The tradition of competitive simulated field sports in Victorian schools is a long-standing one. Started back in the 1950s by Charles Whitla from Wangaratta, it began simply from the need to educate students attending the Wangaratta Technical School about firearm safety and the correct technique for firing a shotgun.
However, after Mr Whitla moved to Benalla and commenced instructing the students at the Technical School there, a challenge was issued from Whitla’s former students at Wangaratta for a contest. In 1961 the first Victorian inter-school clay target competition took place, between Wangaratta and Benalla. Wangaratta won, prompting Benalla to practise for a return bout.
Within a short time, the concept of competitive Simulated Field sports for schools had spread across north-eastern Victoria. One of these schools, in Mansfield, included habitat and wildlife conservation in their program. An Outdoor and Fishing Club with student office-bearers was formed to help organise the student program. This club, together with the Victorian Fisheries and Wildlife Department, developed a common project in building an artificial duck-breeding swamp on the banks of the Delatite River. The project involved construction of a levee and the planting of over 500 red gum eucalypts. Students then obtained nesting boxes with help from the Victorian Field & Game Association (now Field & Game Australia) and installed them in the swamp. Within a year or so, this swamp was a wonderful breeding ground and was open for shooting in season. Sadly, changes in climate and environmental water usage mean that adjoining waterways no longer rise to their full level, so this swamp has not been an ideal habitat for many years.
Following on from this, in 1965 a Victorian Field & Game club was also started at the Mansfield school and, between the adult and junior members, over 200 nesting boxes were distributed in the Mansfield district. The study of duck nesting habits, water birds and habitat were educational by-products of the club. This link between conservation and hunting has long been established: for the pastime to be sustainable and lifelong, hard work is done to ensure that the game animal populations flourish and have suitable habitats, and that there is public land available for the pursuit of this passion.
There have been over 7,000 students competing in the clay target competitions in the last 29 years, with over 70 schools in regional Victoria attending the school shoots. With these numbers of students attending it would appear that there is still a strong interest in simulated field sports among the younger generation of Australians.
If you’re interested in inter-school competition shoots, check our events calendar, or contact the National Office for more information.