by Paul Miller
The phone rang recently and I picked it up and said, “Hello, Millers.” A very familiar voice said, “Is that Paul Miller?” and I said very confidently, “It certainly is!” The friendly voice continued, “Is that the Paul Miller that used to live in the Hawkesbury District?”
I smiled and thought the caller was my old shooting mate Peter Papps from Bundanoon, playing a new version of one of his usual telephone tricks, so I said, “Yes, that’s right…but when I grew up and matured I moved to the Southern Highlands!” There was a snort on the other end of the line. Not allowing more than a pregnant pause, I followed up with, “Of course, when I get really upmarket and mature, I will move to where all the best people live… Bundanoon!”
The man on the other end waited a moment then burst into laughter and said something like “You were always a bit of a character when I knew you as a boy and I’m glad you haven’t grown up yet…G’day Paul, it’s Max Phillips calling from Richmond.”
Well, of course you could have knocked me over with a feather. I hadn’t spoken to Max for about 35 years but his voice was still so familiar and so like my mate Pete’s. I’m no stranger to making a fool of myself, so I recovered quickly and said a very surprised and delighted hello.
Max, or Mr Phillips as I called him all those years ago, was the father of one of my best friends at school and something of a hero of mine as he was a keen bass fisher and a seriously keen rifle shooter with a collection of fine firearms that used to make me drool. Lovely Brno and Anschutz rifles with dark walnut stocks and high-quality scopes, and for a young guy, unaffordable English shotguns... Well, I’m sure you get what I mean. Even as a younger man, Max’s level of knowledge was extensive and he and his mates used to go on hunting and fishing adventures we young guys could only dream about.
After high school, the years passed quickly and I moved away to university in Canberra and then Sydney and ultimately to the Southern Highlands. Flying visits to my father Geoffrey and stepmother Joan at Kurrajong but living full-time in the Southern Highlands meant I lost much of my earlier history with the beautiful and historic Hawkesbury district. The totally unexpected telephone call from Max was a delightful reminder of old times and my youthful adventures fishing and shooting.
When we stopped pulling each other’s legs and catching up on hunting, shooting and fishing acquaintances living and deceased, I asked what motivated the call. Max said he had followed my writing for the SSAA over the years and wondered if I could help him with a bit of a problem. I said I would do what I could and it transpired that this 86-year-old had collected many hundreds of shooting magazines from Australia and the United States over all those years and he wanted to make some room in his study and would I be interested in them. Masses of SSAA Australian Shooter magazines dating back to the early 1960s, American Rifleman, Guns Australia, Sporting Shooter, various American Gun Annuals and the list went on. Some of them were almost as old as me!
Of course I was interested but I had no idea of the numbers until I turned up to the home I used to visit all those years ago and there was a whole wall of magazines and books. I have a lot of magazines myself but Max’s collection was in another league again. I was still interested but Max would take nothing for them. He just wanted them to go to a good home and be appreciated and enjoyed again as he had enjoyed them.
Many of the magazines had little post-it-type notes attached to them where particular firearms were featured or particular cartridges reviewed. I was not surprised to see Max liked many of the firearms and cartridges I do a generation later. The brilliant Brno Model 2 in .22 rimfire and Brno .22 Hornet featured regularly. Lots of other cartridges, rifles and shotguns too numerous to mention were highlighted with these little yellow notes. These were magazines that had been cherished and the source of continual reading and reference material. It was a pretty daunting exercise for Max to box them up for transport and for me to get them home. Thank heavens for the Landcruiser. There were ultimately about 23 big Penrite Oil boxes and two trips needed. They weighed a ton moving them around. The weight of knowledge, I thinks that’s called!
The idea was that I would go through them and pull out what interested me. Anything Brno, Browning, Beretta or Remington will be saved. Anything related to my favourite cartridges like the .22 Hornet, .17 Remington, .220 Swift, .25-06 Remington and .30-06 Springfield as well. Quite a pile is growing and the rest will be distributed among friends and local gun clubs. I’ve made a start but I have a long way to go.
Max’s amazing gift is hugely appreciated. The ability to instantly reconnect after all those years was due in part to his generous spirit and my good fortune to write for the SSAA. It never fails to amaze me how a common love of the outdoors, whether it is shooting or fishing or both, can tie people together and give them a reason to catch up. I felt like all those years had been compressed into a few weeks with the welcome I received when we met again for the first time to inspect that wall of magazines and books. I felt very privileged to be welcomed back into the Phillips family fold as though no time had really passed at all. One thing is for sure, I won’t be letting that friendship slip away again. Whenever I can, I will be calling in for a chinwag and a cup of tea or perhaps a glass of some cheeky Merlot I’ve found somewhere in my travels.
Max may be an older gentleman now but he still creates that spark that fishing and shooting enthusiasts world-wide share when they get together and talk the talk of a lifetime spent around firearms and fishing adventures. This sort of camaraderie is what we all enjoy and share. Friends of any generation should not be forgotten or let slip away. It’s made me realise that our youthful heroes and mentors are for life and should be respected and kept close.
Thanks Max for getting in touch, teaching me a hugely valuable lesson and making me feel so welcome. Your very generous gift of your cherished magazines and books is for me the icing on the cake. Your call was easily my best ever - a blast from the past!