Sparrows in the crosshairs

By Kyabram Free Press

LIVE bird shooting was once an Olympic sport.

Victorian Donald Mackintosh won the gold medal at the Paris Olympics in 1900 for live pigeon shooting.

These days, gun clubs use a clay pigeon thrown up from a trap as a target.

In the early 20th century, Kyabram and district citizens participated in a sparrow shooters club to assist in combating sparrows in plague proportions.

These feral birds, introduced into Australia from Britain between 1867 and 1870, were damaging district crops and seriously impacting on native fauna.

As recorded in the W H Bossence book Kyabram, the local council offered rewards for their destruction.

For example, it paid £9/10/8 in December, 1904, for 777 sparrows and 4,973 sparrow eggs.

Sparrows were also trapped for the Kyabram Sparrow Club to enable it to conduct shooting contests. Shooters used double barrel shotguns for these sparrow competitions. The target birds were thrown up from a trap.

These shoots were followed by an evening social function for the purposes of dining, trophy presentations, speeches and musical entertainment.

It was reported in both the Kyabram Free Press on March 12, 1909 and the Riverine Herald on March 17, 1909 that the Kyabram Sparrow Club conducted a successful shoot on March 10, 1909 for the opening of the sparrow season.

A shooting challenge match had been arranged between Messrs W Houlihan of Tongala and A B White of Kyabram. The conditions of the match were to shoot 23 sparrows off 21 yards for a handsome gold medal donated by Mr Owen Cahill.

There was a large crowd in attendance to witness the contest. As anticipated, the match proved most exciting, resulting in a tie.

Houlihan and White agreed to shoot on until the first miss. Houlihan “grassed” his first sparrow but White missed his bird, leaving Houlihan the winner by one bird.

After the other scheduled shooting competitions were concluded, patrons adjourned to McCormack’s Kyabram Hotel.

The club chair was occupied by the popular President, Mr T W Thompson. On being presented with his inscribed medal for winning the main event, Mr Houlihan gave his thanks and referred to his imminent relocation to New South Wales.

He joked that as sparrows were scarce in his new location, he would use his gun to practise on emus.

In light of the many enjoyable functions conducted in the prior season, the president said it promised to be a successful sparrow shooting season and he stated that all their members were thorough sportsmen.

The club continued to prosper. At the annual general meeting of the club held on May 13, 1914, a vote to change the club’s name from Kyabram Sparrow Club to Kyabram Gun Club was successful.

The Shepparton Advertiser reported on October 8, 1914 that the Kyabram Gun Club conducted a very successful shoot on October 7, 1914 with 400 sparrow targets passing through the traps.

■This article was compiled by Michael Quinn with help from Eileen Sullivan of Kyabram and District Historical Society.