From humble beginnings
Mornington Field & Game dedicated its July shoot to Bill R Rae, a driving force who was a founder of the Westernport Gun Club and a stalwart of the Mornington branch. To mark the event, President Robby Turner reflects on humble beginnings and the forging
Bill R Rae played a lead role in Westernport Gun Club’s growth from a casual family and friends affair to a fully fledged Field & Game clay target-shooting branch. Bill, long-time treasurer and chief engineer, kept all of the original ibis traps going over the years and worked marvels cobbling together gears, bushes and shafts, giving a new lease of life to traps that were otherwise destined for the scrap heap.
Bill served as bursar and treasurer from inception of the club up until 2013.
Westernport Gun Club sprang from humble beginnings. The club was founded in 1955 by the proprietor of Bittern Garage, Norm Jack. Norm had been left a clay target trap and a shotgun, so he decided to set up a social club down at Jacks Beach, Bittern, which was then a sleepy hollow hemmed by mangrove, mozzies and tea tree. Jack set up the trap on an old concrete pipe and laid sleepers for a shield.
The last Saturday of every month, 20 or so blokes would turn up with kids in tow and, under the shade of a couple of big pines, hand launch clays out over the mangroves and burst them with shot, much to the delight of the kids. One of those kids being Bill Morris, current branch secretary. The only creature comfort was on old tarp propped out from the back of George Morris’ panel van under which shade were the smiling faces of men telling jokes or hunting stories that were told and retold.
A committee was elected: Norm Jack, president; George Balake, Crib Point butcher, secretary; and David Hands, local salesman as treasurer. “The club never missed a meet; rain, hail or shine, George Balake would supply the sausages,” said the late Tony Walters, one of the founding members and one of the first 200 membership holders of FGA. “The only competition prize we ever had was a car. David Henry won for best in 25 targets and was proudly awarded the winning prize, one of the fellas then happily pointed to a rusting car body half submerged in the mudflats.”
Due to development of Jacks Beach, Ralph Peter scouted around and gained permission to relocate the club to permanent grounds. In 1968, the club upped sticks and moved to more salubrious digs, the Emu Plains Racecourse and Recreation Reserve at Balnarring. Ralph Peters was president and Bill R Rae was secretary.
The club continued its tradition of offering non-competitive clay target shooting and a warm welcome to firsttime shooters with tuition on firearm safety and clay target shooting techniques.
A small article in The Post, Wednesday, February 26, 1969, duly noted that “assured it was situated where no danger could occur to passing traffic”. The Lands Dept., Fisheries and Wildlife and Hastings Council had given their imprimatur for the recently formed Western Port Gun club to hold monthly target shoots on the Emu Plains Racecourse and Recreation reserve.
A tin shack was erected, some gum trees planted and tradition endured over the next 62 years: non-competitive clay shooting with sausages and refreshments provided. Ralph Peter retired in 1989 and Guy Haworth, a local farrier, became the new president in 1990. In the ensuing years, the club purchased new traps and made improvements to the ground, including drainage and a new road.
In 2000, with the growing length of red tape and insurance premiums threatening to overcome the club, the committee made the decision to affiliate with Field & Game Australia and so Mornington Field & Game branch was born.
Throughout Bill R Rae’s years at the club he was accompanied by his son Bill M Rae, who served as president from 2000 to 2015. See Field & Game magazine issue 3 August to October 2016, article ‘Whatever it Takes’ and read Bill M Rae memories of his father’s last duck shoot.
The club celebrated Bill’s dedication by instating the inaugural Bill R Rae Memorial Shoot, comprising a line-up elimination event. This was a favourite of Bill’s during the Westernport Gun Club days. The shoot is to be held every July.
How it works: participants line up on the shooting line behind a down-the-line trap. With one shell only to be loaded at a time, the shooter at the head of the line calls “pull”. The target flies away and the shooter fires. Each successive shooter mounts and shoots as the targets release at a steady rate, those who miss are out. The winner is the last shooter standing. This year’s winner was Daniel Cleary and Bill’s wife Ruth duly presented him a bottle of Bill R Rae’s whisky of choice and a set of tumblers.
The committee wishes to thank all who came and had a shot.
Over recent years, a new clubhouse and toilets have been installed along with several containers brimming with the latest traps. Bill M Rae oversaw this round of club improvements with his father at his side. Additional ground improvements instigated by Bill Morris, club secretary and environmental officer, has seen an ambitious conservation program to reinstate indigenous species to the Emu Plains reserve.
Through grants, working bees and professional assistance, the removal of hundreds of mature pines, thousands of sweet pittosporums and wild watsonia have protected and re-established native wild flowers and grasses within the Reserve.
Mornington F&G works hard to ensure its future viability, contributing to the local community and generate goodwill within the Emu Plains Committee of Management through work and commitment on the ground.
Mornington Field & Game is a unique club; it’s about involving people in a brilliant sport and spreading the word through responsible shooting for constructive outcomes in the environment.
Bill Morris and Guy Haworth
Above: Lynette Pearce, Cameron Pearce, Ruth Rae, Danel Cleary, Blake Rae, Temika Rae Bill Rae rabbit shoot Tarawarra
Ruth Rae and Daniel Cleary