Miniature rifle shooting became popular in the early 1900s. Over the years volunteer rifle units had functioned mainly under their own leadership, being coordinated by the NZ Government.
On deciding to form a defense corp, various forms of shooting were introduced with cadet and territorial units. One of the most popular types resulted when a lightweight rifle consisting of a Morris 22 calibre tube was fitted to a standard Lee Enfield stock. This rifle, being light and easily handled, was popular with the younger cadets in early competitions when the sport gradually became known as miniature rifle shooting.
One of the earliest clubs in the Manawatu was the Linton Club (1914) shooting on an open range at Hokowhitu. This club amalgamated with the Linton Defense Rifle Club in 1915 and, when this range was closed to club shooting in late 1915, the first indoor 25 yard range was constructed in King Street, Palmerston North.
Shooting stagnated until 1920 when a surge of popularity saw the following clubs formed in quick succession, PNRSA (1920), Rongotea and Bunnythorpe (1921), Awahuri (1922) and Oroua Downs (1923). Most of these clubs had links with large bore shooting in the past. The first competition held between these clubs was for the McKelvie Cup which had been donated to the Rongotea Club by Mr J McKelvie, a prominent farmer who owned the large Pukemarama Station at Carnarvon. This was a fine silver trophy valued at £20 ($40) and was shot under challenge conditions by a ten man team. In 1923 the conditions of this trophy competition were altered so that any club within a 25 mile (40 km) radius of Rongotea could take part. The Bulls Club quickly took advantage of the change by winning the cup in mid year, Marton won it next, followed by Linton.
Ideas and suggestions for a more formal style of competition had been mooted for some time as neighboring associations had been formed at Wellington and Wanganui. As a result of these discussions, the Linton Club instigated a meeting to be held at Rongotea on the 1st of May, 1924. At this meeting, representatives of the following clubs attended, being Mr F Wright and E Arnott, (Rongotea): D Beattie and C Cleaver (Awahuri): R Jones and E Berry (PNRSA): and C Page (Linton). An apology was received from Oroua Downs and Mr E Arnott was voted to the chair. After formal discussion, Mr Page moved: that in the interests of miniature rifle shooting, an association be formed to be known as the ‘Manawatu Miniature Rifle Association’. The motion was carried unanimously and it was further agreed that the headquarters should be in Palmerston North. Mr Jones was elected as Secretary and Mr C Page as President for the year. It was also agreed that the delegates present form the nucleus of the Association committee, and that subscriptions be £1/1/- ($2.10).
Arrangements were made for the various clubs to purchase ammunition and targets through the Association, thus obtaining them at the lowest possible rates. The Secretary was instructed to write to the Bulls and Marton clubs to ascertain whether it was their intention to compete in the competitions organized by the Association. Bulls agreed whilst the Marton Club declined.
Matches organized for the first year of competition were the Cliffe and Remington Cup to be fired under the postal system, and the McKelvie Cup matches whose conditions had been changed from a challenge cup to a series of round robin matches shot under travelling conditions. Both were to be contested by teams of 10 men over 2 rounds. Several postal matches were later arranged with the Wellington Association where a team, consisting of the holders of the 20 highest aggregates in the Association were selected, resulting in a win and a loss to each team.
The first Manawatu Championships were arranged to take place on the Linton Club’s range on October 22nd 1924, commencing at 5.30pm. Conditions stated that the B grade would comprise of competitors whose average was not more than 65 in club competitions, and that entries be confined to members who had shot in the McKelvie Cup matches (Note: This rule was never revoked in the pre-war era.) Respective winners were W Randell (Linton) 1st in A grade, and A Gilmore (PNRSA) who took the B grade. Mr J Smith’s gold medal for the six McKelvie Cup championship shoots went to C Cowan (Rongotea). The first match for the Jones Shield also took place and resulted in a win to the PNRSA Club. The Jones Brothers of the PNRSA Club had donated this shield to the Association.
1925 saw the addition of two further clubs (Ohakea and Marton), and it was decided to introduce a new competition for 6 man, B grade teams. A cup was to be procured (Tisdall Cup) by the Association to be used for this match. Team numbers were to be reduced to 8 for the A grade competition and a new regulation was introduced to determine the bull, it then being necessary for the tester to cover the line before the higher score could be given.
The annual general meeting of 1926 saw three new clubs admitted to the Association, these were Bunnythorpe, Rangiotu and Palmerston North Boys High School. Owing to dissatisfaction with travel arrangements during the previous season, a motion was put forward by Mr Jones and seconded by Mr Jamieson that, as a trial, the competition would be split into three sections, and thus do away with excessive travelling. The section winners were to shoot off on a neutral range to decide the trophy winners. On the motion of Mr F Lewis (Linton), it was decided that the trigger pull must be not less than 3 pounds (1.36kg) and that all club rifles may be tested by the Captain of the visiting teams and vice versa.
Amongst the items discussed at the 3rd AGM in 1927, was the subject of the last season’s matches which had been severely disrupted by two clubs being unable to fulfil their engagements, the clubs concerned being Marton and Rongotea, both having to withdraw through a lack of members. It was therefore decided to revert to two sections for the season.
The PNBHS also withdrew citing a lack of members.
The ammunition used in Association matches during the year did not appear to be up to the usual standard and so a new brand would be tried the next season. The totals recorded were well below the previous best.
The Manawatu Miniature Rifle Association held its fourth AGM on Thursday, May 4th, 1928 in the Awahuri Hall, there being a good attendance of delegates from the rifle clubs. It was decided to amend conditions governing the McKelvie Cup so that it became a challenge trophy, and that the Cliffe and Remington Cup would be substituted for the McKelvie Cup as a travelling competition; such a series was to be held in conjunction with the MMRA trophy. The Tisdall Cup was withdrawn from teams competition and allocated to the B grade rifleman with
the highest aggregate. A Trophy was to be provided by the Association for the A grade riflemen under similar conditions (MMRA No 2). It was decided that in future a ‘tester’ shot had only to touch the line for the higher value to be given.
Further discussion took place over the unsatisfactory conditions arising from the previous season’s trial of dividing the competitions into two sections, and a new series of round robin matches was instituted to be held over a single season. It was also decided that for reasons of safety, only single shot rifles be allowed, and that the Manawatu Championships be held over two evenings as the previous year’s event had attracted poor entries (25).
Mr Charley Page, President of the MMRA, welcomed the Moutoa Miniature Rifle Club delegates to the annual meeting in 1929 and wished them every success, thus bringing the number of teams competing to nine. It was also learnt that a new club had been formed in Levin and there was a probability that they would also affiliate to the Manawatu Association.
The President also said that all results must be forwarded to the Secretary within three days of the matches being shot, or else points earned would be forfeited. rule changes introduced were: (1) That clubs must adopt the ladder system for selecting teams, whereas the lowest score from the last four cards shall be cut out. (2) That all matches shall count 2 points for a win and 1 point for a draw.
Shooting was firmly established in the early thirties and reached new heights in popularity with the addition of the following clubs; Sandon and Tokomaru (1930), Aokautere (1931), and Longburn and Linton Districts (1932). The increase in team numbers saw the MMRA reluctantly revert to the section scheme that had caused a lot of controversy when it had been trialled in 1926-27. (note- this trial had caused a reduction in match shooting and saw the northern clubs also affiliate and compete in the Wanganui Association postal matches). This section scheme was intended to reduce the financial burden on clubs due to expense incurred in travelling, as the country at this time (1931) was in the midst of a deep recession.
In late 1931, Mr Hugh Akers, who had been instrumental in building the first indoor range in the Manawatu (1915) and played a leading part in the formation of the MMRA, passed away. This eventually led to the withdrawal of the Linton and PNRSA clubs of whom he had been either President or Patron for many years. His enthusiasm and keenness for the sport had led to the successful promotion of shooting in the Manawatu.
The MMRA received a further blow in March 1933 when Mr Charley Page passed away. He was a top marksman who had held office as President since its inception and had also been Deputy President of the Linton Club. These two stalwarts had been foremost in laying the foundation of the Manawatu Association, one of the most progressive in the dominion.
1933 also saw Mr A Drew (Sandon) elected as President, under whose leadership the MMRA continued to prosper with the addition of the Levin (1934), Feilding (1936), Palmerston North (1937), and Shannon and Otaki (1938) clubs. The fluctuation in club numbers due to the recession reached its peak in 1938 when 14 clubs affiliated.
Disaster struck when the Association’s valuable collection of records and materials were lost when the Secretary’s office was destroyed by fire, resulting in a late July start to the season.
However a concentrated effort by the Executive, with the cooperation of the clubs, saw a satisfactory ending to the year.
Over the years, the Manawatu Miniature Rifle Association had risen from meagre beginnings with 5 clubs in 1924, to a powerful and progressive association with 14 clubs and 260 individual members taking part in matches in the pre-war period. (note – in hindsight some of the decisions taken must seem a bit strange, but the Association was faced with difficult times sweeping the country owing to the deep recession, had always acted with deep regard for the benefit of its members, and perhaps this was why shooting prospered when so many other sports fell by the wayside).
Shooting resumed in the post-war era when several clubs, notably Sandon and Longburn, commenced in early 1945. (they must have had a hidden cache of ammunition or else had friends in the Ministry of Defence as most supplies had been diverted for the war effort).
The first annual meeting of the MMRA held in that era (1946) saw Wes Birch elected as President and he proceeded to pay tribute to several members who paid the supreme sacrifice, and extended a motion of sympathy to relatives who had lost their loved ones.
Affiliation fees were set at £1/10/- ($3) per club, the Jones and Collinson entries were limited to one team and the metric targets introduced by NZSRA were adopted.
1947 saw the Manawatu Championships opened up to all comers in line with other Associations and a universal standard of 40-candle power was imposed for use on club ranges. The rise in the mounds was not to exceed 3″ (7.62cm) with not more than 1″ (2.5cm) in padding.
The name of the Association was changed at a special meeting on May 8th, 1948 when it became known as the Manawatu Smallbore Rifle Association, and it was proposed by the President, Les Shailer, that all affiliated clubs be levied the sum of £2 ($4) so as to provide a working fund. Lighting on the targets was to be shielded, as on several occasions wayward shooters had caused blackouts. Club members were boosted by the revival of the PNRSA club, which went into recess in 1932, and the addition of the newly formed Rifle, Rod and Gun Club and the Palmerston North (Longburn) Club.
In 1949 the only range in Palmerston North was situated on farmland owned by Earnie Strong in Manawatu Street, which was being developed for housing. An approach to the Palmerston North City Council led to the Palmerston North Club obtaining the lease of land at the rear of the Albert Street depot. This was situated in a hollow (formally a metal pit), and was surrounded by high banks thus reducing the noise level to surrounding residents. A range worth £450 ($900) was hastily constructed and was ready for shooting in 1950, when Henry Coles (Manawatu President) performed the opening ceremony. This range was used for many years by the MSRA for hosting the Manawatu Championships and the North Island Championships (the first match was in 1951). The 11-bull target was used in these events.
About this time the interclub series commenced with 9 clubs taking part, but these continued to be shot on the 7 bull targets. Affiliation fees to NZSRA had doubled to 3/- (30c) per member and it was moved that the Association give 75% of the profit from the North Island Champs towards the North Island team expenses.
The rules for the Shailer Shield, which was formerly donated for competition between the Awahuri and Bunnythorpe Clubs, were altered so that it became a challenge shield when clubs met in the Cliffe and Remington series.
Disaster struck when the Palmerston North Club range was destroyed by fire in December 1956. The range, which was also used by PNRSA, the Rifle Rod and Gun Club, and the Manawatu Association, was completely burnt out with only 5000 rounds of ammunition and a few rifles able to be salvaged. Other equipment in the building was too badly charred or heat affected to be of any further use, resulting in a loss of £3,000 ($6,000) to the clubs concerned.
As a result the Manawatu Smallbore Rifle Association transferred most if its events to the Marton range in 1957 where Jim Ross, the NZSRA President, presented the North Island trophies to Richard Weston (open winner) and Robin Carrington (A grade).
Two additional clubs affiliated to the Association, being Utuwai (1956) and Rangiwahia (1957), thus taking the number of clubs to 11 in total. These two clubs received dispensation to shoot under postal conditions with the proviso that the targets be forwarded to the Association Secretary to be marked. 11 bull targets were introduced for interclub shooting.
After much fund raising, a new range was constructed on the Albert Street site and it was ready for the start of the 1958 season. It was an unusual design consisting of two levels, the social hall and marking rooms being upstairs with a 12 mound shooting bay on the lower level. The targets were loaded on the upper level and then lowered into the shooting range in a similar system as a double hung window.
The post of Tournament Manager was created in 1961, whose sole duties were to consist of organising the Championships, drawing up the rosters for club helpers and purchasing prizes etc. (This post today (1999) is held by David Green of the PNRSA Club).
Neilson (Tiny) Rees suggested and drew up the ‘Ten Year Plan’ and the rules for the ‘Teams of Ten’ match at this time and also donated the Rees Scroll as a trophy. This shoot brought together the top riflemen in the North Island for a match that could be described as the Ranfurly Shield of shooting. Tiny went on to become Manawatu President (1962-1965) and also wrote the coaching manual ‘Tiny’s Tips’ of which he donated all the profits to the Manawatu Association.
In early April 1969, the Manawatu Association hosted the inaugural National Outdoor Championships on the Tiritea Range. The North Island beat the South Island comfortably. The NZ Open went to Brian Lacey (Levin), with Doug Rummins (Manawatu) runner-up. Crellan Hooper (Manawatu) won the NZ 50 metre Championship with Lou Wilton (Wairarapa) runner-up.
In the early seventies entries for the North Island Championships had risen to a record total of 293 on one occasion and had caused the match to be run over 3 days. This, and the fact that the range was prone to flooding, caused severe embarrassment to the Association when, on one occasion, the Mayor of Palmerston North who was present to open proceedings, had to be carried in whilst the fire brigade pumped the range dry.
A dilemma faced the Association as to whether to invest funds for improvements on a range it did not own, or to design and build a new range on a different site. The PNCC made it known that the Albert Street site would soon be required for extensions to its depot and negotiated a 21 year lease with the MSRA on property in Totara Road at the rear of the Awapuni Racecourse. This deal was accepted and the Association decided that, as funding permitted, materials would be stockpiled to save funds in that inflationary period. Concrete blocks were gradually purchased, donated trees were milled and stored, firewood was cut and sold, volunteers worked on potato harvesters and stalls were run on market days in the Square. By 1978 sufficient funds were in hand to allow a start to be made and the first sod was turned. The foundations were laid and B Moore, a blocklayer, was engaged at a cut-price rate and the walls were quickly laid. At this stage it was decided to redesign the roof structure that caused a costly and expensive delay, resulting in the exhaustion of funds.
A special meeting was held at the Colyton Hall, on the 9th of August 1979 under the direction of President Graeme Hudson, with Hans Van Dam (Secretary) and David Pettersen (Treasurer), where it was resolved that arrangements for the issue of up to $10,000 worth of $20 unsecured notes were approved with Jim Pellow and Gordon McKinnon being elected as trustees.
At this time members were becoming tired, having worked for several years fundraising and constructing the range. It was fortunate that the Association had a President of the calibre of Graeme Hudson whose tireless efforts and exceptional leadership skills, finally enabled the range to be opened on the 24th of July 1982 by Mayor Brian Elwood. More than 200 shooters from all over the North Island attended the opening ceremony that was held in conjunction with the Manawatu Championships. In a close finish Nan Barlow took the open title narrowly from Bruce Marchant. The winning score of 599.26 was notable as this was only the second time that the match had been shot on outward gauging targets.
The Association struggled under the burden of debt incurred in the building of the range and found it difficult to attract candidates to fill posts on the Executive. Finally a new round of fundraising was initiated when several cash crops of pumpkins and peas were grown, the usual raffles organised and volunteers found to man stalls, resulting in a debt free range in 1989.
Over the years the policy of constant upgrading has led to the Association having the finest and most modern range in the country, of which its members can be justifiably proud.
The Manawatu Smallbore Rifle Association has been blessed over the years with several outstanding administrators whose skills, dedication and sacrifices have contributed greatly to the progress of shooting in the Manawatu, and at the risk of sounding biased I feel this article would not be complete without mentioning the following performances.
- Hugh Akers (Linton): Whose dedication to shooting led to the forming of the Manawatu Association in 1924.
- Charley Page (Linton): Manawatu president 1924-1932. Under whose leadership the MMRA was consolidated and laid the foundations for the future.
- A K (King) Drew (Sandon): Manawatu President 1933-1940. Stepped in at short notice and led the Association through a difficult period.
- Neilson (Tiny) Rees (PNRSA): Manawatu President 1962-65. An outstanding coach and administrator whose contributions led to the ‘Teams of Ten’ becoming the showcase of Smallbore shooting in New Zealand.
- Graeme and Sue Hudson (Aokautere): President 1976-1979. A husband and wife team whose organisational skills led to the building of the Manawatu Association range and clubrooms. Graeme later went on to become Executive Officer of NZSRA.
- Bruce and Lois Marchant (PNRSA): Manawatu President 1986-1989. NZSRA President 1994-1998. Another husband and wife team who have worked hard to promote Smallbore shooting throughout New Zealand.
Our thanks go to the Palmerston North Library, and especially Barbara Olsen and Bronwyn of the city archives, and others who submitted information, photographs, badges, mementoes, and the rifles for display. To those who were bored to death by the asking of endless questions, thanks for your input.
Very special mention must be made of Peter Price (PNRSA) for the many, many hours spent perusing copies of old newspapers from 1900 on. Without him this 75th Jubilee would not have had any history written up, as Peter has written about 90% of the information and taken most of the photographs of ranges and halls in the Manawatu.