An important thing that I learnt when I was a fresh-faced Infantry recruit was “Don’t Volunteer”. If you did end up with the short end of the stick it was usually because you were the slowest to step backwards or you had been “Volunteered” by an NCO who thought you deserved a bit of discomfort. Nowadays volunteering is all very nice and PC, but some lessons learnt during Basic are well ingrained. Fast forward a lifetime and sitting at the John Kell OAM Memorial Rifle Range I hear a call for someone to write this report. Being one of the ‘new kids’ I figured I’d shrink back with my beer and see what transpired. Silence. Then. My name! Ah, bugga. OK, looks like I’ve been Volunteered.
I’d never been to Hill End before. There didn’t seem to be much call to go there in the past. When I mentioned it to some old mates they said I should “wear the Fox Hat”. Interesting. So I got my stuff sorted, hooked the trailer to the car (not a 4WD) fuelled up and headed north. The drive was more interesting than I had anticipated and I resolved to travel out this way again soon just to take in the sights.
Arriving at the range I carefully drove toward an array of tents beside the range. Despite being little more than a track I was able to drive right into the camp site without incident and set up my new second-hand tent (bought especially for LERAA adventures).
The welcome was typical, as far as I can tell, LERAA style. Warm and enthusiastic, I could get used to this. As more and more people arrived a group formed near the range clubhouse and tales of daring do began to flow as refreshments were consumed. New and old members, old and young, prospective members, all were welcomed in the same way. As long lost and very welcome friends.
LERAA shoots may be thought of as competitive, but that would miss the vast and most important part of these gatherings. The meeting of a good sized group of people from diverse backgrounds with the purpose of enjoying each other’s company and burning cordite or nitrocellulose for a couple of days. Sharing food, drinks, tall tales and true in a welcoming and inclusive environment must be one of life’s great pleasures. Even better around the outback TV – a campfire, but with the current tinder dry state of the land it was decided that it would be best to be fireless this time.
Fade to the next morning and near first light the sound of Kookaburras splitting their sides indicated that it was time to start preparations for a day of loud bangs. An assortment of Adventurous Hats emerged from tents atop some folks. Feather boas are something I had not expected to encounter in the backblocks of NSW, but there they were.
El Presidente welcomed all to the event, the National Flag and that of LERAA were raised and Paul Mc read the dedication to the Australian and Allied forces who successfully fought against Rommel’s army during the siege of Tobruk from 10 April to 27 November 1941. Australia suffered 3,194 casualties during the siege. A stark reminder that the rifles that we use and treasure today served a far more desperate role for their first users.
A minute of silence was observed in memory of all of those who have served, and those who continue serve, our nation.
After a reminder about safety and behaviour on the range we gathered at the clay target range. I have to say that I love watching clay target shooting. One of my earliest memories as a child is of being at trap shooting events in country New Zealand. I certainly find the shattering of a clay more entertaining than a hole appearing in a paper target.
The variety of guns was great to see. Old Damascus barrelled black powder shotguns shooting beside short black polymer stocked jobbies.
I paid little attention to the scores. For me it was a hoot to see and hear acclamation when a clay was blasted to smithereens, or just nicked. There was a collective sigh when one of the zippy buggers got away unscathed. Notable was young David H who displayed a great natural ability, shattering the first clay that he had ever shot at and then continuing to break a good number of his following clays. I think we may need to watch that lad in the future. I swear he grew a foot taller during the event.
After a good break for food and refreshment shotguns were swapped for the trusty SMLE and we made our way to the 200 yard mound.
This being my first time shooting at Hill End I was rather perplexed to find that we were shooting up a fairly steep hill to the targets. This would be interesting for the kneeling and prone positions.It was also good to meet David and his son who had arrived from Sydney to come and see what a LERAA was about. Of course they were made most welcome in true LERAA style.
The first practice was 10 rounds standing unsupported, untimed. I don’t think this is anyone’s favourite position, but it is challenging so therefore fun in a twisted kind of way. I managed two magnificent groups either side of the black strip on the target. Looked good, scored not so good.
The presence of people working in the butts and indicating where our sighting shots fell was a luxury that I hadn’t experienced with LERAA before and it was kinda nice. The only down side was that unlike at Rankins Springs we didn’t get to enjoy the sight of El Presidente galloping up to the targets to check the scores after his shoot. Just the memory put smiles on quite a few faces.
The next practice was Snap. A much smaller target, hand held, and only exposed for 3 seconds at a time. This is probably my favourite kind of target, but I was having a hell of a time seeing the damn thing let alone hitting it (where’s that excuse book?). Good fun anyway.
The last practice was 10 rounds from the prone position in one minute, starting from standing with the rifle at your feet. The saying goes something like “5 well aimed shots are better than 10 bad ones”, but there seems to be something wrong with my brain because I just love getting all of the 10 rounds down range and damn the consequences. Something I need to work on.
By now the rifles were almost too hot to handle, from a combination of blazing sun and heat of firing and the brass was almost too hot to regather after the shoot.
With my shooting done for the day I went up to the butts to work the targets and let the folks up there come down and have a shoot. Fortunately the horror stories about meat ants falling from the mantle onto the butt detail were not repeated this time.
Once all of the shooting was done the scores were added up and score sheets handed out to the groans or delight of each of us. I scored better than I should have, but not as well as I could have.
The coveted tags were distributed. Bronze to (tbc) , Silver to Michael G, and the Gold to Murgo Murgatroyd.
Gentle ribbing, vows to do better next time, and excuses from deep within The Book were aired as we strolled back to camp to clean and secure our rifles.
It was still quite early in the afternoon, so the camp gradually returned to it’s pre-shoot laid back social manner.
Refreshments were plucked from ice boxes, chairs were gathered around the more central camp sights and some folks went off in a vain search for working showers near town.
Several tables were put together to accommodate all comers for the feast that was dinner just on sundown….more stories and additions to the excuse book were conjured up.
After dinner the Hill End Rifle Range Outdoor Cinema was erected on the veranda of the club house and most eyes were fixed on the screen as Hamburger Hill lit the night.
Early Sunday morning the Kookaburras were just about to begin their morning cacophony when they were beaten to the punch by the raucous call Greater Murgatroyd Bird echoing across the camp….MORNING WOODY! MORNING ALANNA! MORNING DAVE!
H. C. Fluke Trophy day had arrived.
Breakfasts were consumed with many mugs of coffee and target rifles were gently removed from their resting places.
Chambers and bores were cleaned and micrometre sights twiddled as their owners considered what settings they would need for 300 yards and….. holy moly…700 yards!
Others, who did not have a target rile, chose to use their standard SMLE.
Arriving at the 300 yard mound we were confronted by a large meat ant nest right in the middle of position 2. The speed at which the boards for positions 1 & 3 filled was impressive but not surprising. Position 2 was moved very slightly left of the nest in the hope that no shooter should incur the wrath of a gazillion angry bitey bastards. Fortunately the ants must have had their coffee that morning because they remained relatively calm despite 48 muzzle blasts occurring less than a foot from their nest.
After completing the shoot at 300 yards, we retreated to the 700 yard mound. Wow! This does seem like a long way back from the targets.
In fact, where are the targets?
Oh, those little things?
Oh dear, I hope I don’t stretch the barrel trying to hit that!
The difficulty was made apparent by some shooters taking many shots just to get their sights to the point where they could hit paper.
I was stunned to actually hit the target with my first sighting shot.
700 yards is a long way to fire a 70+ year old rifle and expect to put a projectile precisely on target, but more than a few shooters were well up to the task and the scores slowly rolled in as each finished their 10 scoring shots.
When all was quiet we retreated to the shade and the scores were tallied to determine who would be the first to raise the H. C. Fluke Perpetual Trophy.
Congratulations to Murgo Murgatroyd for an great score of 80.5 to take out first place, followed by Peter M with 69.3 and Myles (Woody) snapping at his heels with 68.1.
Peter Fluke was there to tell us the history of the cup, those of his ancestor Sergt. H.C.Fluke and how the trophy as it is today came to be, and then pass it to the victor.
A huge weekend of shooting had drawn to it’s conclusion and I’m sure that all present are looking forward to a repeat of the same shoot in November 2020.
But wait, there’s more.
El Presidente had decreed that there would be a Hatchet Throw, with the prize being a shiny new hatchet and the victor’s name inscribed on a Perpetual Tropy Hatchet.
After a quick safety brief the display of fine hatchet throwing skills began.
I now know why we use rifles most of the time.
The target ‘stump’ did get hit much of the time, but there was many a ricochet and a few folks whose arms were obviously still loaded for the 700 yard range. In a remarkably short period a winner was confirmed by the THOCK of a hatchet sticking firmly to the target.
(Who did win that?)
Sadly some folks were needed at work the next morning, so had to pack up and leave.
Goodbyes were said and the campsite gradually shrunk a bit, but a few of us stayed and repeated a slightly smaller and more raucous version of the previous night.
The next morning, wreathed in smoke from distant bush fires, we packed up and the range became deserted again.
Is there anything more forlorn than the rifle range without the bark of a SMLE?
So ended the final LERAA shoot of 2019.
I have to say I haven’t had so much fun in ages and cannot wait to do it all over again next year, starting February.
Thank you everyone for making these things something amazing.
See you on the range.