LAST FRONTIER in the making”
Written by Kev Bowring and Ron Owen.
Home of the Sheriff of Tinstone and Minnie Ha Ha and the best damn Cowboy
Action Range in the State of Queensland - Bar None!
Malcolm Smerdon, aka the “Sheriff of Tinstone”, was born and raised in
Kandanga Queensland, in a period when the gun behind the kitchen door was always
loaded, to keep marauding foxes and eagles away from the hen house,and to keep
dingoes from killing not only the calves, but the cows that were about to give
them birth, for it is the blood and fluids of the birthing process that attracts
After his education he took up an apprenticeship with Prongers in Gympie,to
learn Cabinet making, knowledge which has been of tremendous benefit to various
shooting clubs, with which he has been involved.
Most shooters are not aware that Malcolm not only served on the foundation
committee of the SSAA Tin Can Bay shooting club, but was instrumental and a
major contributor, in getting the Club started and off the ground.
Always a leader, Malcolm established Cowboy Action (then Western Action)at
, in addition to Field and Game (later called Sporting Clays)
and it was his tremendous drive and energy that contributed not only to the
success of these sports at Tin Can Bay, but to the burgeoning membership at that
Ron Owen remembers “About a year later, 1983 or 1984, Malcolm Smerdon and
Gary Langnick came to see me at the Gun Shop in
, at that time, I was President of the Gympie Branch of the
SSAA, and a member of the State Executive of the SSAA,
a position I held for eight years to
the point manner. He said they needed to form a Branch of the SSAA at Tin Can
Bay, and get a range going down there. There were a lot of keen shooters in the
area and they wanted to do their own thing, and they could shoot more often if
they did not have to travel to Gympie or North Arm. He was concerned that I may
not help them, as SSAA Gympie would lose 20 or so of it’s members were
the Tin Can Bay venture to succeed. I told him his fears were unwarranted as
SSAA Gympie was growing at a fast rate, with more than 120 members, and he could
be assured of my 100% support.”
Then, “I contacted the State President of the SSAA,
Mr. Carl Vandal, and the Secretary, Mr. Terry Beach, and arranged for them to
travel up to the meeting that Malcolm had organised in his garage at Tin Can
Bay, and I can remember Derinda and Tim Smerdon, Ted Rodgers, Darryl Lee, Bevan
Campbell,Dick Wellington, “Pedro”, Gary Langnick and about 40 others, all
packed into the garage for the Inaugural meeting”
“The Branch was formed and an election held. Malcolm was President. Malcolm
told the meeting that he had approached the (then) Widgee Council about
using land adjacent to the
. Approvals would have to be sought from the Range Inspector,
(Military Inspector then, Police Inspector now) the
Military at the
, as well as the Council. They would also need Insurance,
Firing Points, Mounds, clearing of the land etc.”
At that time membership of the SSAA was $20 and the State SSAA paid about $9.90
back to the branches for each member, never enough to get a range
going.“Without Malcolm Smerdon’s drive, energy and hard earned cash, the Tin
Can Bay Range would never have gotten off the ground. Not only did Malcolm
provide the organization, and do all the paperwork, He did most of the hard
labour - He was the Tin Can Bay Club “Engine”.
Malcolm Smerdon, to my mind will always be one
of the finest examples of a true
gentleman”. Ron Owen.
Although I had missed the building of the Tin Can Bay Club, I did have
some“form”. I have been involved in the formation of two shooting clubs, and
was a Committee Member on the Inaugural SSAA National
Body, for which John Bradbury was the President. I was the Northern Territory
Coaching Director for the ACTA, (Clay Target) before
leaving the Territory in 1991, to live in Queensland.
joined the Tin Can Bay Club in 1992 , in time to assist the Sheriff with the
establishment of Western Action. We approached Hyne Pine
Industries for material that might be used for facades
on the Range, and then took delivery of 2 ton of board
using the Sheriffs vehicle to move it piece meal to Maroom, to
the home of Nebraska Dude and Blue Star, where it was fabricated, using the
Sheriffs cabinetmaking knowledge and skills, into facades for Cowboy Action
competition. We also bought and scrounged steel to make the steel targets, which
we welded at home helped by Will E Doo and Dusty Rivers, we used target and
stand designs copied from SASS originals U.S.A.
Western Action was great for Tin Can Bay, and became a star attraction for the
Club,hosting the 1998 Queensland State Western Action with
110 shooters on the line. Membership blossomed and shooters came from all over
South East Qld.,to attend practice shoots and competitions at the best facility
for Western Action in
, at that time. The Sheriff had travelled to compete in SASS
World Championships in the US in 97/98, and shoots at Tin Can Bay reflected the
first hand knowledge he brought back with him.
In 1996 when John Howard introduced draconian new firearms legislation which not
only affected shooters directly, but also threatened Shooting Ranges all around
Australia. Control of shooting ranges changed from the Military, who had been
the responsible authority since Federation, to a new Police Authority, using
tough new guidelines that foresaw the closure of many ranges around Queensland
and Australia.Howard knew the new laws would have no effect on crime and
admitted as much in the infamous “Flak Jacket” affair at Sale in Victoria,
when he addressed a large crowd of shooters wearing a
very prominent flak jacket. The insult to shooters everywhere is unlikely to be
forgotten, and it was just the start of a well orchestrated
Political Campaign to brand firearms owners as criminals. Similar laws
had been enacted in the
, and Howard coerced
and New Zealand
to join in, although
eventually repealed the laws as counter productive and not
in the best interests of good law enforcement. Canada has recently followed New
Zealand’s lead. Australia, now under a Labour
Government, has continued and developed the intimidation of law abiding
shooters, not least of which is changing firearms licences to “Weapons”
licences, thereby ingraining in the public psyche that “Weapons”
owners were and are to be feared and abhorred, a clever Political tactic that
see shooters paying ever higher licence and permit fees.
Tough new Range Rules were to put Western Action in doubt at Tin Can Bay,
and even though higher mounds were built at great cost to
shooters, the writing was on the wall, the range just
would not fit the Templates which were part of the New
Laws. One of the alternatives was to use the Military Range as an overshoot
area, and while the Military were very helpful and cooperative, (Hell! at night
shotgun shoots, also organized by the Sheriff, we could watch hundreds of
50 calibre machine gun tracers ricocheting just beyond the boundary fence)
SSAA Qld President and advocate for the new gun laws (the
police had employed him as a Range Inspector) was not as helpful, and much more
interested in Political Compromise. Today he is the National President of the
SSAA., the same one who repeatedly tells members to “Secure your Gun - Secure
your Sport”, thereby perpetuating the Governments myth, that Law Abiding Gun
Owners are responsible for crime in this country, by allowing Criminals access
to our firearms.
Right in the middle of these disagreeable negotiations - one Sergeant Moss,
the Police Officer in Charge at Kilkivan, and member of the
QRA Big Bore Rifle Club at Kilkivan, which had a total
of seven members, paid us a visit, offering the
Western Action Club use of the Range at Kilkivan.
In hindsight, we should have smelled a “Rat”.
But, after further visits from Moss, we decided to
check out the offer.
Then an accident occurred on the Tin Can Bay Range which settled the matter.
The Club had attracted many new members, most of whom had little or no
experience at reloading cartridges. After a number of “incidents” Malcolm
decided to my Chronograph and reloading experience, and set aside a day of
practice, where we could sort out the reloading problems. This turned out to be
a most fortuitous decision, in a number of ways.
The Chronograph is about the only way to scientifically establish, in the field,
whether the cartridges are being loaded correctly. The best
method is to use Pressure Testing, but, at the time, there were no laboratories
in Queensland with the equipment to do such testing, and it would have been
impracticable for us to attempt that method.
Testing, on the day, was proceeding smoothly, if
slowly, when Slim Chance, rest his soul, cried out in
pain, immediately following a loud explosion. Western
Action, with long Bench Rest reloading experience as well. He was also a good
friend of the Sheriff and myself. Slim, as a paid up
member of the SSAA, should have had immediate access to the SSAA’s much
vaunted “Members Insurance”. He was a paid up member of the SSAA, he was
injured on an SSAA Range, and the injury was no fault of his.
After first aid, Slim was taken to hospital by Ambulance, the police were
notified and so on.
After 12 months of ascendingly acrimonious dialogue
with the SSAA, even the ambulance bill, over $1000 dollars, was still unpaid. It
took a further 5 years of legal action, culminating in Court Action, where my
testimony relating to the testing for unsafe practices eventually swung the day,
before the SSAA admitted liability and paid the hospital bills.
Experience is a great teacher, and while the lesson we learned on the day Slim
was injured, was still to be appreciated some 5 years later, in the meantime,
understandably disenchanted with the SSAA Tin Can Bay, the Sheriff took up the
offer to transfer Western Action to the Kilkivan range, and the “Black Snake
Rangers” were born.
As usual, with just a couple of loyal helpers, the Sheriff, in a matter of weeks
had a range mound bulldozed, more targets welded, facades
built, and a set of Toilet Blocks installed. We accessed the Kilkivan Town Water
for the Toilets and the small shed used as a Club
House, doing our own irrigation work, and we discovered the QRA.
Sergeant Moss and the QRA had used us to increase membership at the Kilkivan
Range, while secret negotiations were underway with several Govt. Departments,
EPA and Lands Branch, as well as the Police, to prevent closure
of the range due to insufficient membership, and until a new Lease was signed.
(All of this without our knowledge) We were well and truly screwed!
As I said earlier,
We should have smelled a Rat! and
wrongly assumed that you could trust your fellow shooters.
At this juncture most men and women would have just given up, but the Sheriff is
made of sterner stuff. He and I began looking for a place that Cowboy Action
might grow, without the drawbacks of Government Interference,
The SSAA, QRA, or other shooting bodies and their own agendas,
“hamstringing” the Sheriff’s efforts, a place
where Shire Councils couldn’t revoke his approvals,
in fact a place that he could finally call “Home”. In the meantime Gympie
Pistol Club welcomed the Western Action shooters without a
the use of their facilities in Gympie. This was welcomed by the
shooters and the Sunday shoots at Gympie Pistol Club went well.
When the current location, of 320 acres, with a good high hill as backstop,
and with Government owned Forestry on the back and one side,
run down, with poor fencing, and with little else to recommend it, was finally
found, Malcolm began negotiations for it’s purchase. Bear in mind that
Government Departments require the land to be purchased before the grind of
approvals etc., can begin, and they have the power to kill the proposal before
it gets off the ground.
One of the first hurdles was getting approval for a Shooting Range from the
Tiaro Shire, which had taken objections from local landholders about the noise
the range would create, environmental damage to “Rare and
Endangered Species” and so on. Arranging for
appropriate tests by Acoustical Engineers took care of
one problem, and the assistance of a local naturalist, who provided evidence
to show that the “Rare and Endangered Fauna” alleged to be under threat
by the range, had been incorrectly identified, and in fact the property on which
the range approvals were being sought, was an ecological “Desert” at that
time, with very little fauna evident, and completely overrun with predators,
principal of which were Dingoes.
I am proud to report that the “Last Frontier” now has a wealth of Fauna,
largely due to the Dingo proof fencing, and the removal of cattle, as well as
the Sheriff’s attitude to vegetation and soil improvement.
Obtaining the necessary Range approvals from the Firearms Section of the Qld.
Police Department, Council and other associated approval
requirements was time consuming and costly, approaching $10,000 in all.
Building the Range, and all it’s infrastructure, as
well as providing electricity which initially cost
$28,000 but ending up at $32,000, and fighting the Tiaro Shire’s requirement
to build a new bridge on Anderleigh Road, (to take the expected increase in
traffic) took it’s toll on the Sheriff’s health, but the Sheriff has never
been a loser, and shook off two near death experiences in Brisbane Hospitals, in
order to continue building his home at the “Last Frontier”.
Very few people realise the cost of his dream. This years licencing fees and
insurances alone approach many thousand of dollars, and his
investment in the “Last Frontier” is now close to $1 million. While other
Ranges are under imminent threat from closure, members of the Last Frontier can
rest assured that the Sheriff is too tough to let this happen to the Last
Frontier, on his watch!
Perhaps you can now understand why the Sheriff might ask you to pick up your
shells, or not to shoot at the Gum Trees, or to give a hand
to set up or take down the Range facilities. If he were in your home, he would
treat you with the utmost respect, it is only fair that you treat him with
similar respect, in his “Home”, and the “Last Frontier” is not only his
Home, while you are a member it is Your Home Too! AND
THE BEST DAMN COWBOY ACTION RANGE IN THE STATE OF QUEENSLAND! BAR NONE!
Kevin Bowring alias “SIRINGO”