Months of LERAA member banter, on who would take away the Tin Hat trophy and the prestigious Gold Tag, finally came to a head once again at the “John Kell OAM Memorial Rifle Range” on the weekend of August 24th /25th 2019
Prime campsites started to be occupied from Friday lunch and throughout the day and night, new shooters and tag hungry members began to trickle in from all over NSW and Victoria. The iconic range hut, came back to life as the LERAA family once again reunited and new introductions and friendships were made around the large communal campfire. As the night wore on, people slowly drifted off to their campsites and swags for a good night’s sleep under the winter stars. The opening night was an encouraging sign of a great weekend ahead.
As the morning sun first began to touch the top of the silver gums of Hill End, the distinctive low dulcet tones of the red bearded secretary bird, starts to break through the silence of smouldering campfires. Not to be confused with his mating call, this bird of prey calls out from his blue canvas docking nest, in an attempt to gain the attention of sleeping LERAA members.
The official start of the weekend’s proceedings began with a morning flag raising ceremony and hoisting of the National flag and the LERAA colours. Next a presidential welcome for all in attendance, then birthday boy Adam, stepped forward to speak on and dedicate the 200yard Tagged event to the “Battle of Fromelles”.
A sober moment, as LERAA remembered the 5500 Australian causalities of the 5th Australian Division AIF, who in 1916 “ hopped the bags” in the first major battle fought by Australians on the Western Front. Of important note, nearly 2000 Australian lives were lost in the first 24 hours of the battle, of which today over 1000 soldiers still remain missing, with no known grave.
Members then moved off to gather their thoughts and make their way back to their humble campsites to make breakfast and start to prepare for the day’s events. All in attendance then gathered for the official safety briefing before moving down onto the range at the 300-yard mound.
The morning education session was a chance for new and old shooters to test and sight in new and refurbished rifles, practice the correct rifle positioning of standing, kneeling and prone. Shooters also listened to tips on trigger pull, correct sight pictures and breathing techniques.
So keen were shooters to get started, the Target marking team were rushed up the hill and had to cook and make breakfast in the parapet, all while manning the target frames and placing orange spotting discs in freshly punched 303 holes. At one stage the markers were enjoying a hot cup of brewed coffee in their dinted enamel mugs, when a shower of Hill End mantel dirt added a distinctive “LERAA Flavour” to their morning taste buds.
Once all had finished reacquainting themselves with 303 timber, brass and the smell of smokeless powder and cordite, it was back up to camp for a cooked lunch.
Then it was game on! The nerves started, the pressure built, the gamesmanship ramped up, as we all moved down to the 200-yard mound for the anticipated tagged event. It was finally time to see if Mr President could send his rounds down range to claim the highly prized gold tag and could he…. live up to the hype of his #hattrickpresident campaign, including his custom made promotional T-shirt.
Finally, the event had begun as the first detail of shooters aimed and smashed into their figure 11 Targets. The core-flute shattered, the paddles turned and for 60 seconds shooters breathed “slow is smooth, smooth is fast ”.
Every now and then, if you look behind the firing line its common to see LERAA diehards taking a moment in time, to soak up the sound of their favourite 303 symphony, as it thunders across the hills of Hill End and into their souls.
As the 200 yard event had come to a climax, it was time for Mr. President to take his place on the line. The air was thick and sweat began to form as he nervously aimed his 303 up the range to begin his title defence. He shot well and aimed true, but we would all have to wait till the final scores came down from the parapets, to know if we would see Woody rise to the occasion.
The crowd gathered and the scores were in. Excitement filled the air as some shooters proudly nursed their shoulders with the famous “Lee Enfield love kiss”. The scores were read out and notable mentions were made of personal bests. Family rivalries to count, while new shooters got to gauge how they went against LERAA members.
The time had come to announce the winner. Would the President do it? Would he take out the Gold Tag?
It was tight and the usual suspects were in play. Murgo, who usually performs best on his knees, faulted to hit the paddles to gain third and a Bronze Tag. Michael G, who typically enjoys the smashed avocado and chai lattes of green Sydney rifle ranges, revelled in the dirt and dust to score an impressive second and take the Silver Tag. Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for…. It was announced, first for the day and the prestigious Gold Tag went too… some bloke from Dubbo…
It had happened, the President had succumbed to the pressure and had dropped down to 4th for the shoot. There were no tears or tantrums, only celebration has he embraced the new 200 yard gold winner Peter M, a bridesmaid of past shoots had finally managed to take out the top spot, the GOLD TAG!
After it was all said and done, we headed back up the hill to clean and put rifles away and jumpers back on, it was time for the General meeting. Members and visitors settled into camp chairs and relaxed with the warmth of the large fire at their backs. The regular meeting was a chance for all to hear about the steady growth that LERAA continues to enjoy. Issues were discussed and new ideas like calendars (the nude version drew gasps and shudders), coffee and Bisley21 got minds ticking.
With thirsty appetites and stomachs growling, it was time to start cooking dinner. A time was set and plans were made to meet back down at the fire where tables had been set up for all to sit. The sharing of food, drinks and the days stories could be heard late into the night.
The spirt of LERAA is not just about shooting scores and competitions. The old saying “families who eat together, stay together” is true of the LERAA family. In a disconnected world of smart phones, iPads and Netflix, it’s never been more important to turn off and un-plug. Share food, talk to real people with real stories and simply enjoy each other’s company.
The Sunday morning light shown quickly over the Great Dividing Range and again, on cue, the red bearded secretary bird sung his tune. As kettles whistled, bacon popped and eggs sizzled, shooters started to mill around campsites, trying to work out who was lucky enough to earn this weekends “Drinking with Dave patch”.
With full breakfast bellies (or so they claim) and an extra cup of coffee or two, it was time for all to move down to the 300 yard mound and start the safety briefing for the annual shoot out for the Tin Hat trophy.
The helmet is second only, to the Lee Enfield Rifle when you think of any iconic image of a WW1 Commonwealth soldier. The Brodie steel helmet, had various names, battle bowler, tommy helmet and salad bowl (by the Germans). The Tin Hat played an essential role in keeping soldiers alive in the trenches and safe from the carnage of industrial warfare.
The “Tin hat”, also refers to the original semicircular, black aiming mark used on traditional military targets. Targets supplied and made by LERAA members, try to always replicate ones used of the time. Sizes for the Tin Hat targets were supplied by Mick Kelly from our international family, LERA UK. The target consists of a series of circles with the diameter of the “V” ring, bull, inner, magpie and outer, designed to test the shooter rather than the rifle.
The contest would begin from the 300 yard mound. Shooter’s took their turns, 2 sighters and 15 rounds each. The 174grain pills began to snap, crack and hit the targets. The markers quickly patched and pointed out the scores. Seconders chalked the totals and confirmed “one away”, “two away” and for everyone who shot their 303 rifles, there really was “no place like prone”
Scores where on the chalk boards for all to see. When all had shot, it was time to change up the targets while the rest of us would march up the range for the next stage of the competition. When ready, the first of the No.1 MK3’s began to supress their targets. But it is here, at the 500 mound that the No.4 Enfield’s in the hands of seasoned 303 shooters, begin to pull away from the rest of the field.
However quietly moving through the field, was young Andrew H, fresh from medalling at the Territorials in Canberra, took out 3rd place. Not content with his effort from Saturday, Michael G took out 2nd place, again, and has become the new bridesmaid of Hill End. But the deserved winner, who outshot everybody else and probably was favourite to take home the Tin Hat Trophy, was of course Murgo. A name that will now be forever part of the legacy of the LERAA Tin Hat.
It’s now onto Rankins Springs, a range that offers a bounty of prizes for tag winners and T-Shirt enthusiasts. It will also be the next time the family of LERAA can once again shoot, laugh and break bread together. I look forward to seeing everyone there.
Written and edited by;