Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

One suspects that if a straw poll had been taken prior to the 1956 Games as to which of the Olympic sport Melburnians were least interested in, shooting would have been a popular choice!

It probably would also rate as the least interesting from a spectator's point of view - a running commentary of "Aim!", "Fire!", "Bang!" - perhaps followed by  "Bugger!", "Missed!" - would just about summarise a day's events.

All shooting events were held in Melbourne’s west.

Williamstown

The Williamstown Rifle Range was constructed in 1878 for the use of the volunteer forces after housing developments encroaching on The Butts in the northern section of today's Middle Park saw the colonial government set aside the 77-acre site for residential development.

It was the obvious choice for the bulk of the shooting competition, military authorities readily consented to use of the range for training and the six events held between 30 November and 5 December.  The Shooting section of the Modern Pentathlon was held at Williamstown on 26 November.

Despite the long-established facilities, extensive efforts were required to establish Olympic ranges.

Major earthworks were necessary to adjust the existing range to metric distances, and many of the existing targets required renovation because of the poor state of their frame.

 A new, combined range for the rapid fire pistol (silhouette) and small bore rifle was required, as was another for the running deer event (this suggested as the major part of the construction undertaken by a Melbourne builder, Mr. R. J. Griffiths who also designed the deer silhouettes).

The range bordered the sea and was somewhat subject to wind; twenty-two shooting stations, each 12 feet wide and to accommodate two competitors were constructed over the firing points for the 50-metre  distance.

During the practice period before the Games commenced, shooters complained that the man allotted the left side of each shooting station was more exposed to the prevailing wind than the other competitor on the right. The International Shooting Union then asked for a dividing partition to be placed in each shooting station to give all competitors similar protection from the wind. This was arranged, leaving 44 stations, each 6 feet wide

Existing mounds were used as the protective background, but no special provision was made for spectators, only 634 all-day tickets sold over five sessions.

The events at Williamstown were :

Laverton (Royal Australian Air Force Station)

The Royal Australian Air Force Command agreed to the construction of a range on the command grounds at Laverton, so that the clay pigeon shooting contests would be held under the best possible conditions, i.e., an open space of level ground, with good light and a clear background.

A completely new range was constructed, consisting of a trench where 20 “traps” were installed to launch the targets, the event held between 29 November and 1 December with an unreserved section for spectators, tickets at eleven shillings with just 764 sold over the three days.

Basic clay pigeon shooting is performed with a shotgun with targets fired in the air on the shooter's call.  The targets are launched so all competitors receive exactly the same target selection - one straight, two left and two right targets - , but in a random order.  The sport effectively emulates earlier live pigeon shooting where the flight of the birds was unpredictable - live birds were used at the 1896 and 1900 Olympics.

The sport has changed considerably over the years in terms of the guns used, but in 1956, the "pigeons" were made of clay and tar and painted black; they travelled at around  60 m.p.h. and from 50 to 55 yards when thrown by a ratchet device from a trap swivelling at 45 degrees to give every "bird" a different angle. The bird had to rise at least nine feet in the air for it to be considered a legal toss.  The event today is often referred to as trap shooting.


 

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Playgrounds : Shooting In The West

Top : Massed crowds at the Williamstown Range, Port Phillip Bay in the background

Below : A practice session at Williamstown showing the shooting stations, later modified with a dividing wall to give additional wind protection

Bottom : One less hoofed mammal to pester the good citizens of Williamstown - Gold Medallist V. Romanenko (U.S.S.R) on the 100-metre Running Deer range. The target, mounted on a trolley, traversed 23 metres with competitors firing once or twice depending on the section of the contest.  Contestants had a maximum of four seconds to fire in the single-shot and two in the double-shot.

LADY BOWEN FIRING THE FIRST SHOT AT THE VICTORIA RIFLE RANGES.

"The new rifle ranges at Williamstown, which have been named the Victoria Ranges, were formally opened on Saturday, July 27, by Lady Bowen, who fired the first shot. They are situated close to the North Williamstown railway station, and contain about 300 acres of land, on which is erected a small house. The land was recently purchased by the Government at a cost of about £15,000, in consequence of its having been deemed advisable to cut up the old ranges at Sandridge into building allotments, and sell them".

The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil, Saturday, 31 Aug 1878


Clay pigeon shooters at Laverton. The shooters fired five times and then moved to an adjacent box and trap to increase the randomness of the targets.

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