The first Rifle Club was established in Victoria as early as 1860 and two years later the Club was holding inter-colonial matches against New South Wales. In 1876, an Australian Rifle Team officially represented Australia overseas, at competitions in Britain and the United States. This was the first team to represent Australia in any sport overseas.
Local Gun Clubs were established from 1891 when a mounted rifle corp was established in Cranbourne. The rifle range at Cranbourne opened in 1894. The Tooradin Rifle Club was established around 1900 and had a rifle range at what is now Rutter Reserve. This club eventually closed, date unknown. In January 1907, the Garfield Rifle Club was formed - more on this below. A Lang Lang Gun Club was also established in 1907, in the April. The Lang Lang Guardian reported on their first Club activity which was held on May 15, 1907. A pipe, valued at less than £1, was a prize. That was a fairly substantial prize, as around this time the average weekly earnings of clothing factory workers was 1 pound, 2 shillings and for workers in a boot making factory it was 1 pound, 8 shillings. The Tooradin/Koo-Wee-Rup Rifle Club operated from June 1930 until October 1934.
The Lang Lang Guardian reported that the Garfield Rifle Club was established on Thursday, January 17 1907. The Club was formed with 36 members, with Frederick Edis, a farmer, appointed Secretary. George Ellis, who chaired the meeting, owned the Iona Hotel, where the meeting was held. James Shreive, a farmer of Garfield, moved the motion that the Club be established. That’s all I know about the Club, however Denise Nest, in her book Call of the Bunyip: a history of Bunyip, Iona and Tonimbuk, says that a Bunyip and Garfield Rifle Club was established on March 3, 1900, with E.C Hill as the Chairman (most likely Edward Hill, a farmer of Bunyip South); Captain A’Beckett as the Secretary (William Heywood A’Beckett, farmer of Bunyip) and a Committee consisting of ‘Messrs Archer, Kraft, Campigli, McMenamin and Roffey with 35 other intending members’. These men are George Archer, a storekeeper of Garfield; William George Kraft, owner of the Gippsland Hotel (Top Pub) at Bunyip; I have no information about Mr Campigli; David McMenamin and John Roffey were both farmers from Bunyip.
Mrs Nest says that the Bunyip and Garfield Rifle Club established a rifle range ‘between Garfield and Bunyip on a closed and unused road with a hill at one end of it’. The book goes onto say that the first social function was held October 1901 and £2 was raised to purchase a Martini-Enfield rifle, which became a trophy for the club. The club was still operating in 1919 but disbanded a few years later. The late Bill Parish, who spent many years researching and writing about the history of Garfield (his papers are now held by the Berwick Pakenham Historical Society) wrote that there was a Rifle Range at Garfield ‘which started on Garfield Road opposite the old State School site extending 1,000 yards to the east across the now Jefferson road’.
Working on the premise that all this information is correct, was there a breakaway group from the Bunyip and Garfield Rifle Club which formed a rival gun club at Garfield in January 1907? Certainly the descriptions of the Rifle ranges seem to indicate that there were two different Ranges. The only other mention I can find (in The Argus) of the Garfield Rifle Club was that in November 1915 it needed to spend £20 in order to put the Range in proper order, however in the same year The Argus reported at least three times on events at the Bunyip Rifle Club, including a report in August about the Bunyip Club having the most successful year in its career. At the time the Club had a credit balance of £22. Apparently before Federation, Rifle clubs were civilian organisations but between 1901 and 1921 they came under Army control. There is a list of grants given to Rifle Clubs in The Argus of December 27, 1907. Each club was granted five shillings for each ‘rifleman qualified as efficient in the musketry course’. Bunyip had 35 members who qualified and so received a grant of 8 pounds 15 shillings. Garfield did not receive any grants.
Other local Rifle Clubs included Nar Nar Goon which was established in 1901. The article about the grants to rifle clubs also listed clubs at Drouin, Buln Buln and Warragul. It does seem amazing that both Bunyip and Garfield could support a Rifle Club; however in September 1916 Rifle Clubs throughout Australia had 104,184 members of whom at the time 14,499 had enlisted for active service. This meant that around five percent of the total male population of Australia belonged to a Rifle Club, so it was obviously a popular, and during World War One, a patriotic past time. In 1939, Victoria had 313 Rifle Clubs with over 12,200 members, but by then it appears that both the Garfield and Bunyip clubs had disbanded.
About this blog
This blog is about the history of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp and neighbouring areas, such as Pakenham, Cranbourne and Garfield, and any other historical subjects I feel like writing about. It's my own original research and writing and if you live in the area you may have read some of the stories before in the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society newsletter or the Koo-Wee-Rup township newsletter, The Blackfish, or the Garfield township newsletter, The Spectator.