly established. Those competitions of the 1930’s were keenly contested; and so when the competitors found themselves in the Australian Army, they brought their skills with them.
The 1960’s, with its peaceful ideas and the Vietnam war brought new thinking to Australia and the club fell into disrepair. It was started again by two keen shooters, Brett Anthes and Ian Kates. Anthes was a local man who’s grandfather had worked in Hill end. These two men firmly believed in target shooting as a sport. After restarting the range and numerous efforts, they found themselves supported by the sports and recreational council of New South Wales. The results of their efforts are clear to see. The historic rifle range has been re-opened, maintained and now has a modern diverse membership.
The Hill End is unique in that it is a true bush range in the twenty first century. The gum trees come up to the edge of the firing line, which is itself a valley with a stream running through it. The range is fenced off and the members are responsible for maintaining the fence.
I arrive and find myself joining their working detail. Brett Anthes and Graham Murgatroyd, armed with a chain saw spent hours chopping down any fallen branch or log that interfered with the fence line. I acted as chief log puller. The working bee increased in size with the arrival of David and Blake Kim- who brought their own chainsaw. Probationer- Snowy joined in as well.
After much huffing and puffing, and pulling of logs, we inspected the butts, oiled the target frames and declare the range open but closed. Open in that we were ready to use it, and it was safely protected from hill walkers- but closed because we were all on it. The targets were raised along with the red flag and the orange “no shoot” disk.
Mark Green, the club captain worked the butts while we set up our kit to shoot. We started with the Lee Enfield Rifle Association SMLE global shoot. This was with specially made targets by Graham Murgatroyd. Figure 11 targets are hard to come by in Australia so the ever ingenious Graham (an artist and chef by trade) simply made them. We had an excellent shoot at the 200 yard mark. The Hill End Range is a little strange in that you end up shooting uphill to get on target at 200 yards.
“this is like the Nek at Gallipoli” someone said.
“I’ve been to Gallipoli and its not far off” I muttered in retort.
The shoot ended as dusk was drawing and the sun shone onto our sights. It was hard but most of us managed to get on target. The evening ended with the traditional barbecue and drinks.
There is no accommodation at the range; the nearest hotel is at Hill End; and the parks campsite is half a mile away. All of us simply camped in the bush beside the range. A series of swags, tents and sleeping bags appeared. Snowy, one of the newcomers, braved the doorless nissen hut- while the rest of us battened down the hatches on our tents. Bret, being the most sensible simply roles his swag out inside his landrover.
The temperatures became bitter in the early hours, and I reminded myself to bring my own sleeping bag next year, and not rely on the two borrowed affairs. I was saved by my ridge line jacket which kept the warmth in all night long when placed on top of my two sleeping bags.
The next morning we woke to Birdsong and Kangaroos bounding between us. For Australians, its remarkably normal to have a kangaroo appear in the suburbs, let alone the bush; but for the international visitors, it is always a strange pleasure to see them.
The day was devised by Brett Anthes, who started the entire team off with a 1000 yard shoot. Two by two, we lay down in the dry grass. One man acted as a spotter and one as rifleman. A man sized target was placed over the bull and the target raised. Brett and I opted to do the butts first. So we burbled through the bush in his Landrover, down to the creek bed and then up the hill towards the butts. We hung the black silhouette and waited. The shots started to rain in all around us. We directed the marksman towards the target and onto the black. The conditions were dreamlike. The air was cool, the sun just warm enough to be pleasant, but there was not a breath of wind,
This was the axis allies shoot- a fun competition based loosely upon military principles and experienes. The closest equivalent would be a historic CSR competition (with a difference). When it came to my turn to shoot, I was handed an SMLE and a box of Mk7 ball, made by the Armaments factory in 1928. There were no sighters, this was a military match, and so My first four shots took time to get on paper. There was some sun, and there was a bit of a glint on the rear sight, but I pulled my Tilley hat over my forehead and got a better sight picture. My fifth and all successive shots hit the bull and just around the hanging figure.
I was extremely pleased with this at 1000 yards with an unfamiliar rifle, but Brett Anthes was to better me. He pulled out a US 3006 springfield which he had barely used. In spite of some strange sights, he was bob on. Only those who had no 4’s rifles were for some reason not so happy.
In the afternoon- we had an – advance to contact; whereby two shooters would walk down from the firing point with the rifles at the ready. The range officer would would blow his whistle and the two shooters (with trailing safety officers) would drop down to “any field position” and fire five rounds at the target. The standard of marksmanship demonstrated by most of the Australians was exceptional. This was CSR shooting but on real terrain with real rocks and grass. It was a tribute to the excellent safety practices and skills of the Hill End Rifle club that they managed to pull off such and event so easily.
The day ended with a ceremonial 11 round volley on a series of balloons. The riflemen lined up and fired standing at a series of balloons kindly laid on the bank in the failing light. Some excellent rapid fire skills were demonstrated with a volley that any world war era commonwealth infantry squad would have been proud of.
The evening ended with prize giving and congratulations to the new shooters. It had been an enormously long way to come, but the combination of serious and seriously fun shooting had made it all worth it. All too soon, most of the members had gone home, and we were left the four of us, making Beouf Bourginoigne in the darkness sipping red wine on the now deathly quiet ranges.
KNOW AND GO
IN order to save money- I flew Emirates to Singapore,and Qantas to Sydney. I returned to London on Singapore Airlines.
I stayed with friends, but cheap accommodation is available in Sydney. (AUS$80 per room and up). To get to Hill End, there is a train and bus combination to Bathhurst $17 every 2 hours. Or there is a daily intercity train the whole way through – this costs $30-100. Train buffs will note that this is actually an Intercity 125 made in Australia!
The Hill End Rifle Club will always find someone to pick you up at Bathhurst and its a 45 min drive to the range from there. Camping on the range is free. The park campsite is 2000 yards away and is not expensive and has all facilities.
The Hill End rifle club is primarily a .303 rifle club, but Mausers and Springfields are always welcome. The Club welcomes riflemen and rifle women from around the globe to come and shoot with it. Invitations are easily obtained and should you wish to bring your own .303 this can be facilitated. (you will need paperwork for Australian Customs and NSW firearms registry etc). Some members of the club have more than a dozen .303’s and are very happy to lend rifles. If you have a British FAC, you can shoot on a reciprocal arrangement with Australia, if you don’t the club has the correct documentation for the NSW firearms registry to allow you to shoot with their rifles.
Range fees are AUS$25.00
Membership is currently AUS$50
Ammunition fired currently costs AUS$1 a round
Contact Ian Kates if you would like to shoot at any of their shoots next year: firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost everyone needs a Visa for Australia. Brits and many others can get an Electronic travel authority for free.
Article and photos by Raf.