Caring, giving and gunpowder

Allison Fursdon – the backbone of the smallbore rifle club. Photo: Daniel Hines.

The pungent smell of nitrocellulose, the explosive component of the modern-day bullet, after it’s been fired, must be addictive. Allison Fursdon reckons so.

She got a whiff 36 years ago when she was unwittingly introduced to small bore rifle shooting. And that was that.

“I was 21 and had a driver’s licence. My little brother Bruce wanted to go to the rifle range so my father threw me the car keys.”  At the range Allison sat around bored to tears until she decided to give it a go.

“Long story short, Bruce gave up when I beat him at the end of the season. And 36 years on, I am still involved.” Very involved.

Allison is secretary of the Tauranga Target Rifle Club – the smallbore range at the bottom of Elizabeth Street. She hasn’t competitively fired a shot in years, but hers is a greater calling. After all, she says, targets don’t change themselves and targets don’t mark themselves.

“The world is desperately short of volunteers willing to pitch up and do stuff to support those that can shoot.” That’s a nod to her own ability. Allison admits to being nothing more than a very happy B grade shooter. But as a volunteer she can do stuff, achieve stuff. “It’s a sport I understand and I just do what I do and I do it well. 

“I have been a volunteer at the Sydney Olympics and Paralympics, I was a volunteer at Melbourne and Manchester Commonwealth Games.” Then she upskilled, got her judge’s license. “And I went to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as a pistol judge and the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games as a rifle judge.”

In less than a month she’s off to the World Shooting Para Sport championships for disabled shooters in Sydney. “Then a couple of weeks later, I will be in Sydney for the Oceania shooting Federation championships as a judge.” All without firing a shot but being a quiet committed human charge of nitrocellulose, the propulsion behind these events.

Then she will return to Tauranga and the rather humble, musty and makeshift shooting range the Tauranga Target Rifle Club calls home at the bottom of Elizabeth Street. And when the red lights go up, and the firing ceases, Allison will retrieve the targets and assess them millimeter by millimeter beneath a magnifying glass.

And no breaches of etiquette please, because in the interests of a fair competition, Allison will put on her judge’s hat and throw the not insignificant rule book at you. “Knowledge of the rules is a powerful thing, and you can ruin a good day by transgressing and being disqualified.”  She’s a tough bird – tough but fair. And a giver – because without people like Allison, clubs wouldn’t operate. 

What do they say about volunteers? “Volunteers don’t necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” Allison could quite easily use her time sitting in the sun and watching avocados grow at her idyllic Te Puna orchard. But as Allison would say - “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” And she is a giver. And the world could do with more willing givers, more volunteers.

The TTRC isn’t a big club – about 35 members and growing modestly. The youngest is seven – you only have to be old enough and tall enough to hold a rifle to join. The oldest is 90.

“Shooting is a very individual sport. It’s very me, my equipment and my target. No-one can influence how and when you pull the trigger, whereas with rugby it is a herd mentality. Shooting is also about focus and discipline and there’s nothing like the smell of cordite.”

This shooter, cum administrator, cum volunteer started life as a netballer. But she had to give it up because it was too taxing. “And it wasn’t until about eight years ago that I discovered the reason why I didn’t play netball too well was because I had a hole in my heart.”

So a dodgy heart but a big giving one.