Old rifle clubs

We have a quick look at why Australia has so many small rifle clubs – but fewer and larger pistol and shotgun clubs.

OLD RIFLE CLUBS: Where they started

IN 1998, the world changed for a large number of fullbore and smallbore rifle clubs around Australia, many of which are in small, sometimes obscure locations around our cities.

Many of them started as a civilian support for our military in the early 1900s – when most people did not have cars. It was not unusual to see people walk to and from those clubs, or hop on a train, with rifles slung over their shoulders.

Plenty of old rifle clubs still around

There were – and still are – plenty of those clubs still going, many of which are on land up against train lines. 

There would have to be at least 25 or more still in our various metropolitan boundaries.

As WW1 and WW2 passed, they moved from being a civilian support mechanism, to straight out sporting clubs, generally affiliated through Shooting Australia.

Pistol, shotgun and other rifle clubs

As a legacy of their cQR code in articleivilian support, those those clubs were regulated under the”Defence Regulations”,  which fell under the Defence Act 1903 .

That Act is administered by the Federal Government, not the states which means that state laws did not apply to those clubs.

That meant those clubs were exempted from firearm licensing and registration laws, planning laws, and  they were given peppercorn rents.

That sounds cosy, as it enabled those clubs to focus on competitions with lower overheads.

However as you will see, that safety net ended up being a lability.

MEANWHILE, pistol, shotgun and other rifle clubs that started after WW2 did not have those protections.

That meant they were always fully exposed to commercial issues such as insurance and rent – which meant they needed to be better organised commercially in order to survive.

That’s why, over time, they were better able to develop fewer, but larger and more modern facilities.

A rude shock

That all changed in 1998 when the Defence Regs were suddenly repealed in a knee-jerk reaction to a media story following the Port Arthur fallout. Specifically, the media story alleged that clubs that fell under this arrangement could harbour semi-automatic military rifles, which had been banned at state level.

The changes that followed meant those clubs were quite literally dumped into the state systems – which changed their legal environment (licensing, registration, range approvals, planning laws).

It also changed their exposure to commercial issues that they had not had to deal with before.  For example, insurances and rent.

Post WW2 clubs

Clubs that formed post-WW2, had no option but to be commercially savvy.  That’s why, in my view, other organisations such as the SSAA, are as large as it is.

In other words, the Defence Regulations provided a valuable degree of protection that helped the growth of shooting in Australia, but prevented  those same clubs from “moving with the times”

It means those protections probably ended up doing more harm than good

It’s also why state regulators who were not exposed to these clubs prior to ’98, never really understood how they operated.

Competing with more modern facilities

The history to this means that it was also getting harder and harder for the older, smaller rifle clubs to attract new members as time went on. 

That’s because people looking for sporting options had contemporary choices with newer, larger and more modern sporting facilities nearby. 

Whether that was hockey, swimming, football – or other shooting clubs – makes no difference.

It’s ironic, but the old clubs that operated so cheaply, innocently, and to the benefit of the community, had been caught up in a deceptive time warp.

Catching up

Electronic targets

Going electronic

The good news is that many of these older rifle clubs have adapted well, and kept up with the pack when it comes to facilities.

This includes using fully electronic, rather than paper, targets – and national shooting competitions online rather than shoulder-to-shoulder. 

If you have an opportunity to try your hand at using electronic targets, then it’s definitely worth a go. A key benefit is that you not only can do away with your spotting scope, but you don’t need to keep moving position. As a result, scores will generally be higher.

Got any good stories of these clubs?

I’d be keen to chat with any old hands who remember the Defence Reg arrangements, and who would be happy to contribute to a podcast on this.

Please feel free to email us at editor@politicsreloaded.com.

Why not put this on your club’s noticeboard? 

old rifle clubs

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