Author of The Riflemen Andrew Kilsby (left) with National Rifle Association chairman John Fitzgerald on the range at Belmont. The book, which records the first 100 years of the NRAA from 1888, was launched at the National Queens Prize shoot.

Shooting a part of Australian heritage

A new book which chronicles the history of the oldest sporting institution in Australia was launched in Brisbane on 22 June.

The Riflemen traces the first 100 years of the National Rifle Association, which was formed in 1888.

Rifle shooting has been part of the fabric of Australia since the first colonial settlers reached these shores. It has been an enduring recreation and for much of its history was tied to the defence of the nation.

The book was written by Melbourne-based historian Andrew Kilsby with the research part of his PhD thesis.

It traces the story of the shooting movement through war and peace, detailing a unique and complex relationship with the military which was not formally severed until the 1960s.

Shooting has enjoyed royal patronage since the days when Queen Victoria encouraged marksmanship and instituted a prize for troops during the Boer War.

The first Queen’s Prize in Australia was shot in Brisbane in 1878 – 10 years before the national body was formed.

From the 1840s rifle clubs began springing up in new colonies all around Australia as a recreation and shooting was integral to the formation of the earliest volunteer militia groups.

The army fostered shooting to improve marksmanship, building rifle ranges and supplying free ammunition and equipment.

Major military recruiting drives were associated with rifle clubs which collectively boasted more than 100,000 members in the early part of last century.

Inter-colonial shooting matches became popular and Australian shooters began competing in Empire matches at Bisley in the UK from the 1870s.

With its strong military background, shooting was exclusively a male preserve in its early years, with women banned from full bore competition matches until the 1960s.

The military ties with shooting continued through two world wars before being formally severed in the 1960s with the loss of subsidised ammunition proving a real culture shock.

For most of its first century, the shooting movement was built on the universally available .303 calibre rifles. But shortages of ammunition and new rifles led to the adoption of 7.62mm target rifles for competition events in the late 1960s.

With the Queen’s Prize enjoying a long tradition as the pinnacle of shooting excellence in all states, the National Rifle Association launched the first National Queen’s Prize in Canberra in 1972.

The 42nd National Championships held in Brisbane from June 19 to 22 proved a fitting venue to launch The Riflemen.

Copies of The Riflemen are available from the National Rifle Association, PO Box 414, Carina, Qld 4152 or phone 07 3398 1228.




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