If organisers of the SSAA SHOT Expo were feeling slightly anxious about taking the event to Brisbane for the first time, any such fears were quickly dismissed. The scenes that greeted everybody approaching the RNA (Royal National Association) Showgrounds in Bowen Hills on the Saturday morning of August 22 even before the scheduled opening time of 9am told their own story.
Queues of people snaked their way around the outside of the arena, with family groups to the fore, eager to hurry through the entry gates to pore over some of the attractions awaiting inside. Many sporting events would have been envious of such an overwhelming response. Indeed, the hustle and bustle along the corridors of the two levels of the venue was almost akin to a football crowd in the early stages. But it was all good-natured banter among the visitors, many of whom were from interstate as well as the Brisbane area.
Stallholders admitted that the hurly-burly had taken them by surprise, with some wishing that they had brought more stock with them. Even heavyweight exhibitors such as Beretta Australia and Winchester Australia were amazed by the feverish start. Beretta Australia managing director Luca Scribani Rossi said, “I went down to the lower level to see what was going on and at one stage I just couldn’t get through.”
The reputation of Beretta products attracted a host of attentive listeners to the demonstrations and talks across both days. Beretta Australia’s Greg Chan and Mark Digby were lucid with their respective no-nonsense deliveries. Greg stressed that he was “not here to sell”, but rather to open people’s eyes to the subtle differences between competition and field firearms.
Paul Britton, of PBA Imports, also impressed and took a range of questions from his audience. Afterwards he said, “We didn’t know whether to do Brisbane because it could have been a logistical nightmare but we are glad we did.” Those sentiments were echoed from around the concourse as Wolf-Eyes Torches, Tasco Sales Australia, Spika, Outdoor Sporting Agencies, Swarovski International Australia and Raytrade/Hall’s Firearms all enjoyed strong interest. “Very healthy” was the verdict of one Frontier Arms representative.
The event’s gold sponsors certainly came to the party as Swarovski offered binoculars worth $3490 to the winner of its competition, with the lucky recipient being Glenn Feige. Meanwhile, Winchester Australia had eskies full of merchandise valued at $900 up for grabs. These were won by Peta Leo and Luke Watts.
Adjacent to the front entrance, the Working Gundogs demonstration, organised by the SSAA United Field and Retrieving group, proved to be a major drawcard. Breeds featured included a cocker spaniel, flat-coated retriever, two Labrador retrievers and a German shorthaired pointer. MC for the first session on the Sunday schedule was Kerri Underwood, who is vice president of Publicity & Promotions for SSAA WGAA United Field & Retrieving (Qld). Kerri put her own dog, Franklin, who is a two-and-a-half-year-old black Labrador, through his paces first. Then she manned the microphone to explain what was unfolding as the other dogs waited patiently for their respective owners to mimic the actions they perform in the field. Once a ‘shot’ had been fired, the dogs darted off to retrieve their quarry, which took the form of a plastic dummy duck, a Dokken Dead Fowl Trainer. Onlookers were enthralled, lining up three deep behind the barriers.
“Up until a few years ago, our family belonged to a rival gundog organisation, but since joining the SSAA, it’s been so refreshing,” said Kerri. “I look on things in a whole different light. The support and sponsorship we receive for events like this is just fantastic.”
One of the exhibitors attracting a lot of attention was the Rapid Effects Antler Lighting, which is the brainchild of Sydney couple Joel and Tracey Fulton. Ranging from candleholders to pinwheel-style chandeliers, the sophisticated art pieces made from this naturally sustainable resource have struck a chord with the outdoor-loving community. “We went on a New Zealand guided tour and saw something similar over there so that’s where the idea came from and it just grew,” said Joel. “I made some contacts and we now have a regular supplier and network. It’s just been going up and up and up.”
Elsewhere, the indoor shooting range proved a big hit. The bulk of would-be hotshots seemed to be children of all ages, ferried into the area by grateful parents. Two of the volunteer helpers were Paul Brown and William Hauck from the SSAA Caboolture Branch. They explained that every shooter used a Crosman air rifle under the guidance of an experienced range officer. After they shot, each participant was given the actual target that they had aimed at, to take away. They were also presented with a SSAA sticker as well as a stamp on their arm to allow them to return to try their luck again the same day.
“The kids have had a great time and the queues haven’t let up all day,” said SSAA Qld Operations Support Officer Les Armitage. “Thanks to the interest shown, there has been a lot of new memberships taken. I reckon it could have gone up tenfold even just during the day. And the kids love it. It gets them started and we take it from there. Look at them – they are all smiles, there is no-one grumpy.”
Youngsters also beat a swift path to the indoor archery range organised by Rhys Aizlewood, national liaison officer for the 3D Archery Association of Australia. Thirteen-year-old Natasha Petersen arrived from Ipswich with her dad Jeff and she tried her luck with the bow and arrow.
Someone who had travelled from further afield was Gil Shvartz, regional sales manager of American Technologies Network (ATN). Gil made a lightning trip from San Francisco to Brisbane as guest of Ground Force Products Australia to promote his innovative night-vision and thermal imaging products. “I had never even been to Australia before so really didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve been so impressed with the place and how things have been organised,” he said.
The steady influx was good news for workers on the SSAA Queensland stand, who were kept busy enlisting a host of new recruits. “Saturday morning was out busiest time – we were flat out,” said helper Helen Gill.
SSAA Queensland President Michael Pommer said feedback has shown that the event was one of the best and biggest gun shows to be held in the Sunshine State. “Our first-ever SSAA SHOT Expo has been a huge success, with large crowds, fantastic exhibitors and great demonstrations across the two days,” he said. “We couldn’t have delivered such a high-calibre event without the many volunteers who gave up their weekend to set everything up, man the booths and make sure SSAA Queensland was there to talk to our members and visitors. To those volunteers I offer my sincere thanks for a superb job well done.
“From my perspective one of the highlights of the Expo was the free SSAA Indoor Air Rifle Range, which saw more than 1500 visitors, including 300-plus juniors, testing their skills on the 10m range. The smiles on the kids’ faces as they proudly showed mum and dad their targets said it all. It was a very positive message that shooting is a safe and fun activity able to be enjoyed by everyone.
“We look forward to hosting the SSAA SHOT Expo in the years to come, and I would personally like to thank everyone for their support.”
Official figures for the event show that 10,257 people attended. These were broken down into a crowd of 5948 for Saturday and 4309 for Sunday (with 596 hand-counted revisits). These statistics were unveiled by a delighted Michael Nissen, a director of the Exhibitions Group, who added his own final ringing endorsement for the Brisbane occasion. “I don’t think the venue could have coped with any more on Saturday,” he said. He then added, “We have already started work on 2016, which has been set for next June.”