The Lithgow Small Arms Factory / Thales built Austeyr F88, acknowledged now as the most reliable service rifle in the world.

Lithgow News

It’s funny how news items are made and that in this world full of doom and gloom, that good news still exists.

When I hit the desk today, I had a voicemail message with no message but a number to contact, so I rang it, not knowing what to expect. I spoke with a lovely lady called Lorraine, from Tarana near Bathurst, NSW, who told me her son had won a prize in one of our magazine competitions and had rung to find out how to get the prize.

Most rural people I talk to love to chat and I enjoy talking with them and we had a lengthy conversation. Her son is applying for an apprenticeship to be a fitter in Wallerawang and he also loves hunting; currently his quest is to get a big boar on the deck – quite a common ambition, that one.

Well Lorraine told me that she had recently worked for the Lithgow Mercury newspaper and they were promoting the upcoming Centenary of the iconic Small Arms Factory, which was a beacon of Australia’s early manufacturing excellence. The site now houses an excellent museum, which I encourage all Australian shooters to visit at least once. As far as arms manufacturing capability, I thought SAF Lithgow was at a pretty low ebb.

Now the site also houses the ADI Thales factory, which more recently has manufactured the Austeyr F88 Australian service rifle, now totally re-engineered and recognised through independent studies as the most reliable service rifle in the world. In addition, the factory has also manufactured brand new Garand M1 receivers for the American market.

The other great news from Lithgow is that Thales is looking to employ three new apprentice fitter/armourers to work in the factory. This means that gunsmithing is being kept alive as a trade by a resurgent Australian manufacturing enterprise. I am reminded of speaking with one of the SAF Museum’s guides, an old gentleman who worked on the tools at Lithgow during the hectic days of World War 2. He told me they ran three eight hour shifts, 24 hours a day continually for a long time during the war and that quality never suffered.

I own 1917 and 1943 Lithgow-made .303 SMLEs and I can vouch for that – they are great, durable and accurate pieces of the gunmaker’s art.

Marcus O’Dean




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