Seventy years ago next month, mum, dad and little me moved from the City of Sydney to the wilds of the Riverina in New South Wales.
It was 1946, the Second World War had not long ended and in the county particularly, everyone owned rifle or two.
I was six when my dad’s brother came to live with us and he took me under his wing.
The two brothers were totally different. My dad was an academic whose hobbies included books, classical Greek, Latin and Hebrew.
His brother on the other hand was a knockabout sort of a bloke who loved guns, hunting, fishing and mucking about with engines. He had also fought in the Spanish Civil War.
It wasn’t long before my uncle had me out in the paddock with his .22 calibre Browning rifle where, under his expert tutelage I learned firearm safety, how to shoot accurately over open sights and the need to take head shots on rabbits.
The head shots of course meant that the bunnies were not knocked about internally and when skinned and cleaned they were presentable and ready for the oven. The skinning was also my responsibility.
The years passed quickly and my love and use of firearms never diminished, helped along no doubt by a stint in the army.
Then, for a further thirty five years I carried a side arm every day as part of my chosen profession.
Gradually, my personal collection of rifles and shotguns diminished and after what became known as the Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania, like many thousands of gun owners, I surrendered, with one exception, all of my firearms.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I received a message from a gun loving mate who was leaving Australia to live permanently overseas.
The purpose off his call was to see if I was interested in buying his significant licensed gun collection.
Boy oh boy, was I tempted. Then reality came to my rescue. Cameras, Harley Davidsons, Landrovers and other big boys toys had reduced the exchequer to a parlous state. However, I thought that his .22 calibre Winchester would suit me down to the ground.
He brought it in from the farm for me to have a look at it. To say it was in as new condition would be a gross understatement. Then he informed me that he could guarantee the rifle had only fired five rounds. I could see that the bore was pristine as was the bolt face and there was absolutely no slack in the trigger mechanism and the sear and bent were perfect.
The came the great surprise.
On the stock was a silver crest bearing the initials of the NSW Rifle Association, dated 1976, Winner 50 Metre Championship, R.J.Dove.
I told my mate I was interested and that I’d get back to him ASAP.
An R.J.Dove was a long time personal friend. I knew he was a shooter and a bower bird like me who couldn’t bear to part with important toys.
I phoned Mr Dove and explained the purpose of the call. He immediately responded by telling me that the Winchester had been stolen from his home years before, along with a number of other firearms. Naturally he asked me what I intended to do about his missing rifle and I said I’d get back to him, ASAP.
What a turn up when I contacted my other mate, the vendor. In response to my question about the Winchester’s provenance he told me that he got the rifle from his brother who in turn had bought it from R J Dove, a member of the same rifle club. My mate’s brother claimed that R J Dove had injured his shoulder and had temporarily abandoned Rifle shooting, taking up pistol shooting instead.
Back on the phone to R J Dove. After telling me that he had totally forgotten he’d sold the Winchester, he confirmed his sale of the Winchester for exactly the reasons given to me by the current vendor.
Of course, I immediately purchased the Winchester after going through all of the rigamarole required by the NSW Firearms Registry before I could take possession of the rifle.
Now if you think that’s the end of this long winded yarn, you are badly mistaken.
Once a year our select littler group of motorcyclists meet at a different locations for a meal, a few beers and to plot and scheme our rides for the next six months or so.
R J Dove was one of those motorcyclists and She Who Must Be Obeyed and I thought it would be a nice gesture, after the get together, to present R J Dove with his long forgotten Winchester as a token of our esteem.
The time came, we gathered outside the pub around R J Dove, I reached into our vehicle, produced the Winchester and handed it to him with the intention of saying a few words about it.
R J Dove didn’t give me the chance to utter a single word. He looked at the Winchester, put it back into our vehicle with the words,’That was an earlier chapter in my life. See you next ride.’
With that he walked back to his car and simply drove away.
Over the next few years, the shooting career of R J Dove never was mentioned, nor was the Winchester that still resides proudly in the gun safe in Casa Creaking Bones.
A month or so back, R J Dove passed away, aged 86. At his funeral service together with many of the congregation, I was amazed to learn that R J Dove had represented Australia at three Olympics, had been Australian Small Bore Rifle Champion for quite a number of years and was a highly esteemed member of the Australian Small Bore Rifle Association.
Over more than 20 years riding together, R J Dove had never mentioned his shooting prowess. Such was the measure of the man. Never one to boast or brag, R J Dove was multifaceted man and a very private person.
I am proud to have been his friend.
Here is an image of the plaque on the stock of R J Dove’s Winchester.
Hoo roo for now