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PICKERING BROOK RIFLE CLUB HISTORY

Research by Gordon Freegard

 

Pickering Brook Rifle Range is situated in the State Forest at Pickering Brook, off Canning Road. It is a small but significant rifle range with a chequered history. The range offers four target frames and is suitable for full bore target shooting from 100 yards to 600 yards.

In 1941, in the early days of the second World War the Australian government anticipated an invasion of the Australian territory by the enemy and issued a directive to activate Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC), which were operating on similar lines as the British Home Guards. The purpose of VDC was to guard the establishments vital to the national defence, thus allow the release of regular troops to concentrate on preventing the enemy reaching the Australian mainland.

A ready made base for the VDC were the Australian rifle clubs under the banner of the National Rifle Association, which was then associated with the Department of Defence. Rifle club members were highly skilled rifle men, well versed in the handling of firearms and ready for the task involved. Every Australian town of any significance has boasted at least one rifle club. In Western Australia alone there were 128 rifle clubs affiliated to the Western Australian Rifle Association, with a membership of about 12,000 rifle men.

HORSE PULLING A DRAG SCOOP DURING CONSTRUCTION     #1

To further training of such a body of men, the defence department was issuing free ammunition and heavily subsidized the purchase cost of the rifles. Every able bodied man considered it to be his duty to belong to the rifle club in order to attain the highest shooting skills and get ready to fight the enemy. The great metropolitan area boasted 44 rifle clubs which were sharing the use of the established rifle ranges at Swanbourne, South Perth, Queens Park, Armadale, Bedfordale, Kalamunda, Midland Junction, Mundaring and Chidlow. Such was the interest in rifle training that there just wasn't enough rifle ranges, especially in the metropolitan area, to accommodate all.

To alleviate the rifle ranges shortage, the Defence Department asked members of VDC for help to build more rifle ranges. VDC members considered it to be their patriotic duty to take up the challenge and in a short time about half dozen rifle ranges sprung up in the wider metropolitan area. The rifle ranges at Byford, Mt. Helena, Wooloroo, Jarrahdale, Bullsbrook, Bushmead and Byford were built.

One of the rifle ranges also built at that time is the Pickering Brook Rifle Range, which is now the only one remaining metropolitan range built in that era. In the last twenty or so years all other rifle ranges were closed due to the ever expanding urban sprawl encroaching into the safety zones of the ranges.

In 1941 Mr. Alan Harris, then the Forest Department official, was given task to survey the land area at the Darling Range escarpment and to choose well accessible but not too populated site, suitable for the purpose of the rifle range. After considerable effort, the piece of land at Pickering Brook was selected as to be suitable. The future rifle range site was to be situated in the state forest close to the Pickering Brook townsite, running away from the settlement in the south-east direction. The Karragullen-Midland railway affectionately known as the Zigzag was passing selected land thus making it comfortably accessible to folks traveling from any direction. In all 96.4 hectares of state forest was put aside by the Western Australian government and leased to the Commonwealth.

ABOUT TO UNLOAD SCOOPFUL OF SOIL DURING CONSTRUCTION      #2

VOLUNTEERS WORKING ON THE CONSTRUCTION    #3

 

The Range was built under the supervision of Major Priestly to the Defence Department standards, mostly by members of the No. 2nd platoon, the 12th battalion of Volunteer Defence Corps also known as the "Jarrah Battalion", consisting mainly of forestry workers employed by the nearby timber mills. Early in 1942 about 30 members of the battalion gave their free time to the cause and began construction of the rifle range.

For the next year and half trees were felled, land cleared and fenced off, the target gallery dug up, stop butts and target frames constructed, the firing mounds established, poles for flags and the telephone line erected, access tracks laid down and a wooden hut with a fireplace built. In all it was a remarkable effort considering that most of the time only hand tools were used. The pick and shovel, the saw and axe left many members with blisters on their hands for weeks and months. Three metre deep, 2 metre wide and a 12 metre long pit for the target gallery was dug up with a pick and shovel. It wasn't an easy task considering that the ground is very rocky. Big boulders were broken into smaller, more manageable pieces, with sledge hammers. The stop butt, a huge earth embankment catching the bullets was built with the help of a horse and scoop. Many members spent their own money to purchase things like wire, nails, tool sharpening etc., not bothering to claim the refund from Commonwealth, they just considering it to be their patriotic duty to help the country in its hour of need.

Early in 1943 the state of affairs did not look so great for the Allies and the possibility of the imminent invasion of the Australian mainland by the enemy was pressing on the Commonwealth government. The building of the defence establishments begun to be urgent priority. VDC members building the rifle range redoubled their effort working to the point of exhaustion. Many volunteers who so freely gave their weekends to the cause started drifting to the construction site after finishing their regular jobs, working till dark day after day, weekends and public holidays.

Finally in the spring of 1943 the rifle range began to take shape and the opening ceremony date was set for 31st October 1943. The Pickering Brook Rifle Range opening ceremony was a grand affair. Hundreds of people from all walks of life come to witness this occasion and to pay their thanks to all those volunteers involved in the construction of the rifle range. The Ladies put up an excellent picnic, and were probably glad to reclaim back their husbands, brothers and sons, whom they did not see very often for such a long period of time. As a special thanks the Defence Department donated several kegs of beer which ofcourse were drank quite quickly by the appreciative mob.

FOUNDATION STONE WITH COMMEMORATIVE PLAQUE. STONE WAS ORIGINALLY
ROUGHLY THE SHAPE OF AUSTRALIA BUT VANDALS BROKE PIECES OFF
LIKE CAPE YORK ETC.     #4

 

CLOSE-UP OF PLAQUE COMMEMORATING THE OPENING     #5

After the opening day, the rifle range was put to use at once. The Defence department personnel briefed VDC members on the latest weapon technology. VD corps were getting instruction about the use of rifles, machine guns, pistols,handling of explosives etc. The proper of the rifle range was also used for VDC drill.

Records show that beside the members of the VDC, the regular army units were also stationed at the range during the second world war, namely the 25th Light Horse Brigade attachments which used the range for army drill and shooting practice.

After the war finished the Volunteer Defence Corps were no longer needed and in the later part of 1945 the Defence Department was instructed by the government to disband the VDC structure.

Members of the 2nd platoon were invited to a "Supper Party" in the Carilla Hall, Pickering Brook on 27th October 1945 to celebrate the end of VDC and the passing of an era. Commanding officer Major A. Harris thanked members of the 12th Battalion for their outstanding effort in the past few years and officially disbanded the VDC.

However, the Commonwealth government realized that it may be prudent to keep some ready made reserves and reconstituted its policy to support the rifle club movement under the auspices of the National Rifle Association

The Pickering Brook rifle range was handed over by the Commonwealth to the social full bore rifle club, which was then affiliated to the Department of Defence. On the 20th August 1946 the Darling Range Rifle Club was re-established and took possession of the rifle range for their target shooting practice and competition.

At the inaugural meeting of the D.R.R.C. a motion was put that all members of the now disbanded 2nd platoon VDC should be proclaimed "Foundation Members". The rifle club grew in membership as local orchardists joined the movement. It wasn't unusual that up to 30 shooters joined in a competition on the rifle range.

While the men went about their business, ladies busied themselves to provide a picnic like atmosphere. Children scattered about, forever mindful of safety requirements not to get in front of the firing line. The winter creek flowing across the rifle range between 500 and 600 yards mounds was a popular playground for children.

In all, the rifle range was a centre of the weekend recreation for the families of Pickering Brook, Karragullen and surrounding districts. Midland to Karragullen Zig Zag railway which was now cutting through the rifle range made it easy for visitors from afar to get to and join in the recreation activities. Target shooting was a very popular pastime where families were having a quality bonding time with a lot of fun, while men were improving their shooting skills, should the need arise for them to use it for national defence.

During the early fifties the Zigzag railway was closed which made it difficult for members living outside the district to travel to the rifle range. Private cars weren't that common in those days and public transport was very sparse. As the consequence the membership of the club begun to decline.

MR. MERV CONCANEN, THE PRESIDENT OF THE WEST AUSTRALIAN RIFLE ASSOCIATION (Left) WITH TED SMAILES V.D.C. (Right) COMMEMORATING THE CENTENARY OF THE DARLING RANGE RIFLE CLUB AT PICKERING BROOK RIFLE RANGE, SEPTEMBER 2004.       #6

VIEW FROM 400Y. PICKERING BROOK RIFLE CLUB.     #7

 

The land use on the Darling Range escarpment saw some big changes in the early fifties. Instead of land being used for timber harvesting, as was a case for more than a hundred years of the early settlement of Western Australia, more and more agriculture based enterprises began to spring up, mainly the fruit growing industry. Workers in the orchards were by and large of Italian of south European descent, working hard for long hours and also on weekends to provide for large families. The heavy workload did not leave a new breed of orchardists much time for social and recreational activities.

In early fifties the subsiding building boom caused by soldiers returning home from the W.W.11 was just about over. The local timber mills began laying off workers and as a result the membership of the rifle club began to peter out. Many club members relocated to the close by Bushmead rifle range, which offered better accessibility by the public transport and modern facilities allowed shooting at greater distances, up to 900 yards.

In the mid fifties Pickering Brook Sports Club established its presence in the town site and as a off shoot a new Pickering Brook Rifle Club was formed. Membership of the new club was drawn from the few remaining timber mill workers and some local orchardists. The new rifle club shared the rifle range with the Daring Range Rifle Club. One club was shooting on Saturday and the other on Sundays. Both clubs were insufficient in membership numbers and could not afford to spend large amounts of money needed to bring the rifle range to acceptable standards. Several years of heavy winter rains took its toll on the rifle range infrastructure, eroding the stop butts and the firing mounds. The Defence department discontinued issuing infrastructure maintenance grants to the rifle clubs, which were now required to maintain the rifle ranges from their own funds. The Pickering Brook Rifle range was then used only occasionally and as a result it slowly fell into disrepair.

However, in June 1957 the Metropolitan District Rifle Association was running short of suitable full bore rifle ranges. The shortage was mostly due to the ever expanding urban sprawl forcing the closure of most of the rifle ranges around the metropolitan area as houses were being built close to the safety template of the ranges.

 

PICKERING BROOK RIFLE CLUB 1967     #8

EAST SIDE OF THE ORIGINAL HUT PRIOR TO BEING DESTROYED
BY THE FIERCE STORM IN AUGUST 2005. PICKERING BROOK RIFLE CLUB     #9

ORIGINAL CLUB HOUSE 1943
PICKERING BROOK RIFLE CLUB      #10

WEST SIDE OF THE ORIGINAL HUT 2005. PICKERING BROOK RIFLE CLUB    #11

The MDRA then established a committee which was to oversee the viability of repairing and reopening the Pickering Brook rifle range. As usual volunteer labour was used to repair the depilated rifle range, with the help of the MDRA who donated target frames while private individual, Mr. McCaskill donated a couple of field telephones for communication. However because of the strict safety standards, the rifle range could only be used from 300y backwards due to the severely eroded stop butts.

Because of its limitations regarding safety and inadequate facilities the rifle range was not used by a great amount of shooters and after severe weather conditions caused a target gallery to collapse, the rifle range was closed by the Army Inspector of the Rifle Ranges.

In 1963 the situation with the availability of rifle ranges in the Metro area was getting critical. At that time the full bore target shooting was still a very popular sport with several thousand shooters using the remaining three metro area rifle ranges which were quite overcrowded on the competition days. The MDRA then took a serious look at the situation and decided that it couldn't afford not to use the Pickering Brook Rifle Range and decided to bring it back to the required standard. In March 1963 the request to the Public Works Department was made to help with the required major earth works. That request was rejected.

However, as it is quite usual under adverse conditions a few dedicated members from all over the Perth metro area got together and prepared a plan how to approach the repairs needed. A working party of volunteers was established and the collapsed target gallery was dug out with a pick and shovel. One major problem then arose, how to stabilise the dug out gravel walls. The wooden posts would be just a temporary solution because of its susceptibility to white ants and rot. But as fate quite often has it, someone learnt that the concrete slabs from the then being demolished Fremantle railway station may be available. After some lengthy persuasion and the arm twisting by influential members of the shooting movement. PWD decided to give away the required concrete slabs, which would otherwise end up at some landfill. The PWD even organized the transport of the concrete slabs from Fremantle to Pickering Brook. All the labour was again secured by the effort of a few volunteers who would give their free time for a good cause, with a couple of feet of gravel on top.

In 1964 the rifle range was repaired and fully operational again. The Pickering Brook rifle club was using the range on Saturdays with some other metropolitan clubs utilising the range for the non competitive shooting on Sundays.

In 1983 the Armadale-Byford rifle club was forced off their rifle range in Byford because of the housing development. The members of the A.B.R.C. split into two halves. One half transferred to Swanbourne and the other half, mostly shift workers who could not attend the Saturday shooting at Swanbourne, applied to the Metropolitan District Rifle Association for a permission to use the Pickering Brook rifle range on Sundays. The Darling Range Rifle Club was reconstituted and began shooting on Sunday 9th January 1983.

Due to the persistence of the Captain Ken Simpson, Vice Captain Tony Haynes, and the stalwarts of the club, Norm Peach and John Mitchell, the rifle range was brought up to the perfect condition and membership of the Darling Range Rifle Club begun to grow.

AERIAL VIEW OF THE PICKERING BROOK RIFLE CLUB AND ITS SURROUNDS    #12

PLAQUE COMMEMORATING THE CENTENARY OF THE DARLING RANGE RIFLE 
CLUB AWARDED BY WEST AUSTRALIAN RIFLE ASSOCIATION     #13

 

The range was then used for the target shooting without any major developments until June 1993 when due to erosion of the stop butts caused by the heavy rain, the rifle range did not pass an inspection  and was closed for safety reasons by the Army Inspector of rifle ranges. Under the leadership of the club Captain Norm Peach, the Darling Range Rifle Club members secured the heavy machinery needed for the major earthworks on the stop butts, which was completely rebuilt for the cost of $2500.00. The range proper was fenced off with two strand wire fence and new danger sign fitted. Because the club acquired wireless communication equipment the telegraph was no longer needed. Thus the old telegraph poles were removed. The club devised regular maintenance schedule and the rifle range was again reopened in October that year after passing an Army inspection with flying colours.

In November 1993 a couple of shooters split from the Darling Range Rifle Club and reconstituted the Armadale-Byford Rifle Club. This new club was using different type of firearms which weren't compatible with the military style of shooting that DRRC was competing in. ABRC then chose to use the rifle range on Saturdays.

Both clubs continued to increase their membership base every year and more than a hundred and thirty club members and their family members are using the rifle range for the regular weekend competition and entertainment. Now and then rifle range hosts the Army Cadets Corps, who practice the safe handling of firearms and the Armadale Returned League Club who revise the memories of shooting the service rifles used in the W.W.11 the Malaya Anti insurgents operation, the Korean and Vietnam wars.

In the winter 2003 the Western Australian Police Service unit, the elite Anti Terrorist Group, together with the State Emergency Services and the Commonwealth security agencies begun using Pickering Brook Rifle Range for their anti-terrorist exercises. Department of Conservation and Land Management also begun to use the range for accreditation and licensing of the professional shooters.

In September 2004 the Darling Range Rifle Club celebrated its centenary by holding a special commemorative shoot. More than fifty shooters participated in the competition together with their families. The special guest was Mr. Ted Smailes VDC member who at 90 years of age was probably the last surviving member of the "Jarrah Battalion" involved in the construction of the range.

In August 2005 the fierce winter storm destroyed the original hut built in 1943. Despite the effort of members it wasn't possible to restore its original condition. The special kind of timber used in the construction of the hut, was not possible to secure any more thus members decided to demolish the ruins and clear site. All what now remains of the original hut is the remnants of the fireplace, next to the foundation stone.

The Pickering Brook Rifle Range with its chequered history has shown and it is continuing to show, that it is an asset to the Target Rifle shooting movement as well as an important social gathering point. Many shooters using the range are in the advanced stage of life. Having donated part of their life to protecting our freedom, they are now using the rifle range as a social meeting point, where they meet old friends and discuss the past weeks happenings. On the other hand many young members in their teens are learning the art of self discipline, intense concentration and sportsmanship needed to ensure the bright future of the full bore target shooting sport.

 

References  Article:    Darling Range Rifle Club

                 Images:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13   Ted Smailes

 

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