When Rod Drew joined Field & Game Australia he found that it fitted his personal values and interests like a glove, it also fixed the rusty shooting he’d become accustomed to every duck opening. The greater beneficiary of his long involvement has been our organisation, which was resurrected under his calm leadership, strategic thinking and passion for the hunter’s rights.
In typical style Rod credits much of his success to the board members, patrons and ordinary, hardworking volunteers from the many branches.
After more than 18 years Rod has ended his tenure as a full-time employee of FGA but he will continue to represent the interests of members through the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA).
Rod remains a passionate and committed member of Field & Game and hopes to hunt a few more ducks during the season.
Chances are though he will be stalking the corridors of power rather than wading in a duck swamp.
“I’m probably stepping into politics even more,” he admits.
“There’s more than 400 registered lobbying companies in Canberra and more than 600 lobbyists registered, so on any sitting day it is just a constant parade and many of them are not spruiking our virtues.
“People have this view that politicians know everything but it is quite the opposite, you need to be in that arena providing information to politicians, public servants and agencies, selling them on the positives of firearm ownership and hunting and why it is so important.”
Rod Drew has always believed in the virtues of hunting. He grew up at Howlong on the Murray River and went fishing, hunting, rabbiting and horse riding.
“We had a terrific childhood,” he said.
When he moved away from home duck hunting was added to the repertoire but opening weekend was a hit and miss affair.
“I got frustrated because I wasn’t shooting any ducks, that was because I hadn’t picked up the gun since the previous season,” he said.
“It was then a friend said I should join Field & Game in Seymour to get in some practice.
“The whole Field & Game ethos and lifestyle really suited me because that was the lifestyle I’d grown up with.”
That was 1984 and Rod would progress to leadership roles within the branch and then the organisation — elected to the board of Victorian Field & Game as it was then in 1990.
By 1997 Rod was full time and working in Geelong with Ian MacLachlan.
“When I started full time we had an office in Geelong which was run by Ian and his wife Kerry, he was holding down a full time job and running Field & Game, and he did an enormous amount of work and was a great mentor to me.”
There was also a realisation that the organisation had to change in form and function.
“There were some structural problems in the Field & Game federation and we tried to reform it and failed so we decided to reconstitute Victoria Field & Game Association (VFGA) into Field &Game Australia and form a national body.
“The success of that was that we were able to do away with the federation of states model; there are no state bodies in FGA, only branches which deal directly with the national body, you don’t have that extra layer of governance.
“There are many organisations that suffer from the federation of states model.”
The organisation was also in financial difficulty which was resolved with support from branches that stepped up to help and were eventually repaid.
There was another necessary change.
John Howard’s gun reform after the shocking massacre at Port Arthur had significantly altered the landscape and Rod understood that the organisation had to have a stronger political voice.
“I’d seen the loss of duck hunting in NSW and the loss of duck hunting in WA and I saw what pressure it was under in other states,” he recalls.
“I realised that shooting organisations had to get more professional and away from the club mentality which works at local level but not at a strategic political level.
“It was gun politics and hunting politics but also eating meat politics versus vegetarianism, access to public land and the ability to conserve our wetlands.”
One important step was to go back to the very roots of the organisation, formed in 1958 by hunters concerned about the loss of wetland habitat.
The Wetland Environmental Taskforce Public Fund was formed in 2001 and has a large and growing footprint of wetlands it protects and enhances.
WET is an extension of the conservation work that Field & Game has always done but it was a long battle to get it up and running.
“Because we were political, which we had to be, no government would give you grant funds for conservation which led to forming the separate entity, the WET Trust,” Rod said.
“That took the best part of five or six years to get up, mainly because federal bureaucrats couldn’t get their head around the fact that a hunting organisation could also be a conservation organisation.”
The tax deductible trust had to be signed off by environment and treasury and in the heat of an election campaign Rod seized the moment when Peter Costello rolled into Seymour.
“I got 20 minutes with him and it was only a matter of days and it was done and dusted, it showed just how important government relations were,” he said.
“It has been a tremendous vehicle for Field & Game to demonstrate its environmental credentials which is what the organisation was founded on.
“You can’t get in to see too many politicians to talk about guns but you can get in to talk about conservation, it gives us the social licence to have the conversation,” he said.
He’s most proud though of the contribution from members through hard labour and cash donations.
“That is one thing about hunters, they are always prepared to put back,” he said.
There’s an odd synergy in the fact that for the first time in many years Rod won’t be flying the flag for hunters on opening morning while his oldest sparring partner anti-duck hunting campaigner Laurie Levy should also be somewhere else due to a long overdue court-imposed wetland ban.
“In a lot of ways I think its run its race.The tactics have changed, there seems to
be less of them but the ones that are active are more active and more militant.”
“Whilst I got into Field & Game because of what it was about I soon realised it was really about rural life in general not just duck hunting, the same people were opposed to racehorses, intensive poultry and piggeries and live exports.
“The same threats we were facing were being faced by a lot of other people as well.”
In England the Countryside Alliance sprang up around pressure on fox hunting but it now paints with a much broader brush that promotes a thriving rural community and economy. It is now a powerful lobby group that encompasses every aspect of rural life.
For one reason or another, a truly united voice hasn’t emerged in Australia but like minded organisations continue to fight for the same causes.
“Public land use issues are very close to our heart, especially in Victoria because the use of public land is slowly being eroded with time.
“On one side you are fighting your right to hunt and right to have a gun but then you have to fight for your right to access public land to hunt.”
Highlighting the economic value of hunting has been a big step forward but there is still not enough recognition of the tourism potential of a sustainable hunting strategy.
“New Zealand tourism has hunting clearly stated in the strategy, you can’t find that in Australia but I think that is changing.”
Rod said the impact of the slow food movement has also been positive and reinforces the morality of ethical hunting for food.
“The quality of wild meat in this country is exceptional,” he said.
“It just pains me to see the number of kangaroos killed on the side of the road and we still don’t have a viable processing industry in Victoria.
“The other big issue that is emerging is the deer problem in the Victorian high country and we have to have a rethink that may involve some commercial options.”
That leads Rod to issue a challenge to his Field & Game family.
“Everything about Field & Game fitted my lifestyle, the conservation, the hunting, the game food, the camaraderie the rural lifestyle and just being around like-minded, down to earth and hardworking people,” he said.
“If there’s one thing I’d like to say to members it is get involved, if you want to make a contribution or take a leadership role put your hand up because anyone who is passionate about hunting and shooting should understand that they can’t take it for granted.
“The politics is never going to go away and shooters have been closet dwellers in many ways, they need to be loud and proud about being a responsible shooter. If every hunter made it their goal to introduce someone to the shooting sports this year or offer to share their bounty with a friend or neighbour, even go and talk to their local member.
“They are simple little things but if every one of us did them, it would make a huge difference to the acceptance and understanding of our activities.”
It has been a long road for Rod Drew but he moves on to a new lobbying role with the same enthusiasm he brought to Field & Game and no regrets.
“I’ve enjoyed every bit of it but others will be the judge of my success.
“It won’t be too far away from the job I was doing and I’ll probably be able to go duck hunting.”