Victor Vella owns the distinction of presiding over the Melbourne International Shooting Club (MISC), the premiere shooting club in Victoria, and perhaps the oldest pistol club in Australia.

The Club sits on 7 quiet acres of land, located less than 5 kilometers from Melbourne’s Central Business District. The MISC was the site of the shooting events of the Commonwealth Games in 2006. Today, it is one of the best-equipped facilities in Australia, and is regularly used as a training facility by law enforcement, military units, as well as private security groups.

What does it take to run a prestigious shooting club like the MISC? We sat down with Victor Vella, Club President, to find out.

 

Tygus.Shooting:
How long have you been an officer of the Melbourne International Shooting Club?

Victor:
I’ve been President now for 3 years, but prior to that I had already served on the club’s Committee for 3 years. At one stage I was Vice-Captain of Pistol and at another, the club’s Maintenance Manager. I’ve been with the club 30 years, all up.

Tygus.Shooting:
Tell us a bit about the history of the Club.

Victor:
The club started in 1955. In that year, plans were being made for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. Before 1955, pistols were prohibited in the state of Victoria, but as everyone knows, one of the events in the Olympic Games is pistol shooting. Now we had people who wanted to compete in it, believe it or not, even though it was a prohibited sport.

So in 1955, the Victorian Police Force issued the first 6 pistol licenses to citizens in Victoria, for the purpose of forming a club in preparation for the 1956 Olympic Games. These first 6 pistol shooters were the start of this club.

When they started, these shooters actually used to go shoot at the police horse stables, and they used to have to clean the stables first, to be able to shoot there. After a while they got sick and tired of cleaning up horse shit, so they went and leased a bit of land.

This area where the club now stands used to be the old Port Melbourne garbage tip. When they closed the tip down, these shooters put in an application, and you have what you see today. This is the oldest pistol club in Victoria, and I’m not sure, but I think it’s the oldest pistol club in Australia.

Tygus.Shooting:
How many members does the Melbourne International Shooting Club have at the moment?

Victor:
We’ve got around 510 members.

Tygus.Shooting:
Is the Club ‘s membership growing or diminishing?

Victor:
Growing big time! Three years ago we probably had about 250 or 300 members.

Tygus:Shooting:
Tell us a bit about your more illustrious members.

Victor:
The person who sticks out in my mind the most, I met when I was only 20, his name was Val. He was much older, and I spent a lot of time with him and he taught me how to shoot. If you look at the clubhouse wall right now, there’s a famous picture of the Kokoda Trail, with Australian soldiers all shot up and bloodied after a battle. The bloke lying down with his arm all bandaged up is Val Gardner. The nice old bloke who taught me was actually one of the heroes of the Kokoda Trail. He came back after the military, and took up pistol shooting as a sport. And for 25 years I never knew about his history. He wasn’t just a veteran, he was one of the nation’s heroes.

Tygus.Shooting:
What makes the Melbourne International Shooting Club so special?

Victor:
The MISC is the most centrally-located shooting facility in Melbourne. We’re about 20 minutes from the Central Business District. At the risk of sounding biased, we have the best shooting club because we have the best ranges, we have the best facilities. Members can have access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we operate an excellent canteen facility. On Wednesday nights we have great meals at an excellent price. It’s not a business, it’s a club, and nobody’s got the facilities that we have. It’s simple!

Tygus.Shooting:
Which shooting disciplines does the Club cater to?

Victor:
Predominantly, we’re an ISSF club. So what that really means is, we were set up to support international and world shooting. We were originally set up for the Olympic Games and right now, as we speak, we are the home of the Australian Pistol Shooting Team. So when it comes to the world and ISSF standards, we have the peak performers at the club. But as you probably know, only about 3 percent of our members shoot at that international level. Really, the majority of our members are what I call recreational shooters. Working class people or people who just want to have a shoot, love guns, and love to have fun.

At the end of the day, we really cater to all shooting disciples that we physically can on the property. So we cater to ISSF, we have the Service Match side, we have IPSC, we have Western Action, we cater for small-bore rifle, air rifle and air pistol, and whatever else we can cater for. We support all forms of legitimate shooting.

Tygus.Shooting:
What are the unique features of the MISC’s facilities?

Victor:
At the moment we have an air pistol range that is just about to be upgraded with what we call Phase 1,2,3 targets which are used in the Olympic Games. Our members and the Australian Team will soon be able to practice on targets that they’lł actually use in the Olympics, so we’ll have the highest-quality electronic targets at the air range plus normal paper targets.

On our rifle range, we have electronic targets that we installed in 2006 for the Commonwealth Games, and that’s also to an international standard. Then we have our normal centerfire ranges, the 25-meter ranges that we have, they use traditional turning targets.

Lastly, we also have what we call our Safety Range. Now our safety range is basically a 50-meter range, in which you can shoot any handgun you can legally own in Victoria, flat-out, full-power. It’s the only range of that type in the whole metropolitan region. That range we extensively hire out to State Police, Federal Police, Customs Service, Prison Service and private security groups. We rent that range out a fair bit.

Tygus.Shooting:
Does a club like the MISC have any favorite charities or special beneficiaries?

Victor:
We have a soft spot for young people, so we’ve given the Air Force academy a sweetheart deal so that they can use our facilities. Basically, the theory there is that if we look after the young Air Force cadets—nice young people, well-disciplined—they’ll grow up and hopefully they’ll join the club. We’ve been looking after their shooting activities, and they like it so much that this year, they’re actually going to hold the Australian National Titles for the Air Force Cadets here.

Tygus.Shooting:
How do the MISC’s facilities compare with other pistol Clubs in Australia?

Victor:
If you’ve been to other pistol clubs out there, they call them pistol clubs but all they really are is a paddock in the country. They’ve got maybe a little shed, or they’ve got a little container. They’re in the country, at least they can have a shoot. Without being disrespectful to them, they’ve done the best that they can.

At the MISC, we own our own land, we own all our own buildings, we have no debt. Our members have always worked hard since 1955, so we own what we own and we have what we have, which is the best among all the clubs.

Tygus.Shooting:
On a week-to-week basis, what is the most challenging aspect of running the Club?

Victor:
The finances are challenging, because you’ve got to put a lot of work into the finances. Every cent you spend really has to be documented—it’s a club, it’s not a business. When it comes to decision-making, because we’re a club, almost everything has to go through the Committee.

Even more challenging than the finance side is member service. We are a club, and if we don’t have good member service… You can have the best facilities in the world, but if don’t have the member service… We’ve greatly improved the member service from what it used to be a few years ago, but we still have a long way to go.

So member service and finance. If you can get them under control, you’ve got everything else beautiful!

Tygus.Shooting:
What is the most difficult situation you have had to handle so far, while you’ve been in office?

Victor:
One day we were here having a shoot on a Saturday and the clubhouse was full of people. There was an old member who had difficulties in driving, and basically he went to leave the car park. But instead of putting the car in ‘Drive’ he put it in ‘Reverse’. He basically drove right through the wall of the clubhouse and he hit the other end of the clubhouse. He caused thousands and thousands worth of damage, and he missed people by about 2 inches. So, obviously, Police got involved, there were medical issues, we had the media outside—that was a very interesting time. That explains the big concrete barrier in front of the clubhouse now, it’s there for insurance reasons.

Tygus.Shooting:
What is the best part of running a club like MISC?

Victor:
For me as an individual? All right, I’ll give you the perfect example, what’s so good about running it, and what the good part is for me.

We run politician shoots here. Every year we have so many state Members of Parliament attend, always on a Friday, on a work day in October or November. And the MP’s, at the end of every shoot, they always say to me how impressed they are with the facilities of the club, with what we do, and the quality of the members that we have. On the days that we run the MP shoots, we have the really dedicated people take the day off from work to help, to do one-one or one-on-two supervision. Everybody does the right thing, everybody’s safety conscious, and the praise I get from the state politicians about the quality of the members that we have—you just have to feel like a proud rooster!

Tygus.Shooting:
What is the most memorable occasion you have presided over as an officer of MISC?

Victor:
Since I’ve been president, the most enjoyable and memorable thing from my perspective is the day that Shooting Australia (the Australian peak shooting body) decided and announced that this range was going to become the home of the Australian Pistol Shooting Team.

Tygus.Shooting:
What are your favorite shooting events?

Victor:
That’s interesting, because over 30 years, I’ve shot all the events, and I seem to go through stages where I shoot different things. The one event that I’ve been consistent at for the last 20 years and which I still shoot on a regular basis is Service Match. It’s challenging because I shoot from 50 meters all the way down to 7 meters. The 50 meters is a slow, accurate type of pistol shooting, the 7 meters is fast and close, and I think the skill base from 7 to 50 reflects all the shooting I’ve done over the years.

Tygus.Shooting:
This is rather personal, but how do your family members feel about the time you devote to running the Club?

Victor:
I’m really lucky in that. My wife used to live in South Africa, and she used to be at a pistol club there. In South Africa the pistol club isn’t just a shooting club, it’s a socializing environment, and that was part of her life when she was younger. Then later in life, she obviously ended up with me, and not that much after she was a member of this club as well. She used to be a member here, the club has been part of her life for the last 30 years as well. But over the last 3 years, being president has taken a lot of time away. It gets difficult, I’m not going to deny that fact, I just take a lot of time away from my family for the club. But I think I’m achieving a lot here as well, making progress in the last 3 years, and the wife can see that as well. But as an individual, I’m going to have to learn to balance things a little bit better.

Tygus.Shooting:
What would you say is the biggest problem facing shooting clubs in Australia today?

Victor:
Without doubt, the biggest problem would have to be public perception. The media is so anti-gun. Lucky that’s starting to change. The politicians who come here to do that shoot, they know what we do and they know what we are, but some of them, publicly, they won’t say certain things because of the media. We’re lucky right now, because we have 2 Members of Parliament at the moment who are members of this club, and we have a lot of MP’s who are friends of the club. Because of the way that society is going at the moment with this world of terrorism that we have, and this world of crime, it’s almost fortunate that shooting and firearms are becoming more acceptable and the anti-gun people, really, are starting to lose their power. But the public perception that we generally have in Australia when it comes to guns has totally been unfair and ridiculous.

Tygus.Shooting:
What’s your advice for people who are setting up new shooting clubs, or people intending to become part of a club’s management?

Victor:
In our current society and in the environment that we are, the biggest problem we have with our Committee is, that we have good people go into the club to enjoy the sport and want to do the right thing for the club, but unfortunately you have to know, you have to understand your firearms legislation, and everything else from the club constitution and incorporation rules to consumer affairs, legal aspects, and taxation.

I’ve been president now for 3 years, and I’m almost ashamed to say what I’ve learned from when I first became president to now, there’s so many things, and sometimes I’m a little bit disappointed that the Committee has so little understanding about certain aspects of the firearms legislation. You’ve really got to make sure that you’ve got the legislation side under control, because every decision that you make, any breaches or anything, will have negative consequences on the club.

Tygus.Shooting:
What are your future plans to make the MISC ‘bigger and better’ so to speak?

Victor:
Just last week, MISC officers and Winchester Australia finalised an arrangement which will allow the club to retail factory Winchester ammunition on its premises. This move is designed to provide members with a measure of convenience, saving them the trouble of making separate trips to gun shops to buy good-quality factory ammunition.

I can’t go too deep, but I’m also talking to a number of other organizations about us going in partnership with them. One organization is a producer of shooting equipment, that supplies private and government, and we’re almost at the end of the process to make a deal with them, so that we can become an agent for them as well.

We’re also talking to quite a few gun shops. Any of the gun shops that want to help MISC members, I’m more than willing to facilitate a process. We’ve got over 500 members, that’s a lot of business for any gun shop that wants to look after us. And I’m hoping in the future, we’ll have special deals for MISC members through gun shops.

As for the club itself, without doubt, our most cherished possession at the moment would have to be the Safety Range where we shoot whatever we want to shoot from the full range. We need another range of that type, because at the moment that one is just booked out consistently. We can modify an old range and we still have space in front of the property. My vision is, within the short term, we’ll fix up one other range to give us the same capability, but not at 50 meters, only 25 meters because our customers mostly shoot a maximum of 25 meters.

My real vision for the club is I’d like to build 4 new ranges like we have at the moment for centerfire pistol—4 brand-new ones like them—indoor and all-weather, and with the same target system that we see in the American ranges, where they can be used for ISSF shooting, and they can be used for security. Basically, if we can build these ranges—and I’ve already done a lot of work on how much this will cost—then we’ll have the best facilities in the country.

Tygus.Shooting:
Thank you for your time, Victor! Best of luck on your plans, and we hope that the members keep you in office long enough to get all this work done!

Victor:
I feel honored that you’ve interviewed me, and hopefully we’re working here toward what’s best for the club and also the shooting sports in general!

 

END

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