Tom Varney, a renowned fox hunter and skilled shot, passed away peacefully with wife Barbara, four daughters and son Thomas at his side on Monday, October 14 after a battle with cancer. He was 73.
Originally from Bairnsdale, Tom embraced his father’s passion for shooting. His father won medals and trophies, including the King’s prize shoot in the 1930s, and it wasn’t long before Tom showed that he shared that skill, winning his first trophy for clay pigeon shooting at 15.
A poem written by a friend of his reads:
Tom Varney was a local lad who liked a lot of fun,
The townsfolk all talked about his skill with any gun,
Whether foxes, deer, black duck, or snipe on the wing or on the run,
They all fell to the skill of young Tommy and his Gun.
A natural athlete, Tom also succeeded on the football field until alcohol became a negative force in his life and led to serious brushes with the law, the subject of his biography, From Gutter to Glory.
However, he was able to conquer his self-destructive behaviour through his faith in God and became an inspiration for many.
His passion for hunting remained and after he moved to Esk in Queensland, he produced a series of DVDs on hunting wild dogs, foxes and red deer with Thomas.
Tom Varney’s reputation as a gentleman and as someone with a huge capacity for all people grew and his long list of friends included hunter Pete Kennedy who appeared in some of the hunting DVDs.
Pete wrote this tribute to Tom for Sporting Shooter magazine a couple of years ago:
FOX SHOOTING WITH A LEGEND
Over the years, I have come to firmly believe that education is an essential key to success. Education comes in many formats, many of which can easily be applied to the daily rigours of hunting. Whether it be the general principals of firearm use and safety, or the more arduous steps associated with the stalking and successful taking of a once in a lifetime trophy animal, these principals are, more often than not, taught to us by our peers.
I know that my passion for hunting evolved from an early age, as I went rabbit hunting with my father. I clearly recall the time and place when I shot my first rabbit with Dad’s old Martini .22, which from that moment set the pace for an avid interest in all things associated with the shooting sports. I have since extended my shooting horizons and have successfully taken some of Australia’s more elusive game, including Sambar Deer and Wild Dogs.
It was in fact when I was living in Bell Queensland that I became fascinated with Wild Dogs. I spent many a weekend with an old mate of mine, almost 60 years my senior learning to trap, call and shoot dogs. That knowledge along with my old mate has now sadly passed on.
It was during this time that I learnt of another hunter, dedicated to the art of calling dogs who, lived in Esk, Queensland. I ended up purchasing one of his VHS video’s called “Hunting the Elusive Wild Dog”. I was fascinated by what I saw and decided then and there that I had to meet this man. The rest is now history, although for both of us the wild dog hunting has given way to fox whistling and I now regard Tom Varney as not only a legend of Australian hunting, but also a close personal friend and mentor.
Tom Varney was born and raised in Bairnsdale Victoria during the turbid years of World War II – a time when it was not uncommon to see youngsters riding pushbikes out to the rabbit grounds with a .22 or shotgun stashed in a corn bag somehow attached to the frame of the bike. Most would say that he was born with a rifle in his hand, as from an early age Tom showed great potential and skill with a firearm. Shooting hundreds of thousands of rounds through his pea rifle, Tom became an accomplished trick shooter, being able to keep a tin can aloft with shot after shot hitting the moving target. Tom could, also place the rifle on the ground, throw a coin into the air pick up the rifle and shoot the coin in one fluent motion, such was his skill.
This ability proved essential in later years when Tom became one of Victoria’s best wing shooters, often bagging out on ducks on the opening day of the Victorian Duck Season. Tom would never take more than his limit and often spent hours plucking and cleaning ducks only to donate them to the kitchen of the local old folk’s home, as three square meals in those days, were hard to come by. “Oh! How times have changed”. Tom often refers to the plague proportions of ducks in the rice fields, now that duck shooting is banned in most States. Tom’s skill with a shotgun was not only displayed on the swamps of Victoria, as he also attained notoriety and shot alongside the top ranks of the Australian Clay Target fraternity.
Invariably as time went on Tom and his lovely wife Barbara had three daughters and a son Thomas, with whom I have become great mates. Tom moved from Victoria to Esk, in south east Queensland where he took up the challenge of hunting wild dogs and Red Deer. Tom was so successful in his ventures that farmers in the local area relied, heavily, upon him to solve their wild dog problems, a challenge which Tom took to with a vengeance.
During the long sojourns in search of Wild Dogs, Tom decided to document some of his knowledge on video and as a result, Tom’s passion of filming animals in the Australian bush was born. Tom has since completed numerous video’s and DVD’s on hunting Wild Dogs and Red Deer around southern Queensland, however his skill with a fox whistle is where Tom Varney really shines.
It was a number of years ago now that Tom Varney drove into my driveway, on a cold grey New England winters day. I had invited Tom to my house in a hope to gain some of the knowledge that had been well etched by his 60 or so years of whistling foxes, as I to, had developed this same passion.
I had not seen a fox called up during the day, but had called them up under the spotlight while culling the odd kangaroo or three. I was keen to learn the trade and watch Tom work his magic with a well-worn Tenterfield fox whistle that was, obviously, a treasured item.
Tom and I headed out into the bracken choked Gullies of the New England area of northern New South Wales, and I distinctly remember having the feeling of excitement coursing through my veins. I watched closely as Tom continually checked the wind with small puffs of talcum powder from an empty eye drop bottle – practical not pretty. Tom would tell me which area he thought a fox would come from and it was evident that he had an eye for detail. Upon reaching the first stand, I watched as Tom set up the video camera amongst some low hung trees. Tom then spoke only a few words indicating that he thought a fox, if home, would come down to our left and cross through a pop hole under the ring lock fence. Having never seen this before I was some what sceptical, however, with a tree at my back I heard the camera start up along with the whaling of the fox whistle. To my amazement within 10 seconds a fox appeared about 200 metres out, and as if written in the script wandered down to our left, came through the pop hole in the fence to where I shot it at about 15 feet from the camera. Now this guy knows his stuff, and to say that I was suitably impressed would be an understatement.
This moment sparked a long term friendship and I have since had the privilege of accompanying Tom and his son Thomas on numerous fox hunting excursions around my local area. Tom is a person, who has a lifetime of knowledge and skill to share, and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to learn from someone who is quite clearly among the greats of predator calling in Australia.
Being a quiet humble man, I am sure that Tom Varney would read these words with a slight hint of crimson creeping onto his face. Unfortunately, times have changed, and the shooting sports are no longer as widely accepted by the greater community. The onset of supermarkets and fast food joints make life easier than years gone by and unfortunately for us, the knowledge and skill of people like Tom Varney is slowly fading as time passes on. I, for one am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from one of the best and go Fox Shooting with a Legend.