In April 1885, residents from Diamond Creek District met at the Literary Institute to discuss the establishment of a District Rifle Company. Mr. E.M. Bill, schoolmaster of Nillumbik State School, chaired the meeting and read a letter from the Minister of Defence, that urged residents not to be behind other districts in showing their willingness to ‘defend our hearths and homes from any foe, should such occasion demand it.’
It was resolved that a rifle company should be formed with 26 coming forward and signing their names as willing to be enrolled in the Victorian Defence Reserve; the list was forwarded to the Ministry of Defence. The provisional committee, Messrs. Bill, Peers, Ellis, Gowdie and Apted then waited for further advice.
The establishment of local rifle clubs came from an 1885 report on Victorian defence, so the ministry seems to have lost no time in pushing the idea, and Diamond Creek district residents responded quickly. They were to form part of the Victorian militia system and considered to afford a ‘means of agreeable recreation to its members.’ It is also believed they were ‘established to absorb the widespread volunteer enthusiasm that remained throughout the colony and to ensure that as many able bodied men as possible, armed and trained in the use of the rifle, could be called upon to increase the army in time of war.’ It appears that locals here took that responsibility seriously.
The club was formed quickly, meeting in the State School building and 22 men initially taking the oath. A firing range was established in the gully to the west of Collins Street and was formally opened in November that year. Mr. E.H. Cameron M.L.A. fired the first shot from the 200 yard range towards the target at the head of the gully. The gully ran down to Sawpit Creek and ranges could be used up to 800 yards; bullets that missed the target would go into the hill behind.
As local support increased so did events in support of the club funds. The club needed an iron target with a double bull’s eye to replace the original wooden one that was damaged each time the club practiced. A fundraiser was held at the Literary Institute in May 1886, consisting of glees, songs, readings and recitations. The event raised £6 so went some way to covering the estimated £10 10s. cost of the new target.
Club members not only practiced regularly, but also competed with other clubs across the state and travelled as far as Hamilton and Ararat. In September 1886, the Preston Mounted Rifles was scheduled to meet and compete with the Nillumbik club, however, they did not turn up and gave no reason. The men had an afternoon’s practice instead, later marching down to the Royal Mail Hotel and ‘sat down to one of those lunches which Host Penglase knows so well how to serve up.’ After speeches and thank you’s Mr. E.H. Cameron M.L.A.handed over £4 to fund the new iron target. Regular competitions continued through the 1880’s and into the 1890’s, including an annual Boxing Day event.
It is not clear what happened to the club in the 1890’s, but enthusiasm may have waned when Mr. Bill, who was Captain, left the district and was replaced by a new schoolmaster, Mr. Leach. Whatever the reason, there were still some locally who were interested in a rifle club and to meet and compete, at least amongst themselves. So, in September 1898 a meeting was held in the Mechanic’s Institute, Diamond Creek to form the Diamond Creek Rifle Club. It didn’t take long for them to re-form and the question of a new range to practice on was solved with Mr. E.T. Peers J.P. offering a paddock on his property at Upper Diamond Creek. The target was placed at the head of a gully and ranges marked out up to 500 yards.
The range was opened in March 1899. Mr E.H. Cameron M.L.A. was again given the honour of taking the opening shot, and also congratulated Mr. Peers and Mr. Gowdie on the re-formation of the club. He strongly advised all young men to join and said he would personally do all he could to advance the club’s interests. The new club continued the annual Boxing Day events, the first being held the same year. In early 1900 it was reported to have 47 members, both gentlemen and ladies.
February 1900 saw a send off for one of the club’s members, Mr. J.G. Finlay, who had joined Cameron’s Scouts and was headed for South Africa and the Boer War. At a farewell evening, the club presented him with an inscribed, silver-mounted pocket spirit flask and from the local community a multi-bladed pocket-hunting knife.
The Diamond Creek Rifle Club continued to meet and compete through the early 1900’s and into the 1920’s and attracted new members from Upper Diamond Creek and the area that is now Hurstbridge. A meeting of the club at Hurstbridge Hall in September 1922, gives an insight into interest in the area – Queenstown and Panton Hill in particular were looking forward to joining with an ‘old and financial club.’ A new range in Cottle’s-gully was proposed and discussed.
The new range was opened in August 1923 at Cottle’s Bridge, 2¼ miles from Hurstbridge, on the property of Mr. Garsed. It was described as ‘well placed, close to the road, and centrally situated for the 68 members.’
From here, the story of Nillumbik and then Diamond Creek Rifle Club becomes that of the wider district which is something for another time when we have more time to research and to do it justice. However, the rifled club movement was supported until it was placed in recess in 1941, during WW2.