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Petone Rifle Club

Messines Avenue,
Trentham,
Heretaunga 5018
New Zealand

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Tour of our Club

Petone Club House
Competition trophies
BBQ after shooting - a family afair
Club chronograph in use
New shooter training
Young shooter on the range with a coach

The History of the Petone Rifle Club

(Extracts from the Centenary Booklet compiled by A.R. (Bob) Grimwood, 1990)

ORIGINS

Where and when did it all begin? Club records for the early decades of its history no longer exist. Fire and flood are said to have destroyed vital minute books and correspondence. Ancient newspapers, score books, shooting programmes and photographs and contributions from old members and their families have allowed us to reconstruct its remote past.

In 1883 Government established Naval Artillery Volunteer units, one of them at Petone, to be trained in the working of heavy batteries about to be installed. Initially there were forty-six  volunteers in the Petone unit with an armoury of forty-nine Snider carbines.

As far back as 1874 officialdom had encouraged all Volunteer units to establish, within themselves and under the control of the Captain of the Company, a rifle corps or club.

In 1890 Army advised Government that the Snider rifle was now obsolete, and should be replaced. So it would seem that marksmanship for the Petone Naval Artillery Volunteers had been handicapped by inefficient equipment, and any improvement would have to await either a re-armament programme or the purchase better firearms at their own expense. The latter solution could only appeal to the rifle shooting enthusiasts. Such a group had existed in the Petone Naval Volunteers. With support from like-minded friends outside their unit they decided in 1890 to form the Petone Martini-Henry Rifle Club, and in January, 1891, printed their Rules and By-Laws with a list of their officers. The Club has a copy of this historic document.

petone winners

Winners of teams match, Trentham 1895

The Volunteer organisation continued to function for several years. Some of its number were also members of the Martini-Henry Club, and remained so long after the demise of the Naval unit.

In 1902 the Club became known as the Petone Defence Rifle Club, all the clubs having become part of the nation-wide Defence scheme. From 1956 the name has been The Petone Rifle Club (Inc).

RANGES

In its earliest days the Club practised on the sand dunes on the Petone foreshore near the present bridge over the Hutt River. The range provided two iron targets, and the competitors could shoot back to 700 yards.

Horse racing on the trotting club site, and the development of the Gracefield industrial area pressured the riflemen to seek a new range which they finally established in Waiwhetu with access from Waiwhetu Road near its junction with Waterloo Road. The land was used as a dairy farm with the wandering cattle sometimes interfering with the shooting programmes! Targets were set up at the base of the Eastern Hutt hills just beyond the Waiwhetu stream, over which there was a small bridge giving access to the butts. Firing mounds were located at 300 yards, and various distances back to 900 yards close to Waiwhetu Road. In those days Wellington shooters took a train to Lower Hutt station where they joined a horse bus for the rest of the trip.

Before World War I, about 1911, the Club abandoned Waiwhetu and joined the other Wellington clubs at Trentham to use the military ranges being developed there. Whilst this location has at times been threatened, the Club's tenure and use of the refurbished Seddon Range, along with other Wellington clubs, has recently been secured for the foreseeable future under an arrangement between Government and the National Rifle Association, administered by the Camp Commandant of the local military establishment.

ACCOMMODATION

A hardy lot, riflemen can get by in the open under most conditions so long as their targets stay up and can be operated. Vehicles fill the dual role of transport and cover. But as a social and administrative centre there is nothing like a clubhouse.

Nevertheless, it was not until 1937 that the Club had its own home when it built at Trentham what became Jackson Hall, named after a long-serving president.

This building, taken over by Amy in World War II for the duration, provided a meeting place for members and committees who had hitherto for their business hired premises like the Oddfellows and Petone Recreation Ground halls, or invaded the homes of office bearers. For social occasions and as a base for operations Jackson Hall was a boon. It also provided a roof for short periods for the Army Golf and the Witako Prison Officers Clubs.

Extensions and improvements to the building followed on. In 1979 the Palma Room was added. Always there was need for repairs and maintenance, the bulk of this work, like the original construction, being undertaken by members of the Club who, from its formation, have always included a variety of tradesmen.

In 1985 expansion of the Army installation required the removal of Jackson Hall. The Club demolished all but the Palma Room which was retained as storage pending construction of a new hut on a site yet to be proclaimed. Through no fault of the Club the demolition of Jackson Hall was somewhat premature. It was to be more than a year before a promised Army building became available. Karori Club generously hosted the homeless for a season, returning a similar favour Petone had conferred when Karori was burned out some years earlier.

In 1987, within the planned Shooting Village on Seddon Range, a site was chosen for the  erection of the Club's new home. Part of the Sergeants' Mess from the Military Camp and the Palma Room were transferred and amalgamated there. With the addition of ablutions and a ranch-style verandah the job was completed to a high standard. All of the new construction and finishing work was done by Club members.

 

MEMBERSHIP

This has fluctuated considerably over the century. The varying popularity of target shooting as an outdoor interest, the availability and cost of rifles and ammunition, and the attitudes of successive Governments have all had some influence on Club strength.

Hiroshima swayed military thinking away from the rifle for a period. Today rifle shooting is seen and exists largely as a sport, and such assistance as Government supplies is based on that approach.

Whilst the Club was in the Defence Scheme (1902-1956) grants of ammunition and access to cheap rifles and replacement barrels from Government sources helped to maintain a strong membership.

After World War II the resumption of club shooting at Trentham was keenly anticipated by marksmen. A shock awaited them when plans to take the land for housing were mooted. This set-back disappeared when soil testing revealed large areas of peat totally unsuitable for construction projects. So enthusiasm took over again, and the Club roll prospered.  In the 1946/47 season, growing pains resulted in the hiving-off of a section of the membership to establish the Onslow Branch, soon to become a club in its own right.

The roll of regular shooters probably never exceeded a hundred. Today, such is the following in the sport, the Club can field a third of that on a busy day. Over the century considerably more than a thousand marksmen must have enjoyed membership, some only for a short term. Many stayed for decades. Associate and honorary members have throughout widely extended the Club's social and sporting interests, and its influence.

WOMEN IN THE CLUB

There was a long period during which womenfolk were merely acknowledged as the handmaidens of mankind, though the riflemen were not so ungallant as to ignore them. Outings like picnics on the ranges were not uncommon. On 15th April, 1892, the "New Zealand Mail" carried a report of a meeting which discussed the date for "the Annual Ball". A party, thus designated, certainly contained entertainment for ladies, who might even have been the instigators. There was no reason to believe that a passion for firearms obliterated warm feelings between the sexes, provided the frailer one did not wish to pull the trigger.

About forty years later, on the eve of World War II, a member in committee audaciously enquired if "a woman" would be able to shoot on the range. It was cautiously agreed that wives could do so, in an "honorary" capacity only. At the next General Meeting even this concession was vetoed.

At a meeting in March, 1949 the President sought to create a "Ladies Social Committee" as an acknowledgement of their work and fundraising. This was well received but the point was made that this was not to confer any sort of shooting privilege. Nevertheless, the Club's financial statements continued to show substantial contributions from the Ladies Committee, earned mainly from a field canteen run to provide for competitors at the National prize-meetings. From 1949 this activity has been an annual chore for the wives and friends of the Petone riflemen, with welcome help occasionally from other clubs.

Initially the canteen was operated in a large marquee loaned by Army, which also provided tables, forms, urns and crockery, an arrangement that continued until 1963 when the undertaking was transferred to Jackson Hall itself, the building being modified to cater for this traffic. Today in the new clubhouse a large and well equipped kitchen is a facility enjoyed by patrons of the canteen, but more particularly the ladies who provide the service.

One of the extraordinary aspects of Petone's canteen has been the devotion of its staff. Two of them have worked there for thirty years or more: others have given less but quite remarkable service, often in crowded conditions and frequently, when taking morning and afternoon teas to the ranges, in deplorable weather. It is impossible to name all who have helped in the canteen, but among those who have carried major responsibility it is appropriate to recall the Jackson family, Dot Jermy, Iris Bent, Kay Bell, Colleen Horrobin.

Not until the late sixties did the Club admit women to the firing mounds and full membership. Two members with daughters aspiring to marksmanship pressured the Annual Meeting in 1968 to revise the Club's attitude. Put to the vote, the show of hands proclaimed a victory for the proposer and his seconder, but not by much. The two young ladies concerned, Gael Bramwell and Karen Bent, performed astoundingly well, gaining much publicity in the media. Since then other women shooters have progressed in the Club, but it would be another twenty years before the elusive Club Championship would fall to the rifle of a lady member, Wendy O'Moore.

RIFLES AND AMMUNITION

Whilst the Club was shooting on the Petone foreshore it used the Martini-Henry rifle, a breech-loader of .45" calibre, superior to the Snider in every way. It had figured in prize-meetings in the Australian States for some years before its appearance in 1890 in the N.Z. National Rifle Championships, where it was acceptable until 1901.

At Waiwhetu the .303" Lee-Enfields held sway, "Long Toms", as they were called. The only complaint about them, if it could be called one, was that the propellant was smokeless and, therefore, no aid to the shooter in judging the wind.

The ranges at Trentham were hosts for over fifty years to all the Lee-Enfield family, including the Long Toms which were gradually superceded by the S. M. L. E. and No. 4. The occasional Pattern 14 appeared on the Club's firing mounds. The Lee-Enfields, all manufactured for military purposes, were equipped with magazines and bayonet slots. Until 1968, when service shooting was dropped, only the magazine was essential.

By 1970 the 7.62mm rifles were coming into favour, and conversions of Lee-Enfields to this calibre were permitted. The Australian-made Omark and the English Parker-Hale single shot target rifles became the norm, but more exotic and expensive rifles of American, South African and European origin have gained limited popularity. The merits of various replacement barrels inspire wordy debates.

Over the century ammunition has usually been procurable from one source or another. Its quality has been praised or trenchantly criticised according to the results in the score books. If the supply of this, the Club's life-blood, came under threat, furrowed brows signalled the concern.

In 1976 factory-produced 7.62mm ammunition, including factory reloads, became so costly that the Club had to adopt the procedures laid down by the National body for hand-loading. It purchased the necessary components for its members, installed re-loading equipment, and organised instruction in the new field. Many of the members now own their own gear. If the change to 7.62mm calibre cost the Club a few members, the adoption of hand-loading saved the sport, and probably the Club itself. It also added depth to the special  attraction shooting has for its adherents.

It is worth noting that at the beginning of World War II, when Trentham was closed to club shooting, Petone made an effort to sustain the interest of its members by promoting outdoor smallbore shooting on a private range. Support was short lived, and the supply of .22" ammunition, advantageously procured, was sold off.

 

 

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