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Victorian Rifle Association

Belt Buckle - Major, Victoria Local Forces, Brass, circa 1882

Image: Belt Buckle - Major, Victoria Local Forces, Brass, circa 1882

Source: Museum Victoria

The Victorian Rifle Association was formed in 1860 and held its first individual competition at the end of that year.

The first intercolonial teams match, Victoria vs New South Wales, was held at Sandridge Range (Port Melbourne) in 1862. Regular meetings were held at which members engaged in target practice, using firearms including rifles and revolvers, and engaged in 'skirmishes', some on horseback.

By 1876 the early Melbourne ranges at Emerald Hill, Sandridge and elsewhere had closed. Also in 1876 an Australian Rifle Team, consisting of shooters from New South Wales and Victoria, was the first team to officially represent Australia in any sport in international competition. They toured Britain and the USA competing in competitions including the USA Centenary Celebrations and the inaugural Palma trophy. This tour was so successful that it was decided to send an official cricket team overseas the following year.

A new range opened at Williamstown on 27 July 1878, after Victorian Governor's wife, Lady Diamantina Bowen, fired the first shot on the range.(1) The Williamstown range became the focal point for target rifle competition in Victoria for over a hundred years.

The first 'Queen's Trophy' competition was held in 1881 at the "Victoria Ranges", Williamstown.(2) The Illustrated Australian News on 22 December 1888 published a series of wood engravings showing Association members practising at the rifle range in Williamstown.

On 7 October 1884, the first civilian Rifle Club (Melbourne R.C.) was formed at a meeting at the Port Phillip Club Hotel, with the blessing of the Victorian Rifle Association.(3) Others soon followed. After Federation in 1901, rifle clubs came under army control, but in 1921 they were reconstituted as a civilian organisation, which they have remained ever since. After World War I a system of national training was embodied in the Defence Act and the rifle clubs reverted to their purely sporting role. Nevertheless by 1939 Victoria had 313 Rifle Clubs and 12,232 members. In 1901 a new range at Port Melbourne was opened particularly for the use of local rifle clubs. It functioned until 1937, when all activity concentrated at Williamstown.

Until 1933 the standard competition rifle was the standard military issue (long Magazine Lee Enfield). As military requirements changed, the target rifle diverged from the MLE, first with "heavy" barrels and vernier sights, evolving to today's single shot, Mauser (bolt) action, precision barrel, custom stock which eliminates the element of luck.

The Bullseye is the official publication of the Victorian Rifle Association Incorporated and the South Australian Rifle Association Incorporated. Previously it was called the Victorian Bullseye.

References:
Victorian Rifle Association website: http://www.vra.asn.au/history.html

(1) The minutes of the Victorian Rifle Association for the year 1878, held by the Victorian Rifle Association, Bendigo; "A Bullseye History of The Merrett Rifle Range - The story of the North Williamstown Rifle Ranges from their construction to their closure 1878 - 1987"... Compiled by R Graham, and produced by the Victorian Rifle Association 1987, page 7 (private collection); "The Australasian Sketcher", dated 31 August 1878. This publication includes a wood-cut of Lady Roma Diamantina Bowen firing the first shot on 27 July 1878. An excellent digital copy  is currently available through the State Library of Queensland.

(2) Melbourne Argus, Thursday 24 November, 1881, page 9 - under the heading "Victorian rifle Association Matches" first day results, Nov. 23

(3) Minutes dated October 7 1884 confirm the establishment of the Club on that date ( private collection).

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