• Credit: Max Blenkin
    Credit: Max Blenkin

A significant challenge for Australian defence companies developing weapon systems is accessing suitable firing ranges.

Most civilian shooting ranges impose calibre limitations and may not be large enough or sufficiently remote from populated areas, while the Australian Defence Force imposes onerous safety and bureaucratic requirements on non-military users.

Enter the Klondyke Range Complex in western NSW, a series of five ranges intended for Australian defence companies to test their equipment free of the restrictions applying on other ranges.

This asset to Australia’s defence industry was established by Ray Dennis, a significant figure in the Australian sports shooting sector, who needed somewhere to shoot his .50 BMG Barrett rifle.

“I couldn’t get a permit a to shoot it. They wouldn’t allow me to register in South Australia. I had already bought this property and I managed to get a Commissioner’s Permit from the NSW who had a bit more wisdom,” he told ADM.

“The only way I could get a Commissioner’s Permit was by having a registered range. So, I built my own. I picked the location in the middle of nowhere in amongst my million acres.”

The Klondyke Range Complex is located on Klondyke Station, around 800 kilometres from Sydney and slightly north-east of Wilcannia. It’s owned and operated by the Lightforce Group’s Paroo Pastoral Company.

This comprises five ranges, variously approved for different calibres. Range three is approved for the 120mm gun on the Army’s Abram tanks.

The heaviest calibre so far fired at Klondyke was the 30 x 173 mm cannon during trials of the Hanwha Redback Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

How big? Range two features a danger template which extends for 36 kilometres. Many of the ranges feature movement boxes, meaning the firing point is not fixed.

When ADM visited Klondyke, Canberra defence company EOS was using the facilities for trials of its counter-drone systems, featuring vehicle mounted MAG 58 in 7.62 NATO, Bushmaster cannon in 30 x 113 mm and 34-kilowatt high energy laser out to 1,000 metres.

Ray Dennis started out in Adelaide as a dentist, one with a passion for hunting and shooting and a desire for better equipment than was then available.

The result was Lightforce, which produces spotlights for night hunting as well as vehicle driving lights, and Nightforce, established in the US to manufacture high end rifle scopes which are now used by the US military and special forces snipers and many other elite forces.

Dennis said Klondyke is the only privately owned range in Australia available for this type of firearms development and research.

“The only other places to go are defence ranges. The bureaucracy associated with those ranges in unbelievable,” he said.

“The system in Australia does not assist the navigation process for industry test and evaluation, research and development.

“Here we have a system set up. We have the licensing. We out of everybody else’s way, there is no risk to civilian public, there is no road next to us.

“The focus on this range is not civilians coming to have fun. The focus is defence research. This is very much a facility for defence use.”

In keeping with its long distance from anywhere, Klondyke features its own dirt airstrip suitable for light aircraft. The nearby station can provide catered accommodation for up to 10 people.

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