One Foggy night
In 1958 Bryan James was one of the Bairnsdale Field Sportsman’s Association delegates sent to attend an important meeting in Sale. Now 91 years old and still sharp as a tack, Bryan remembers moving the motion to form the Victorian Field & Game Association
Also with Bryan in the car bound for Sale that evening were Roy Walker, Frank Howlett, Alby Kyle and Don Wilson. They would all be part of an historic event, the formation of an organisation that would bind hunters and wetland conservation in a voluntary partnership recognised and respected by government.
That partnership continues to this day as Field & Game Australia and it is interesting to note from Bryan’s recollections that the hunter/ conservationist model was not an invention for convenience; it was simply a reflection of what had been happening informally for generations. “Our move to form the VFGA was later described in the minutes as being moved by the Sale area to form the Association,” Bryan said.
In a fireside chat some years ago, Alby Kyle backed up the story that Bryan moved to form VFGA. “Bryan moved that the VFGA be formed and Herbie Guyatt, who was acting as minute secretary for the meeting said, ‘Just a minute Mr Chairman, I’ve got a motion written down here, a more comprehensive motion than that’, and you then withdrew your motion and they took Herbie’s,” he said.
Bryan laughed that if there was any credit to be taken, they had “got done on that one”. “I did however move a motion that we ask the Government to create a one pound licence. I suppose I started something there but it had its effect; the Government saw we were capable of doing the right thing and taking a lot of people along with us.”
The fact though, is that the Bairnsdale crew were already trailblazers.
The Honour Board in the Bairnsdale Field & Game club rooms goes back to 1952 when the Bairnsdale Field Sportsman’s Association formed, a first for Gippsland. “The first few lines in the old minute book state that the meeting was ‘designed to enhance relations between shooters, anglers and land owners’,” Bryan said.
It was a reaction to evidence of poor relations between landholders and shooters throughout Victoria. With letters appeared regularly in the country press, the formation meeting was called by Cr Ray Archibald, the Shire president, who had suffered cut fences, campfires left burning and discarded rubbish. “I think, if we hadn’t acted, anyone with a firearm or fishing rod might have been banned from entering property; it was the feeling we had, it was pretty desperate,” Bryan said. “The other cause for despair was that people had started to drain wetlands to create or expand farms and we could see the duck habitat being reduced, so we needed to promote and participate in conservation.”
The Association might have been formed to protect the interests and reputation of field sportsmen but the committee was soon active on other issues.
Later that first year a delegate was dispatched to the Gippsland Angling
>> Association meeting in order to ‘object to the fishing laws’.
Bryan said in those days hunters and anglers faced similar issues around access and regulation and the impact of commercial harvesting. In those early days they would join forces (backed by government) to control local populations of cormorants.
The first mention of competitive shooting appears in the minutes of August 15, 1953, when a motion was passed to obtain the cost of clay birds and particulars of a trap and to scout a site to hold a clay target shoot. “I was never a target shooter or at least never an accurate one, I’m a field shooter,” Bryan said.
The first shoot was in a paddock behind the Lindenow South residence of Charlie Growcott, who also happened to own the only trap in the district. Hay bales were stacked around the single trap for the trapper to shelter behind.
Shoots later relocated to land behind the Bairnsdale Racing Club Hotel on the outskirts of Bairnsdale.
Bryan said when informal discussions about forming a state-wide organisation began it was only logical to approach Bairnsdale, which had already been active for six years. “It was actually an approach from Herb Guyatt, on behalf of some fellow sportsmen in the Sale area, seeking the support of our established organisation in any move to form some sort of Victoria wide organisation,” he said. “We were formed because the farmers were complaining about people coming onto their properties, cutting fences, lighting fires and what not; we could see that if we didn’t do something the Government would crack down. “We were getting in contact with a lot of the landholders and many let us put up signs saying ‘Field Sportsman’s members only’ to protect our access. Sale was having the same problems.”
Bairnsdale was not only happy to support the formation but voted to join up as well. “I can remember speaking at that meeting and wanting to move for a one pound game licence, which we thought would help the Government do what we wanted. I probably also spoke about forming an Association and it looks as if that made for a too long and complicated motion,” Bryan said.
History instead records that Herbie Guyatt’s prepared motion was accepted and endorsed.
Bryan left satisfied with the outcome and excited about the future but there was little discussion on the way home: all eyes were on the road. “Roy Walker had a big American Chevrolet and there was a pea soup-fog all the way home. He had to drive right down the white line in the middle of the road to see but luckily there wasn’t much traffic about in those days.”
Bryan is a Life Member of Bairnsdale Field & Game and at the recent opening of their new club rooms was presented with a plaque commemorating 60 years of involvement. “I feel very proud to have been involved in getting it started; it only seemed in many ways a selfish thing at the time to protect ourselves, but we created a legacy,” he said. “We knew we were working for a much bigger cause but I guess we didn’t imagine at the time it would end up as big as it has.”
“We knew we were working for a much bigger cause but I guess we didn’t imagine at the time it would end up as big as it has.” Bryan James
Five Bairnsdale Life Members; (L-R back) Norm Elliot, Bryan James (L-R front) Albie Kyle, Leo O'sullivan, Terry Whelan
Bryan James and Rob Treble