Balranald in New South Wales is one of the more isolated branches but it relies heavily on visiting shooters to survive. It is an outback destination well worth visiting for a shoot and a few days exploring the natural wonders nearby.
Carla Pippin had no idea who Field & Game was when the idea was first floated to form a branch in Balranald.
She was working at the kangaroo processing plant and her boss was behind the push. “I came to it by accident,” she said. “My boss at the time was a member in Victoria and wanted to get Field & Game underway; back then it was a lot easier to register a ground,” she said.
The first shoot, held on acreage at the back of the historic Homebush pub on Easter Saturday 1998, was a success and a month later, a meeting was called to gauge interest in forming a branch. “There was a lot of interest: more than 20 people turned up to the initial meeting, which was unheard of,” Carla said.
The following year the branch became a part of the FGA family.
Every Easter since, Balranald has hosted a two-day Anniversary Shoot, an important opportunity for the small branch to attract visiting competitors.
Powered and unpowered camping sites are available at the ground and the club doesn’t charge a fee, instead welcoming as many visitors as it can accommodate. Some also choose to stay a short distance away at the Homebush pub, one of the true “back country” pubs, serving trappers, shearers, drovers and any other nomads for 128 years.
For many years, the pub held a country music festival over Easter, bolstering the shoot numbers as families chose to visit the region. “That really drove our numbers up: the shooters would compete and the families would enjoy the music festival, but it isn’t held anymore,” branch secretary Chris Caminis said.
Chris is also membership officer for the branch but typically he’s also busy sorting trap breakdowns, fixing a fuse to restart the air conditioning in the shed and making sure everyone is having a good time. “It is a small isolated community and we are a bit removed from the other branches in the region but we have people from Melbourne and other parts of Victoria who are members; they love the bush and it is where they want to be members,” he said.
While a lot of those members attend the shoots, it is left to a small band of locals to turn out for working bees. “We are still fairly strong, we have a good membership base compare to the size of the town,” Chris said.
The branch really wants to promote itself as a destination shoot, a place for a short break or extended holiday based around one of their shoot days and the opportunity to explore the region. “Balranald has shrunk in relative terms over the years,” Carla said. “We encourage people to travel and stay, that is why we have worked so hard to provide power and shower facilities.”
Carla said having only four shoots a year probably hampers the branch but there was a determination to keep going, having seen what happens to other small communities when they start to lose sporting clubs. The recreation is important to the town as well as the participants. “Homebush used to be a recreational club, they staged gymkhanas here and field days but we are currently the only active tenant; once you lose facilities in a town it does make it harder to get people to come and stay.”
The first permanent home for the branch was Yanga Station, which has the claim to fame of being the site of Australia’s first telephone service connecting the homestead to the shearers’ quarters.
Explorer William Wentworth established Yanga in the 1830s but it was purchased by the New South Wales government in 2005 and became a national park.
The branch then moved to the Homebush Recreational Reserve, 25 km from town on the road to Ivanhoe.
Yanga, with its indigenous history, station heritage, lakes and 170 km of
Murrumbidgee River frontage remains as a drawcard for the region, as well as Mungo National Park to the north. “Visitors are important, they are what gives us our money to keep going; if you don’t have the visitors you are a bit behind the eight ball,” Chris said. “This year we have the third leg of the North West Zone Shoot and that is hopefully going to drive more people here for our September shoot. It is a very important shoot locally because it is a memorial shoot for a local family who were killed in the Kerang rail crash in 2007.”
Nurse Stephanie Meredith and her two young daughters Danielle, 8, and Chantelle, 6, died in the accident.
The branch pays a fee to the Homebush Trust on shoot days and as a tenant has not invested heavily in infrastructure, but there is one issue that needs solving. “It is a gypsum ridge and we are working on what we can put down that will stay there and not get eaten up; it is a bit of a difficult issue for us because it is a big area and a big cost,” Chris said. “We have four members who are paraplegic or quadriplegic who come and shoot out here; they compete and have fun and enjoy it, which is really great, but when it gets boggy, it is really hard to get around.”
A grant for a quad bike that could be used to assist disabled members is one avenue the branch is pursuing.
If you want to plan a trip to Balranald the remaining shoots for the year are:
100 SIM HCP/SIM GRD 50 SIM HCP/50 SIM GRD
100 SIM HCP/SIM GRD Meredith Family Memorial — North West Zone Shoot Leg 3