The Last Frontier Shooting Range

The Man In The Big Grey Hat

I would like to share with you all this poem,
written March 2004 by Paskinel SASA # 7976

He hailed from up round Gympie way, a desperate man at that.
He walked tall and lean and purpose in his stride, and he wore a big grey hat
When he drew on you your time was up, that’s just the way it is.

Experience abounds in this man, all gained by true grit,
You’ll never find him shirking and defiantly never quit.

He faced the toughest desperado that any man could face,
Death knocked at his door, so close was the pace.

But divine intervention and faith pulled him through
To God he gave thanks and we know this is true.

His knowledge he imparts with humility and grace
And his acceptance of this is written in his face.

Let’s thank the Lord for men such as this
For to shoot with him is just heavenly bliss.

His range he built with his own hands at that
This man from Gympie with the big grey hat.

Sheriff of Tinstone is his name, if you haven’t already guessed
And of people I’ve known he is one of the best.

So dip your hat when you see this man
We need more of him in this big brown land.

So see to your guns all shooters true and sound
And let’s have some fun while life still abounds.

We have no promise of tomorrow,
None at that
So lets take example,
From the man with the big grey hat.

The Last Frontier In The Making

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 their attention.

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 Tin Can Bay, 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 Club.

GympieTimes84.jpg (121504 bytes) Ron Owen remembers: About a year later, 1983 or 1984, Malcolm Smerdon and Gary Langnick came to see me at the Gun Shop in Mary Street , 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 Camp Kerr Army Range. Approvals would have to be sought from the Range Inspector, (Military Inspector then, Police Inspector now) the Military at the Camp Kerr Army Range, 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.

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I 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 will e doo.jpg (401396 bytes) 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.

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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 Queensland, 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 UK, and Howard coerced Japan, Canada and New Zealand to join in, although New Zealand eventually repealed the laws as counterproductive 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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

a) We should have smelled a Rat! and

b) We 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 home, the use of their facilities in Gympie. This was welcomed by the shooters and the Sunday shoots at Gympie Pistol Club went well.

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When the current location, of 320 acres, with a good high hill as backstop, and with Government 2002Anderl.jpg (141725 bytes) 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.

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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”.

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Very few people realise the cost of his dream. This year’s licensing fees and insurances alone LastFrontier2012.jpg (215966 bytes) 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!


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Kevin Bowring alias “SIRINGO”

The Major