Shooting in Australia

Australia's first marksmen were convicts and marines who landed at Sydney Cove with the First Fleet in 1788. The Commandant of Norfolk Island ordered his free male settlers (all six of them) to practise musketry on Saturdays. During the famine year of 1790, Governor Phillip selected the best marksmen from both the marine guards and the convicts and organised them into hunting parties. Weapons were strictly controlled in the colony but he appointed convict John McIntyre as the official hunter for the settlement and McIntyre and others were granted a licence to carry firearms - originally the 'Brown Bess' Rifle Short Land Pattern Musket which had a 42" barrel and a range of 100 - 200 yards. The marksmen kept the colony supplied with fresh meat from kangaroos and emus until a relief ship arrived. Thus began a long tradition of partnership between military and civilian rifle shooting in Australia.

Exhibition shooting contests were conducted by free German settlers in South Australia as early as 1840. Organised club shooting began in 1842 with the formation of the Sydney Rifle Club in New South Wales. In 1854, when England sent troops to war against Russia in the Crimea, colonists grew apprehensive that British regular troops would be withdrawn from Australia. Later that year, authorisation was given for the establishment of volunteer corps in some colonies. Informal rifle clubs also formed around this time.

By early 1860, most suburbs and towns in Australia supported a volunteer unit, usually a rifle corps. Documents in the Australian War Memorial archives dated 17 October 1863 include an informal group photograph taken during a rifle shooting competition between men of the Hobart Town Volunteers Artillery and the First Rifles. The men are all holding pattern 1853 .577 inch Enfield rifles. Volunteer forces were eventually replaced by Militia as British regiments were withdrawn.

State and Territory Rifle Associations were formed around this time:

  • New South Wales RA (1860)’s first prize meeting was held at Randwick Racecourse in September 1861 between military competitors; civilians first competed in 1866 at Paddington. The first Queen’s Prize was won by Sgt. Sherring in 1879 and the first chairing of the winner took place in 1907;
  • Victorian RA (1860) conducted its first prize meeting for the NRA Silver Medal in the same year; its first Queen’s was won by Gunner G.A. Hanby in 1881;
  • South Australian RA (1861)’s first Queen’s was won by Pte C. Milne in 1879;
  • Queensland RA was originally formed in 1861, then reformed in 1877. Its first Queen’s was held on the Brisbane Rifle Range, Victoria Park in August 1878 - the oldest Queen’s Prize meeting in Australia, won by Sergeant T. Ferguson;
  • North Queensland was founded in Townsville in 1887 after the Colony of Queensland was divided into two military districts in 1885;
  • Tasmanian RA (1887) hosted the Intercolonial Matches on the Sandy Bay Range shortly after its founding. Its first King’s Prize was won by W.H. Cutler in 1924;
  • NRA of Western Australia was formed in 1890 and in 1901 the West Australian RA was formed in the Goldfields before the two came under one constitution in 1906 and eventually merged. WA’s first King’s Prize was won by W. Minett in 1902;
  • Northern Territory RA was formally admitted to the National Rifle Association of Australia in 1987, but Darwin Rifle Club has a history dating back to 1900 and in 1980 hosted the first Northern Territory Queen’s, won by Phil Thompson;
  • Australian Capital Territory Full Bore Target Rifle was recognised as a State Association in 2000 and ran the first Canberra Queen’s in 2004, won by James Corbett. Prior to that, the Canberra Rifle Club (1914) had hosted the National Queen’s Prize Meeting from 1972-2003.

The first Intercolonial Teams Match was fired on the Sandridge Range in Melbourne on 3 November 1862 and was won by New South Wales (who shipwrecked on the way home) from Victoria. In 1887 the inaugural Intercolonial Rifle Meeting was held in South Australia during the South Australian Exhibition. During this competition, military representatives from the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia attended a meeting to begin formation of a central body to promote both intercolonial and international matches. The meeting reconvened on 15 February 1888 in Sydney between officers representing New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania and, after several days, resolved to form the Federal Council of Rifle Associations of Australasia (from 1901 the Commonwealth Council of Rifle Associations of Australia). The New Zealand Rifle Association accepted an invitation to join the Council, withdrawing some years later. After World War II, the Council evolved into the National Rifle Association of Australia (NRAA) and the first national Queen’s Prize Meeting was conducted in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory in 1972. Robert Richards-Mousley won at the McIntosh Rifle Range where it continued until moving to the Belmont Range, Queensland, in June 2004.

In the early years, iron targets were replaced with paper targets and the original Martini-Henry rifle was replaced with the MLE (Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Enfield). Targetry continued to evolve and scoring rings were reduced in size as ammunition and scores improved. The introduction of the sliding wind arm for the sight contributed to higher scores although it was highly contentious at the time. Financial assistance from Army funds and free ammunition, which had been made available to the States for prize meetings, was gradually withdrawn from 1959 and formal connections between the rifle shooting Associations and the Department of Defence began to diminish.

Various models of the .303 calibre SMLE (Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield) were in service for many years and the No 4 was widely popular. When the Army introduced the 7.62 mm SLR (Self Loading Rifle) in 1959 to replace the .303 rifle, the No 4 was modified until a new rifle could be approved. Omark of South Australia produced a solid action single shot rifle which was permitted by the Council and the Angel action was produced in New South Wales. Black Mountain barrels were made at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory in New South Wales and stainless steel barrels were produced by Maddco in Queensland and by Tobler in New South Wales.

The first Australian rifle team to compete overseas ranked 4th in the Centennial International Long Range Match, in 1876 at Creedmoor, USA. The event subsequently became known as the Palma Trophy Teams Match, which Australia has won twice - in 1979 at Trentham, New Zealand, and in 1988 at Malabar in Sydney, Australia. Australia were a strong third in the last match in 2007 at Connaught Ranges, Canada.

A team of united Australian Riflemen competed in the Rajah of Kolapore’s Imperial Challenge Cup on the Wimbledon Range, England, in 1886, coming 4th. The first Australian to win a Queen’s badge at Bisley was A. Carter in 1897. The first Australian team to compete at the Bisley Range in 1902 won the Kolapore and two members also won King’s badges. Lieutenant Walter Addison was the first Australian to win the coveted King’s Prize at Bisley in 1907, defeating 1470 of the best shots in the world.

The Empire Match was inaugurated by the Council in 1907 and was first won by Australia against teams from New Zealand and Great Britain at Randwick Range in New South Wales. The top scorer for Australia was A. Cutler, the father of a future Governor of NSW, Sir Roden Cutler. The Empire Match was renamed the Australia Match in honour of the Australian Bicentenary Full Bore Rifle Championships in 1988. It remains one of the world’s premier matches.

Shooting was first included in the modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens however it did not feature in the Commonwealth Games until 1966 in Jamaica. In 2006 in Melbourne, the Australian Commonwealth Games Shooting Team ranked third in all sports with 23 medals won, (9 Gold, 8 Silver, 6 Bronze). Brigadier Bruce Scott won a Gold medal for Australia in the Individual Full Bore Rifle Match and a Silver medal in the Pairs Match along with team-mate James Corbett, who also won individual Bronze and followed it with the Silver in Delhi in 2010.