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95th Anniversary - Harbourside Article

Club Takes a Shot at History

Today marks a significant milestone in the long and proud history of the Mosman-Neutral Bay Rifle Club.

Gary Somerville, Wendy McGuigan and Graeme Berman at the site of the old Mosman-Neutral Bay Rifle Club Brady Street range in Mosman

One of the most successful clubs to come out of Mosman isn't about tea and sympathy, lawn bowls or literature. It's about things that go bang. Big bangs, in fact, because guns are the weapon of sport for the Mosman-Neutral Bay Rifle Club.

It's a club with a proud and patriotric history - a club that has one of the best reputations among rifle clubs in the country.

For its members, the club is purely about sport and camaraderie. Suggest any connotation of violence to these shooters and it's like suggesting to tennis players that they might go around attacking people with their racquets.

"We see rifles as implements for sport. To us, a rifle is like a cricket bat," club member Gary Somerville said.

Today is an important day for the club. It's handing its written history and records, dating to 1915, to the local studies collection at Mosman Library. The memorabilia have been rescued from cardboard boxes at the clubhouse. Mr Somerville has spent countless hours sifting and sorting and writing a chronology of the club. Letters from World War I soldiers thanking the club for "socks and ciggies" are among the most precious papers.

There's also an original flyer headed "For the Empire" from the Mosman mayor in 1915 proposing the formation of the club to encourage recruitment for the war.

By the end of the war, 243 rifle club members had served overseas - 16 did not return. Initial training activities included guard and sentry drills, musketry practice, rifle and bayonet practice - although older club members were excused from bayonets. Drills were held at Mosman Oval. Shooting practice was held at Reid Park and in Brady St (across the road from what is now Bridgepoint Shopping Centre).

Another site, which would give everyone the horrors today, was Neutral Bay Public School and it was noted the main quadrangle of the school could accommodate 25 and 50-yard ranges for target practice. Despite all sorts of young bucks taking pot shots at rough targets, there were no accidents. And these days, club members wouldn't dream of brandishing anything more than an umbrella in the Mosman environs.

While the club clings to its name, the Mosman-Neutral Bay Rifle Club now bunkers down at the Anzac Rifle Range at Maroubra for Saturday afternoon competitions - apart from sojourns to country and interstate competitions that are as much about the social side as the shooting.

Club captain Wendy McGuigan said safety requirements were so strict all rifles had to be kept in safes and no weapon was capable of being fired "until we step up to the mound".

Shooters also have to meet strict requirements and pass an examination to get a licence.

In 1915 club members were firing clumsy Morris tube-fitted .22s. These days, the rifles are much more sophisticated full bore 7.62mm rifles and participants shoot over 300 to 800 metres at a fixed target. Ms McGuigan said Mosman-Neutral Bay was the top club in NSW and enjoyed a high standing across Australia. Factors such as the strong links to its history have always been part of the club's strength.

"We have always been serious about competition, but we're also a harmonious club," she said.

"For 18 years straight the club's A grade team won the Metropolitan District Rifle Association's championships. Then it was outgunned for two years in 2002 and 2003. But the A grade team redeemed itself two weeks ago when once again it hit the bulls-eye for this year's competition results. It was a fantastic effort and ranks as one of our best moments in shooting," said second-generation club member Graeme Berman."

Mr Berman, at 72, is still competing and has won the coveted individual Queen's Prize six times.

Ms McGuigan has been in the state team since 1998 and represented Australia in 1999.

She was the first woman member and captain of the club - her father, Tom Pritchard, was a shooter, as are her husband Tony and daughter Kerrie.

In 1934, Florrie Ferguson tried to be the first woman member of the club and was resoundingly knocked back by the blokes. Mr Berman quips that the "no women" ruling is probably still on the books, despite the current eight women members.

"Rifle shooting is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on equal footing," Ms McGuigan said.

Another advantage is shooters can compete alongside the best in the world. "It's not like sports like golf where you'd never get to compete against the likes of Greg Norman," Mr Berman said.

Full-bore target shooting is not an Olympic sport because, says Ms McGuigan, European countries simply don't have the space for long-range shooting.

In what is something of an anachronism, up until five years ago the Defence Department subsided the cost of ammunition for rifle clubs.

Unlike their club predecessors, Ms McGuigan, Mr Berman and Mr Somerville look positively aghast at any suggestion they'd be called to arms.

"I don't think I'd get my rifle out even if the enemy was coming down the street," Mr Berman said.

Ms McGuigan agrees.

"I think the only thing I could do is teach people the skill," she said. "To me, shooting is a peaceful and passive sport."

Article in Mosman local paper "Harbourside"

14 February 2005

Words: Janne Seletto

Pictures: Daniel Griffiths