19 April 2024

Champion target rifle shooter takes gold, has surprise reunion

| Vanessa Hayden
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Albury-Wodonga’s Brett Thurtell (right), pictured in 1988 at the world long range target rifle championship in Sydney with Canadian counterpart Serge Bissonette, was surprised to get a tap on the shoulder 36 years later at the same event in South Africa. Photo: Brett Thurtell.

There was more than just a gold medal in the offering for Wodonga Rifle Club’s Brett Thurtell, who represented Australia at the recent World Long Range Target Shooting Championships in South Africa.

Add a world record, a family milestone and a special reunion to the mix and you have a fairly good tale to take on the plane home.

Brett, Wodonga’s club captain, and a team of 11 other rifle shooters from Victoria, NSW and Queensland and three coaches from Bendigo, Canberra and Sydney, travelled to South Africa’s Bloemfontein to compete in the veteran’s section of the world championships in March. They went on to beat South Africa, Great Britain, the USA and Canada to take home the gold medal.

The two years of preparation and training, involving many trips back and forth to Brisbane, paid off as in addition to the medal, the Australian team also recorded a world record score at the 600 metre distance with a combined total of 497/500.

But it was a family milestone and an unexpected reunion that were the talk of the town and around the clubhouse bar before and after the international event.

Brett, 63, a fullbore target rifle shooter of some 40 years, is now the fourth member of his family to have represented Australia at an international competition.

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Along with brothers Peter and Mark, Brett also followed in the footsteps of their father John Thurtell, known as one of Australia’s “best shots” in the sport.

“When I was asked to nominate for the 2024 veterans team, my two brothers, who have both been in Australian teams before, told me I had to do it because then we’d be able to say that all four of us – father and three sons – have been in an international Australian team.

“My brothers have competed in both America and England as part of an Australia team in the last decade and also competed in the open section at the South African championships in 2017.

“Both of them are still considered to be ranked in the top 10 in Australia.

“This was my first time representing Australia in an international competition so it’s a great family story to be remembered.”

In another twist at the event, Brett received an unexpected tap on the shoulder as he was getting up off the mound.

“In 1988 the world championship was held in Sydney and a Canadian mounted policeman was in the Canadian team.

“At the time I was in the NSW Mounted Police and in order to promote the championship a photo session was organised by the Sydney Daily Telegraph accompanied by a story.

“The photo session involved Serge Bissonnette being granted permission to ride a police horse and us both dressed in ceremonial uniform in Centennial Park.

“It just so happened that in South Africa he was again in the Canadian veteran team and whilst perusing our scoreboard he came across my name.

Two men stand next to each other

Brett Thurtell and Canada’s Serge Bissonnette, former mounted police officers, caught up again at the world target shooting championship in South Africa. Photo: Supplied.

“I was just getting up off the mound and this fella came up and said, ‘G’day Brett’ and it was Serge. There was lots of reminiscing and catching up on the past 36 years.

“We had dinner together and have since been emailing. We’ll stay in touch this time.”

Brett and his horse

Horses have also played a big role in Brett Thurtell’s life and today he is a well known trainer and breaker in the region. Photo: Supplied.

Horses have always been a part of Brett’s life.

He served in the mounted police force in Sydney for eight years and the police in general for 27 years before taking a new direction in 2006.

These days, if he’s not ‘on the range’ you’ll find him in the saddle or with a horse in hand in his job as a horse breaker and trainer. The father of three and grandfather of nine, is as well known for his horsemanship skills in the region as he is for his precision target shooting.

Next in his line of sight is a trip to Townsville in May for the National Team Championships. Again, a team of 12 or 13 shooters and a couple of coaches will rally and this time will be vying to win the open class of the tournament.

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