The Lit­tle White Hunter

Norm Lawler was al­ready a keen hunter be­fore he joined the newly formed Field & Game As­so­ci­a­tion in 1958 and he would even­tu­ally turn his pas­sion into a ca­reer un­der­pinned by a creed of re­spect.

Field and Game - - The Little White Hunter -

The Lawler fam­ily be­ing raised in Footscray in the 1940s was large but young Norm was the only one of the eight boys to show an in­ter­est in guns and hunt­ing.

It hap­pened by chance when he was work­ing on a build­ing site aged 14. “I was in­tro­duced to the gun and shooting by a work­mate,” he said. “At­tached to his push­bike was a can­vas bag and I asked, ‘What’s in the bag?’, and he replied, ‘a shot­gun’.

Norm knew noth­ing about guns and even less about hunt­ing. “He ex­plained that af­ter work he would cy­cle out the high­way and upon reach­ing open coun­try would hide the bike, load his gun and hunt for rab­bits. He asked if I would like to go hunt­ing with him and said he would teach me, an of­fer I read­ily ac­cepted.”

In no time, Norm had his own gun and spent most days af­ter work rab­bit hunt­ing and he soon met an­other chap with a car and English point­ers who in­tro­duced him to quail. “For the next few years, rab­bit and quail shooting was my life,” Norm said.

Norm calls those first five years his ap­pren­tice­ship and he emerged with a sim­ple set of rules in­grained: firearms safety is paramount, re­spect the land and the landowner be­cause with­out them you have noth­ing, and re­spect the game, be it rab­bit, ducks or quail. “As one old shooter said to me: ‘Even the ones you miss should give you the same sat­is­fac­tion as the ones you put in your game bag.’

Pretty soon, the ap­pren­tice would meet the mas­ter, the leg­endary Fred Burns, who opened a gun shop in Footscray in the early 1950s.

To this day, Norm says he’s never seen a bet­ter shot than Burns, who in­tro­duced him to live bird trap shooting at the Vic­to­rian Gun Club in Brook­lyn.

“Most live bird shoot­ers, pi­geons, spar­rows and star­ling were also keen field shoot­ers, so this started a busy life­style for me,” Norm said. “Com­pet­ing at trap shooting and ar­rang­ing field shooting, not only for my­self but for oth­ers who of­fered me money to take them out for a day; how I ever found the time to work as­tounds me.”

On top of that, Norm helped out at the Fred Burns Shooting School.

Norm said the big­gest dis­ap­point­ment Fred Burns suf­fered was be­ing ruled out of the 1956 Olympic Games in Mel­bourne along with New­ton Thomas. “These two shoot­ers were head and shoul­ders above any of our other com­peti­tors, but the Games Com­mit­tee stated that both were pro­fes­sional and they could not com­pete with the amateurs,” Norm said. “The Mel­bourne Gun Club put on the Olympic Live Pi­geon Cham­pi­onship af­ter the games and guess who won it? Many Olympic shoot­ers com­peted and all were most im­pressed with Fred’s tal­ent. They even wanted to take him back to Europe on the cir­cuit where he would make a lot of money, but Fred de­clined.”

In 1958, when Field & Game formed, Norm was reg­u­larly called on to take in­flu­en­tial peo­ple out in the field, in­clud­ing Pre­mier Sir Henry Bolte and the Gov­er­nor of Vic­to­ria and the As­so­ci­a­tion’s pa­tron, Sir Ro­han Dele­combe. “The Wer­ribee Plains were recog­nised as one of the finest game hunt­ing ar­eas in the coun­try,” Norm said. >>

>> “Af­ter WWII we had a plague of rab­bits, plenty of hares, quail in all pad­docks that had suit­able cover and the coast­line, which had a tremen­dous amount of wa­ter­fowl, the Kakadu of Vic­to­ria.”

In the 1960s Norm re­calls tak­ing out two hunters per day for the du­ra­tion of the quail sea­son and ev­ery day, both guests got their bag. “I was get­ting phone calls from peo­ple ev­ery day want­ing me to take them out and it got that busy that in the end I couldn’t go to work.”

Norm turned pro­fes­sional and was en­cour­aged by Dr Ed Ko­sisky from Nilo Farm in the United States to start a pri­vate shooting club.

The first two mem­bers were hon­orary, Sir Henry and Sir Ro­han, whose names helped open doors and the gates to prop­er­ties suit­able for hunt­ing.

Four doc­tors, a min­ing CEO, three engi­neers, a whole­saler, a builder, a school mas­ter, a car sales­man, an es­tate agent, a politi­cian and three new ar­rivals from the United King­dom were the first pay­ing mem­bers. “We are talk­ing $5000 a year or $100 per week, which back in 1968 was about the av­er­age wage,” Norm said.

The club es­tab­lished on 14 acres (5.6 ha) at Tarneit and of­fered duck and quail hunt­ing, pheas­ants and rab­bits as well as board­ing for gun­dogs and train­ing in shot­gun skills.

The Bird Dog Shooting Club was able to pull a few strings and gained per­mis­sion to shoot clay tar­gets on Sun­days. “Our first year was most suc­cess­ful,” Norm said. “All hunters re­ported full bags of quail and duck ev­ery time, al­though some­times I had to help make up their bag if they weren’t shooting too well.”

A lot of the duck shooting was done at Bar­ren Box near Grif­fith in NSW where the club rented a house right on the lake edge. It even­tu­ally came up for sale and the mem­bers chipped in to buy what they would chris­ten the Bar­ren Box Duck Shooting Lodge. “It was a fab­u­lous place for game birds,” Norm said.

The club con­tin­ued un­til 1978 when ur­ban sprawl, loss of habi­tat and rab­bit con­trol be­gan to have a se­ri­ous im­pact on the avail­abil­ity of game.

Norm went back to real work, as the

ranger at the new Point Cook Coastal Park and a new res­i­dence in the orig­i­nal home­stead, which came with the land ac­quired to cre­ate the park.

“A new life be­gan, shift­ing into a place I have al­ways loved, and still hav­ing the wet­lands, grass pad­docks for rab­bit and quail and the coast­line for fish­ing; it was too good to refuse.”

Norm de­scribes his life as one im­mersed in the won­der­ful world of shooting.

“The first time I went out with that lit­tle fella with the gun strapped to his bike and shot a rab­bit, I loved it,” he said.

Early in his ca­reer, Norm al­ways wanted to be top gun, and most of the time he was suc­cess­ful but he stopped com­pe­ti­tion shooting when the use of live birds was banned.

His mem­ory is long enough to re­call shoots in ev­ery coun­try town that would at­tract peo­ple from ev­ery­where to com­pete, or wa­ger on matches. “I re­mem­ber one shooter who had lost GBP 4,800 went dou­ble or quits, a for­tune in those days. “The bird was re­leased and it was a wor­thy tar­get, zoom­ing all over the place; the shooter fired and won the bet.”

An­other mem­o­rable bet in­volved his friend and men­tor Fred Burns dur­ing the Mel­bourne Gun Club’s pre­mier 21-bird event, in which shoot­ers were elim­i­nated af­ter three misses.

Burns had missed two and Alf Hume, a cocky bookie, sug­gested he could write his own ticket. Burns never bet but he couldn’t resist the bait and backed him­self: GBP 4 at 100/1. “Alf ac­cepted the bet and Fred went out and shot the next 19 birds straight to win the event,” Norm said.

When Field & Game was be­ing formed in Vic­to­ria, Norm didn’t hes­i­tate to get in­volved. “I had a love of the out­doors, I re­spected the game we hunted, and I also ap­pre­ci­ated the peo­ple who were as­so­ci­ated with it,” he said. “The likes of Dr Hugh Martin and his son John, Stan Bur­ford, Pop Sauer, Doug Hem­ing­way and Des Thomas, I salute them all for cre­at­ing some­thing that is now es­tab­lished Aus­tralia-wide.”

Norm said he was con­tacted by Doug Hem­ing­way a few weeks af­ter the for­ma­tion meet­ing with a re­quest to take the Gov­er­nor, Sir Ro­han Dele­combe, quail hunt­ing. Sev­eral dates were sug­gested. “If it will help the VFGA, make it all three dates,” was Norm’s re­sponse.

A few weeks later, Pre­miere Henry Bolte, an­other keen hunter, joined the party. “Doug said it would be great to have the ear of the two top peo­ple in Vic­to­ria but it was re­ally the start of a won­der­ful friend­ship with Doug, the Gov­er­nor and the Pre­mier,” Norm said.

Norm doesn’t get out hunt­ing any­more but he watches de­vel­op­ments with in­ter­est and has this ad­vice for today’s hunters. “Num­ber one, re­spect the en­vi­ron­ment be­cause that is what at­tracts peo­ple; you must re­spect the game that lives there and the owner of the land you are on. “Know your game and prac­tice a lot, al­though prac­tice doesn’t help some peo­ple.” Above all, Norm said hunt­ing was about the en­joy­ment and the sub­sis­tence, not the num­bers in the bag. “It isn’t a num­bers game,” he said.

“The first time I went out with that lit­tle fella with the gun strapped to his bike and shot a rab­bit, I loved it,”

Norm lawler

Norm Lawler at the farm he used to turn his hunt­ing hobby into a busi­ness

Norm with Sir Ro­han Dele­combe

Norm Lawler at home in Wil­liamstown

Norm pos­ing for pro­mo­tional photos taken for Winch­ester in the 1970s

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