Video – Local history – West Wallsend Rifle Range

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– Hi, and welcome to another episode of Under Sugarloaf TV. Today, we are talking to John O’Donnell about the rifle range that is at the back of West Wallsend. Well, we are here today with John O’Donnell at the rifle range that used to be at the back of West Wallsend. So John, if you’d like to tell us a little bit about the rifle range.

– Yeah, as a kid we used to come out here playing and so forth. It’s totally changed from my childhood. It was 1,000 meters of cleared grassland. It was beautiful. The butts were to the western end, the mountain end, and the shooters would use these rises to lay on, to shoot their guns out to 1,000 meters. This is situated on the gravel road between West Wallsend and Killy, and it runs parallel with the train line to Seaham number two colliery. I’m very, very sad to see it in this condition, I haven’t been here for 20 odd years, but the rifle range actually closed around 1990. Once the freeway behind it, because the people used to shoot to the west. Once the freeway was virtually completed, the rifle range was shut down because of the backdrop of the bullets, they were concerned with the traffic going by. But this is a great place to grow up with as a kid. You could come out here, mushrooming, and rabbitin’. There was a house behind me, a cottage where the caretaker lived. The guy that was there, that I remember in the ’60s and maybe early ’70s, was an old man called Fred. He was very good with us kids and we done what we were told, we had no problems. We couldn’t come out here on Saturdays, ’cause that’s when the locals used to shoot. But Sundays or through the week we could come out and scavenge for empty cartridges or go up into the butts and get the lead projectiles. And we’d sell them to an old man in West Wallsend called Dave Pondman. That’s how we got our pocket money. But this is a great place to experience when you was a kid and grow up in the area, magic it was. But it’s been destroyed by people and their four-wheel drives and it’s sad to see and, such a beautiful place turn into virtually a desert.

– [Jon] So John, you were saying the whole area used to be just like one grass level area with these…

– [John] Yeah.

– [Jon] Mounds every…

– [John] Yes.

– [Jon] Certain distance.

– [John] Every 50 meters they had a mound where they could adjust the distance they were shooting on that day. Right from a 1000 yards in them days, right up to probably a 100 yards. And they had 22’s they could fire, I think they were at 50 meters they had a rise there where they had 22 that’s what I remember. And they’d use the 22’s. But, um… Yeah, it’s a shame. But this rifle range was put in after the one at West Wallsend, which is north, was north of Johnson Park or Seaham number, sorry, West Wallsend number one, virtually where the freeway is now, there was a rifle range there and it shot from east to west, back towards Ladysmith. Now that closed in 1936. But this rifle range was used in World War II. The Commandos School at the bottom of Sugarloaf, adjacent to O’Donnelltown. The soldiers used to come out here and do their rifle training. All that information was given to me by me cousin, David Dial a military historian.

– [Jon] And John you said during the ’50s and ’60s, a lot of the locals used the area for the rifle range.

– Oh, absolutely. Even right up until the 1990s, when it shut. Fellows like Cess Hope, Cliff Campbell, Eric Cooper I worked with in the mines as a deputy, he’s sons, there was a lot of people around the area that would come out here and shoot. It was very popular. But after it closed, I think they went to Stockton. Now I think if there’s any of them left, there’d be shooting at Cessnock range. One of the only long range rifle clubs left in the area or the district. That’s sad progress.

– [Jon] Well, thank you, John that’s very interesting and I’m sure a lot of people are unaware that this was actually a location in behind West Wallsend, but thank you very much for the information.

– Good stuff. Thanks, mate.

– So, we hope you enjoyed today’s episode of Under Sugarloaf TV. Remember if you have any news, any articles, any events, or even a charitable organization that you’d like to give some exposure to on the channel, please contact me at info@undersugarloaf.com or you can go to the website and look for the contribute tab and send a message there. That’s it for now, this is Jon Byrne signing off for Under Sugarloaf TV.