Firearm link for farm family

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
Neridup farmer Scott Lawrence leads the 10th Light Horse Esperance Troop.
Camera IconNeridup farmer Scott Lawrence leads the 10th Light Horse Esperance Troop. Credit: Lex Porebski Photography

It is hard to be lyrical when describing something that was manufactured with killing in mind.

But the carefully crafted and highly polished Australian-made rifle that Neridup farmer Scott Lawrence will be firing during the dawn Anzac Day Memorial Service in Esperance has connected a young farming family with both their past and the nation’s history.

When Mr Lawrence, a member of the 10th Light Horse Esperance Troop, uses the gun as a peaceful salutation to honour the fallen, he will be using the same .303 rifle which has pierced the sombre silence of many RSL memorial services in Esperance.

But when he bears it, there is a connection that is far deeper than that of a light horse enthusiast taking part in a ceremony of respect.

There is a family link of the kind that brings history to life.

“This firearm was once my wife’s grandfather’s; it has a bit of a story but it has come back into our possession through pure chance,” Mr Lawrence said.

Mr Lawrence’s role as gun bearer was one previously filled by Jeff Andrews, but before that, Bianca Lawrence’s grandfather Philip Mills fired the salvo.

The firearm was not the only thing connecting the young Neridup farmers to the battlefields of the past.

In his capacity as 10th Light Horse Esperance Troop president and trooper, Mr Lawrence is paying homage to horsemen such as those Ms Lawrence descends from.

“My great-grandfather and great-uncle were both members of British regiments, so the Light Horse history is special to us,” she said.

Nerridup farmers Bianca and Scott Lawrence, with the 303 manufactured in Lithgow.
Camera IconNerridup farmers Bianca and Scott Lawrence, with the 303 manufactured in Lithgow. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

Mr Lawrence said many members of the 10th Light Horse Brigade had family members who had served in World War I and II.

“Some of us will be wearing family medals, my grandfather was in the RAAF,” he said.

According to its own engravings, the .303 rifle was made at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory in New South Wales in 1923, one of the many produced by an institution which came in to being in response to fears with regard to Australia’s security at a time of conflict.

The Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum explains that Australian involvement in the Boer War was the catalyst for the birth of the factory as it revealed the vulnerability of a country isolated from its armament source.

In 1907, as a new nation post-Federation, the Australian Government made the decision to establish an arms factory.

This would make Australia independent of British munitions and armament supplies, bolstering its ability to defend itself.

The museum’s website, dedicated to preserving the history of the factory, claims that Lithgow’s status as a town with a thriving iron works, and available coal and limestone, resulted in it being chosen as the site for the factory.

It was serviced by road and rail snuggled in a protected spot at foothills west of the Blue Mountains.

When it officially opened in June 1912 the factory had 190 employees, which grew to 373 by June 1914.

The factory floor covered about 90,000 square feet and included its own power house, tool room and forge.

Individual machines were driven by overhead pulleys with the shafting running the full length of the buildings.

There were 340 machines, 11 forging hammers and 22 oil-fired furnaces.

While its fortunes waxed and waned according to the need for firearms and munitions, the factory continued to be a major employer in the town for decades.

In 1988, the Federal Government decided to corporatise the business, and the factory became part of the Weapons and Engineering Division of Australian Defence Industries but it continued to produce arms for the Australian military, with that year also being noted as one in which the first batch of 500 F88 (Austeyr) rifles was delivered to the Australian Army for testing.

But the Lithgow factory’s status as an Australian icon has passed.

As a result of transactions that have occurred since the sale of the ADI to a private consortium in 1999, it is now operated as part of the Thales worldwide munitions supply group.

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