Reminiscing about many years of being immersed in
military history, collecting and adventures.
Can you imagine a place where history buffs, collectors, re-enactors, kids, paint-ballers, veterans, corporate teams, film makers and model makers can all be made welcome to indulge their interests?
The Gold Coast War Museum has served as a focal point for many such people, and there are many that have this place to thank for their success and survival.
This article is not just a chronology of the Museum’s history, but also a way to indulge some personal recollections of The Gold Coast War Museum and its many evolutions.
It has always been, and continues to be a very special place for those that have visited, worked and contributed to its many stages of development.
In fact, no Museum in the world is quite like the Gold Coast War Museum.
How would I know? Well, I started working here as an excited ten-year-old kid in 1981 and have now had the opportunity to see it evolve in so many different ways.
Not only is it one of the world’s largest private collections of militaria, but it has also spawned some of the most innovative approaches in adventure tourism, mail order retail, corporate events, team building, film production and much more.
There is one man that has been at the very epicentre of all of these ventures, in fact he has been the very catalyst for so many of the eclectic pursuits under the Museum’s roof, and that man is Victor Coote.
More about Vic as we progress through the history of this unique place. So many of us owe our years of fun, business ventures and opportunities to him.
Self poured slabs and the big tin shed –The 1970’s
The Museum was born from the vision, energy and entrepreneurship of Vic Coote in the 1970’s. I was to become a permanent home for his growing collection and also that of the gregarious raconteur and militaria enthusiast Ed Matthews (Big Ed). Vic was more than a collector though, he was also a businessman, and a very good one at that. It was the latter that really helped to build the place beyond just a collection of gear.
One of Ed’s son’s, also named Ed (and thus appropriately dubbed “Little Ed” or “Littles”) was also a central character in the Museum’s early and formative years.
In those early days Mudgeeraba was still well and truly “out in the sticks”. The only other people mad enough to try and start a tourist attraction all the way out here were the King Brothers Rob and Steve with their Boomerang Farm. We actually ended up running some great corporate gigs at their place in the 90’s.
The Gold Coast in the 70’s was establishing itself for the glitz, surf and sand that sat on the Surfers strip, yet more and more families started to make the pilgrimage West to the rudimentary tin shed and slab that Vic had built himself to house the growing collection.
The Museum’s growing popularity was due in no small measure to the creativity with which this gear was displayed. Not just eye-catching dioramas and glass covered bays literally dripping with military gear, but also that rarest of things for a museum, “fun and action”!
Vic’s innovation was to make militaria a genuinely colourful, exciting and interactive experience for all visitors. At the Gold Coast War Museum the memorabilia didn’t just sit and gather dust behind glass and chain barriers, it actually drove around and went bang!
Vic pioneered the use of entertaining and interactive public displays where kids and adults would ride in military vehicles, observe the weapons and equipment of war in active use and then even get to shoot some of it themselves (using safe blanks of course).
Vic would front demonstrations and shows, and do a sensational job of them (especially for a bloke who you would take as a natural introvert at first meeting). He’d keep the crowd engaged and deliver some pithy one-liners as lucky volunteer kids got called up to fire a bazooka, rifle grenades or the dreaded black powder muzzleloader. The muzzle loader’s “toilet paper” instead of “cloth wadding” gag was always a source of amusement to us.
Little Ed would then run the vehicle rides in the aptly named “Battle Playground” using the resilient old Ferret Scout Car. This blend of history, humour and fun was unique at that time.
The large bush block that sat behind the Museum was to become gradually transformed into a living part of the complex with its own miniature Mash Camp, Guard Tower, Japanese Bunker and Booby Trap Lane (where many a kid was thrilled to try and avoid the deadly perils set by Vic and Ed amongst the seemingly deadly bush trails).
This ongoing drive and creativity to make things fun and interactive flowed into providing theatrics, gear and advice to local Gold Coast personalities such as Paul Sharatt and his Gold Coast comedy and theatre productions.
The Museum also provided vehicles and uniforms to an emerging Aussie film industry on productions such as “Goodbye Paradise” featuring well-known actors like Ray Barrett). Vic and Little Ed drove the Saracen, Ferret and other vehicles in key scenes and then rubbed shoulders on set with well-known actors and filmmakers of the day.
Prior to the creation of the Museum, Vic used to make his own replica pistols from aluminum that he melted down himself and then cast into molds of Lugers, Colt 1911’s and such.
His taste for quality replicas and his native business acumen saw him start to build up “The Collector’s Armoury” as both an on-site retail outlet for the best replica pistols imported from Japan (CMC back in the day) as well as assorted militaria such as flags, badges, helmets etc.
They even started a satellite Collectors Armoury shop in Surfers Paradise at The Wax Works in Surfers paradise staffed by Vic’s daughter (as opposed the crazy antics of the Wickety Wak “Waks Works” shows that I’ll talk about later).
The mail order side of the business also started to grow rapidly with eye-catching ads placed into magazines like Post, People and Picture that saw an increasing number of goodies being shipped around Australia from little old Mudgeeraba and the back mail room run by Shirl.
The diverse ingredients of rare military gear, a sense of fun, commercial savvy (not to mention the energy and creativity to make things happen) would eventually combine to create some ground-breaking ventures and adventures into the 1980’s.
Expansion, Weird Stuff and Really Big Explosions - The 1980’s
The decade that saw the climax of the Cold War also brought with it some of the most exciting and transformative years for the War Museum.
Coolangatta Airport staged a massive Airshow and Vic was asked to provide some display items.
Now a boring static display just wasn’t Vic’s style, and so he created an original ground battle scenario that became somewhat of an extravaganza. It would have bad guys, good guys and even its own Mash unit.
The charismatic good guy was General Peanuts, played by the debonair Mr Ian Clifford, with his seductive lingerie clad blonde assistant Eta who was played by Shazza, a local model. Mr Clifford (Cliffo to us) didn’t mind this role at all.
The valiant ground troops for the good guys consisted of numerous members of the Coote family and their friends armed with blank firing weapons from the Museum armoury. They were backed up by a group of Mash nurses led by the irrepressible Julie Coote as their very own Hotlips, along with every military vehicle that could be mustered from the Museum.
A creative and tongue in cheek narrative saw the evil Baron Von Hazelnut (played by Jerry van Wyk) seize control of the Airport and kidnap General Peanuts after he arrived on his own jet (it was actually a USAF VIP Jet belonging to a Colonel Leroy Myers from Guam, who was at the airshow for a flyover of one of his B52 Bombers).
The Museum Army of good guys stormed in to restore order with much blank firing and spectacular pyrotechnics provided by Vic (his penchant for explosions would just grow, and grow and grow through the 80’s into some genuine window rattlers).
The show unfolded in front of a crowd of thousands and to massed applause and critical acclaim as a genuine first of its kind. It’s easy to look back on the photos of this event with just the usual cheerful nostalgia, but it must be pointed out just how ahead of its time this live action format was. Not even theme parks were doing this sort of stuff then.
This was actually a genuine “first”.
Military re enactment shows of this style did not become broadly accepted for many years after, and it was not really until the late 90’s that shows such as Beltring / War and Peace in the UK started to stage theatrical formats using period military equipment in staged battles for public audiences. This was genuinely innovative stuff.
For me, this decade was also the one that saw my introduction into the excitement of the Museum and its many characters. To my disappointment I’d just missed the big Airshow, but I’d get my turn (and then some).
As a young lad in Western Sydney I’d get my hair cut at the Penrith barbers shop and in the waiting area there were often Post and People Magazines.
These magazines featured mesmerizing ads for the War Museum and its cornucopia of replica pistols, helmets and militaria. Enough to make any young boy’s eyes pop open. I can still remember staring at those images of the Battle Playground with action-packed drawings of a Ferret Scout Car roaring out of a massive explosion while kids in uniform played atop the massive tower. I simply had to go to this place one day!
The line drawings in the ads (drawn by Big Ed) conjured up an image of more than just a Museum. This seemed to be a place where the Commando Comics that I loved to read would actually come to life. Fantasy made real. And I wasn’t to be disappointed, as that’s exactly what it was like when I finally got there.
In 1980 we went on holiday to the Gold Coast and the glitz and beaches of the Coast was of little interest, there was just one place I had to go. I relentlessly pestered my parents to take me West of the glitter strip to the wilds of Mudgeeraba.
I remember my first visit to the Museum like it was yesterday.
We drove up to see the Vampire Jet nose and cockpit that sat next to entrance of the big shed, paid our money to Elsie at the front kiosk, walked past the imposing Grenadier Guardsman in the big glass case and then beheld a masses of military ephemera standing, hanging and propped into absolutely every nook and cranny of the place.
Glass cases were laden with uniforms, weapons and equipment (bays literally dripping over with cool stuff (from Anzacs to Waffen SS) all sat around a central area with a Bren Carrier, Saracen and 25 Pounder as centerpieces.
A walk outside into the Battle Playground took us past the Staghound, Armoured Car, a Matilda Tank, Austin Champ and the many tents of the Mash Camp. We followed the Booby Trap Lane down through the bush and into the Japanese Bunker. The darkness humid stale air and summer humidity really made you feel like you were visiting the real thing.
Vic’s daughter Julie ran a massive costume store where kids could dress up in British, American or German uniforms to take photos amongst the vehicles and bunkers of the Battle Playground. I remember being very worried that the sleeves of my American Sergeants outfit were just far too long for my liking, and Julie telling me in her cheerful and pragmatic way that it was “easy to make do, so let’s just roll those sleeves up”.
It really was a Commando Comic brought to life.
Better still, when you went to leave there was the wonderful U shaped counter of the Collector’s Armoury stocked with everything from bullet key rings and War Museum spoons, tea towels and mugs to state of the art Japanese Kokusai replica pistols and even submachine guns (that Vic had spearheaded the importation of from Japan). Mind blowing stuff.
When we went home to Sydney I wished for nothing more than to live near somewhere as cool as this. As fate would have it my family decided to move to QLD, more specifically to Mudgeeraba, and so as it turned out in 1981 my wish actually came true.
I annoyed my parents incessantly to keep taking me out to the Museum even to the point where Elsie who worked behind the counter stopped charging me the entry fee.
One day I even plucked up the courage to ask who owned the place, as I’d love to work here, even for free. Elsie pointed to Vic and said something along the lines of “this kid haunts the place, wants to know if he can get a job here”. A deal was struck where I’d empty ashtrays (big artillery shells), sweep the floors and clean windows on a trial basis in exchange for militaria, and so it began. Being paid in gasmasks, old shells and occasionally old rifles was very, very cool indeed.
I was most excited about getting to finally see “behind the scenes” as well, and when I was allowed into the back storage area saw racks and racks of British DPM cammo, webbing and boots. I said to Elsie, “wow, you guys could start your own Army”, to which she responded, “we already have” and then proceeded to describe the Coolangatta airshow battle that I had only just missed out on. I was disappointed indeed that I’d missed that one.
Little Ed then took me for the first time into the absolute “Holy of Holies” of the Museum, the “Half Key Room” to get some deactivated bullets for the sales counter. The Half Key Room was a special place for me, as that’s where Vic kept all of the juiciest items yet to be put on display. It was stacked with uniforms, helmets, guns, medals, badges and even a NASA helmet.
I was dumbstruck on my first visit and immediately and excitedly started to explore, to which Little Ed firmly scolded me with “you are here to work”. I jumped to it as didn’t want to risk this great opportunity to work here. The hilarious irony was that Little Ed and I were to become not just great mates but also the biggest allies in the art of wasting time by cocking about with the gear and thinking of silly things to do.
We’d spend ages swinging Samurai Swords, booby trapping each other’s stuff, playing with replica guns, ambushing people by throwing handfuls of gravel onto shed roofs etc etc.
Now this might sound like ungrateful time wasting and silliness that might piss off the boss, but the Boss being Vic, well he was actually the ringleader of all silliness. It was him that would escalate booby trapping to new levels by using real pressure switches and blasting caps to booby trap tempting “shiny things” and thus noisily catch us trying to play with things we shouldn’t have been.
I also started to help Little Ed get the gear ready for the firearms demos (much to my delight) and replaced him on the runs through the bush to try and find the rifle grenades fired in the demos. School holidays were the best, as there were two shows a day and I got to help load and fire some of the demo weapons (and then clean them, which was actually enjoyable at that age).
I can also remember many hours building new show cases (that we’d dub new “TV Shows” as once built we’d sit back and admire them for ages) and spray painting cammo onto new vehicles, or building bunkers for the outdoor areas.
As I got older I’d also help behind the counter selling replica pistols alongside Little Ed, Julie and Sandra. Little Ed and I would enter into contests to see who could sell the most stock in a day, which was a lot during school holidays. Vic would often joke that you could see the legs on the boxes the replica pistols came in, when asked why he’d say “because they’re just walking off the shelves today”.
My biggest vice was always wanting to touch and play with everything behind the scenes. There was just too much going on, and too many exciting things to play with. Little Ed and I also used to have hotly contested races on the counter disassembling and reassembling to 1911 Colt .45‘s. I rarely beat Little Ed, he was just greased lightning with those guns.
Good TV coverage was also starting to fall the Museum’s way and one of the most memorable was when iconic kid’s show “Simon Townsend’s Wonder World” sent funny man Jonathon Coleman to report.
Jonathon Coleman cooked up with Vic an hilarious skit of him transitioning from tourist visitor to a member of the crack military team being yelled at by Drill Sergeant Vic and the team. The action and comedy was interspersed with some good journalism about the Museum, how it started and what it had to offer.
There was plenty of other media through the 80’s including another popular kid’s show Wombat who sent reporter Bob la Castra (now a Gold Coast City Councilor) to be subjected to a mock battle and the ridicule (good humoured of course) of Little Ed and I in character as fellow soldiers.
Numerous other TV shows visited over the years with different styles of story, but it was Jonathon Coleman’s piece that is always best remembered amongst the Museum family as being best and funniest of them all.
Suppliers to the Museum were also colourful folks, like Taffy and his son Wayne who made the western holsters and shoulder holsters, or the slick suit wearing Sydney siders from Howard Silva’s who imported the swords from Spain.
Vic made trips to Japan to secure the best deals for the latest and greatest replica pistols, and from Yonezawa, the “Light Sports Pistol” which the first replica pistol that also fired a decent pellet that was also safe for home play.
The retail sales on site and also via the mail order business (run by the loveable Shirl) grew on the back of these innovative new products that lovers of militaria and replicas simply couldn’t get enough of. Suppliers loved Vic as he knew exactly how to move their swords, pistols and militaria.
This place wasn’t work, it was a boyhood dream come true and also a much loved second home. It was also a family really, and still is for those who played their part in those days.
Historical military re-enactment / living history was in its infancy then, and the Museum was also nexus for the early groups and characters of this movement such as Brenton Brunz and Jerry van Wyk. In fact, Brenton’s Dad Wally was one of the most memorable characters for me. He was a skillful artist and sign writer who did a lot of the diorama backdrop and sign work around the Museum, and also a Wermacht veteran of WW2 with some amazing first hand stories to tell.
These early re-enactors would stage camps and photo shoots in and around the Museum with Vic helping to provide blank firing weapons and theatrical pyrotechnics and explosions (oh yes, there were many explosions). I remember seeing these re-enactors in quite rare original WW2 uniforms (these were the days before good replicas were on the market) get coated in mud after a particularly vicious water blast in the dam. Vic enjoyed that one.
Then came the film and TV work.
University of QLD student film makers approached Vic to help with one of their major works, an artistic short war film set to the Pink Floyd Song “Fletchers Memorial Home”.
This was simply awesome. Vic rolled out the red carpet for these very grateful film-makers providing all working vehicles, the entire Museum property, blank firing weapons and the biggest explosions that any of us had seen so far from Vic (emphasis on “so far”). The Museum was a one-stop shop for these guys. Who else could do the vehicles, uniforms, guns, locations, military advising and the pyrotechnics all under one roof?
The student film-makers were great guys, as were their actors and extras and the days they filmed were an enjoyable thrill for all involved. We all thought we were on the set of Apocalypse Now.
Their end result was a category winner for them at their film festival and we all go to attend the screening at the Schonnell Theatre at QLD Uni, which was a big deal for us, as we had seen the whole thing unfold from the beginning (and were also extras in the film).
There was soon afterwards a big expedition to the outskirts of Brisbane to film a TV ad for the Forest Glades Estate where the ad makers had us serve as an Army holding back the crowds flocking in to buy parcels of land that were up for grabs.
We got to drive around in the Studebaker trucks and Ferrets and spent the day being pushed around and directed all day we were fed and watered Hollywood style. It was a real adventure. I remember us all being desperate to see that ad come on TV so that we could spot ourselves onscreen. We were all so jealous when Gary Sherline ended up getting the best close up in the whole ad.
On another occasion, Bribie Island staged a weekend long festival that had a “Rebellion and Secession from the Mainland” theme and the Museum was to provide the Army that would fight the Rebels.
We drove up and got ready the night before with Peter Fraser and the Jeep Club boys (who were truly delighted when one of their vehicles broke down and they needed to work and play all night to fix it).
The next day before the battle we were surprised and little concerned to find out that opposing our safely blank fired weapons would be some local lads dressed as Che Guevara and armed with their own .22’s and shotguns brought from home. We sincerely hoped that they were not going to take this “show” too seriously? All went well and we had loads of fun. None of us got shot that day.
In the mid 80’s local QLD variety entertainers “Wickety Wak” loomed large and produced a very popular series of TV specials called the “Waks Works”. The War Museum provided blank fire weapons and costumes for some skits (notably a take off of the British TV Show The Professionals and also of the Ghost Busters).
These were exciting times, and we honestly thought that things couldn’t possibly be more exciting or that anyone could possibly inject more fun that we were already having. How wrong we were.
One day Little Ed and I were being teased by Vic about a “big new idea” that was about to come to fruition (as he would often do in good humour with any new toy like a Bren Gun, new line of replica or vehicle that was coming). We had to guess from the hints what it was that was on the way. After much teasing, and many obscure hints from Vic, we finally joined the dots based on the rumours we had heard of a sensational new game in the US where you got to fire paint pellets at each other from air guns. It was called Skirmish.
You must be kidding, we were actually going to be the very first Skirmish (now known as Paintball) people in Australia. And much to our delight we were.
Vic had pulled off a real coup, and another commercial first.
Before we knew it we had the first Paintball guns, field and operational Skirmish business in Australia up and running. The old guns were bolt action single shot units with soda stream C02 cylinders that would give you about 20 shots before you’d need to refill (and reloading was slow and noisy so you’d get hammered usually whilst doing it).
The grassy meadow and surrounding bush we had used for the film productions, Jap Bunker and Booby Trap Lane now became the site for Australia’s very first Skirmish / Paintball game. The players in that first game on the grassy slopes were the Museum’s inner circle of family, friends, mates and suppliers (like Vic, Ed, Taffy, Wayne, Stevo and Myself).
I remember shooting Little Ed in the gentlemen’s region and him going absolutely nuts (literally and metaphorically). Don’t think I ever actually confessed to him that it was me (sorry old mate).
Skirmish took off like a rocket (despite the protestations of some ill-informed local politicians and those who didn’t seem to grasp that this was just harmless fun). The War Museum had thus pulled off not only another first, but had also created a remarkable new adventure tourism attraction for the Gold Coast and eventually for Australia as the concept spread.
We even staged some massive “Wilderness Weekends” in conjunction with Village Roadshow as part of video film releases for action films (like Rambo 3) that were weekend long total immersion Skirmish retreats and war games. These integrated vehicles, helicopters (and I got to fire a machine gun from the skids as we did flyovers, man was that fun!), complex role-playing narratives and were truly way ahead of their time also.
An opportunity arose at the tail end of the 80’s for another major airshow, this time to be staged by Archerfield. Vic brought Ian Clifford out of retirement to reprise his role as a lead character, but this time as the archetypal bad guy Baron von Hazelnut. This time the Army of both bad and good guys had its ranks filled up with not just Coote family and friends but also keen members or emerging military re-enactment groups. Even the seductive Shazza came back to play the role of the bay guy’s femme fatale Eta.
A major mock battle unfolded with gunfire and explosions aplenty in front of a crow of thousands to the narrative of the evil Baron seizing control of the Aerodrome. Plenty of great media coverage (although some controversial as one headline indicated offence taken by some at the tongue in cheek use of a Germanic baddie; “This is Demeaning Say Germans”), and much fun was had by all.
Gold Coast Hoyts Cinema managers then sought us out to provide some props and some staged theatrical gunfights for major film launches of movies such as Heartbreak Ridge, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, James Bond The Living Daylights and The Day of The Jackal. We designed great foyer displays and staged kidnaps of VIP’s at the Surfers Paradise and Mermaid beach cinema complexes.
Being able to go into a crowded public cinema foyers and fire blanks from an M16 is something that we took for granted then, but is something that would be highly unlikely in this day and age. We had so much fun at those launch events.
During the 80’s Lloyd Bond’s Polymedia company also engaged us to design and deliver military themed corporate events for Gold Coast Conference’s. Around the Museum grounds and Skirmish fields we designed and built a unique obstacle course and series of team based challenges. Was pretty cool to still be a high school kid and involved with this sort of crazy stuff.
I had the pleasure of starting to design team and leadership development approaches with military themes (for on and off site) alongside Vic through the mid 80’s, and in the very late 80’s they got even better being based in part also on experiences I was having in the Army whilst undergoing Officer training.
One of our early gigs was to stage a massive commando raid on the global Sheraton management meeting dubbed the “War College” at the newly opened Mirage Resort at the spit. Imagine the surprise of locals and guests when the beach erupted in massive fireballs and then a giant fireworks sign (made by Vic), followed by 20 or so of us blazing away with blanks and storming across the lagoons. This was our first conference raid.
We gradually crafted a comedic series of raids for kidnapping conference groups and dragging them off to our Strike Force headquarters. It was a fun time.
The construction of Movie World and the adjacent studios brought more opportunities as production teams sought military advice, vehicles, uniforms and weapons for locally made film and TV projects. Vic and I created the brand “Movie Militaria” as a vehicle for providing services and equipment to the film and television industry.
The fusion of theatricality and increasing exposure to the film, television and events industries that we had accumulated in the 80’s created a series of new directions for us into the 1990’s.
Consolidation and Further Exploration - The 1990’s
Vic conducted numerous overseas study trips to War Museums and also to see private collections in the UK, Europe, Asia and The United States. During these trips he obtained more items for the collection as well as some great contacts and insights for enhanced displays and approaches. To be honest though, over the years many more people had taken leaves out of his book as the Gold Coast war Museum was already a genuine innovator in this field.
The early 90’s saw the popularity of Skirmish / Paintball continue, along with growth in the retail and mail order of replica pistols and militaria.
Vic’s skill at knowing which products would sell, and how best to market and advertise them via great looking catalogues or ads had seen him become the most successful importer of replica pistols into Australia.
The Museum itself also swelled with new acquisitions that were very exciting (such as a Centurion Tank, a Sabre Jet and also a genuine Scorpion tank, the only one in Australia and still my favourite vehicle). We loved using that Scorpion on corporate gigs and there are not many major hotel venues in SE QLD where have not taken that tank.
That Scorpion also raised some eyebrows when we drove it through the main entrance of Hyatt Coolum (now Palmer Coolum Resort) a week before CHOGM was being held there.
As demand for paintball related products increased, Vic brought Tim Macarthy onboard to assist with the growing need for the importation and distribution of paintballs and equipment throughout Australia to new Skirmish fields. Together they created Paintball Australia, which is still operating from the Museum.
Satellite Skirmish fields were also created on the Sunshine Coast and in Brisbane.
The office got major extensions, and a massive aircraft hanger was now built beside the Museum and started off housing overflow of vehicles from the Museum. It had a short stint as an indoor night paintball field known as “The Thunderdome”. When the night games didn’t really take off, the hangar reverted to an extended arm of the Museum for vehicles and larger scale dioramas and displays.
Movie Militaria started to get some good gigs now, and even worked on the US TV series Mission Impossible providing vehicles, weapons and extras to a variety of episodes where we played everything from African mercenaries to Police and Submariners.
There was also the major Australian WW2 film “Blood Oath” about Aus POW’s of the Japanese (starring Russell Crowe and Brian Brown), for which we contributed military advising, vehicles and extras. My Grandfather Col who was an Infantryman in WW2 (2/18th Battalion) served as an advisor to actors like John Polson on set as he was a POW in Changi. Some tough days on set for him, but also some healing as he met apologetic and compassionate younger Japanese actors.
Demand for corporate events and team building also increased for our Movie Militaria side of the business. We even used to stage massive “Mash Bash” parties in the hanger / Thunderdome and big off site events at the Boomerang Farm for clients like Nestle and Woolworths.
Vic’s pyromania was elevated to new levels with increasingly bigger fireballs, dust bombs and window rattling blasts on the corporate gigs, which we all reveled in of course.
We would occasionally involve an even bigger pyromaniac, our good mate Bob parsons, Uncle Bob to us. He was a film armourer and well-know character in our circles throughout the 1990’s. Uncle Bob let of some ripper explosions for us once at an off-site event in Kooralbyn that rattled windows 5 km away. Good onya Bob!
Tragically in the next decade Uncle Bob was killed in an accident within his own armoury amongst the weapons and explosives that he had used for his craft. We miss his rough humour, and his genorisity with all of his toys, which he was always so willing to indulge us with. The corporate gigs were fun to get Bob involved with.
This corporate side of the business eventually morphed into “Adventure Conventions”, which started to create new and innovative on and off-site military themed team building approaches. This business eventually grew and developed into Sabre Corporate Development, which still operates today (although not from the Museum anymore and not just military themes) and also has numerous overseas operators and licensees.
Increasingly harsher weapons licensing requirements began to inhibit the growth and diversity of the Museum’s displays of weaponry. Progressively show cases started to become less populated with modern small arms in place of other items of militaria and uniforms.
The current era – 2000 and beyond
The Museum is now firmly established as one of the largest private collections of militaria in the world with a prosperous on-site and mail order militaria business via The Collector’s Armoury.
The on-site Skirmish Paintball field continued to grow in popularity post 2000 and has become one of the best and busiest in the world. Part of its success has been again down to Vic’s sense of innovation. Instead of using macho male Paintball enthusiasts as Refs and targeting the purists only, he and Julie have perfected the use of energetic female referees and made it a very welcoming and tourist oriented field.
Museum owner Vic Coote continued to travel around the world visiting major militaria and re enactment events and enhancing his contacts.
Military re enactment and military modeling group “The Standard Bearers”, started to hold an annual gathering known as “Manouevres” and also begin work on some of their own display cases within the museum that feature world-class dioramas and items from their founder Brenton Bruns’s private collection.
Vietnam Veterans advocate Bob Meehan OAM, who was also integral to the Vietnam Veterans Coming Home Parade and Nambus, started to place some of his excess display materials within the Museum.
Bob and Vic struck up a great relationship whereby Bob’s larger displays would also find a permanent home within the Museum and Bob will be curator of all post WW2 displays.
Bob now works not only in his capacity as a Museum Curator, but also provides continuing services to the Veteran’s community via the RSL, RAR Buddies and other Veteran’s bodies. He also runs great School programmes where the kids get the benefit of speaking with a genuine combat veteran. He even shows them his “1960’s iPod” which as a massive old tape deck.
Other major private collections are now also housed within the Museum.
Amongst them are large collections of rare RAF, RAAF and German WW2 militaria from collector John Sullivan, modern Fighter Pilot items from Mike Prior and numerous other smaller collectors and donors. I am happy to have several items from my own collection on display but love ribbing Vic that I have “loads of gear on display at that Museum”.
The Museum continues to change and adapt to new collections and items.
There was a disappointing period that followed stringent new weapons licensing laws and storage requirements that dampened (and continues to dampen) the usual dynamism of Museum development. It became increasingly difficult to display and make use of virtually any historical small arms. Of course these being the basic tools of warfare, they tend to be of most interest to the public and educational groups, but the bureaucrats know best huh?
Other people’s shows and events also benefited greatly from Vic and The Museum’s time and generosity such as the Emu Gully Land and Air Spectacular and History Alive at Fort Lytton.
There were also a couple of Caboulture Airshows aided by Warbird owner and pilot Kim Rolfe Smith who would do mock strafing and bomb runs on ground targets with his Trojan, and Vic would detonate great looking simulated napalm and cannon hits. At one of these a pilot (not Kim) turned and straifed the wrong way to bullet hits in reverse, much to the amusement of the crowd.
Ipswich Railway Yards staged a great show to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the end of WW2, as they were part of the war’s manufacturing efforts, and featured a “what if” Darwin style raid by a mock Jap Zero that was responded to by vigorous anti-aircraft fire from Museum folks and also the Albert Battery of Rod Dux on their Bofors Gun.
Great as these events were and / or are though, in my humble opinion, nobody has ever designed and run better shows than the War Museum. The explosions, laughs and energy were just bigger. Vic often had a partner in crime on these little side ventures, and that was Brian Kelly of Ned’s Boys Toys.
Vic is now semi retired (working on becoming retired, but we doubt he ever will), but the Museum continues to be an active and vibrant hub for the many collectors, re enactors, veterans and numerous business ventures (Skirmish Gold Coast, Paintball Australia, Collector’s Armoury) that still exist and operate under its roof.
Bob Meehan is now feverishly working on his latest project, a genuine Vietnam Era Huey Chopper that’s being refurbished for display.
While Vic plans to do some more overseas travel to major military museums, events and re enactment shows, Bob will assume more of the public liaison responsibilities (that’s if we can get him to keep his hands off his Chopper).
I feel it has been a great privilege to bear witness to the many stages of evolution that this great place has undergone across the decades.
With the continued interest, energy and contribution of the many people and groups that come to the Museum, the place will no doubt have a few surprises up its sleeve yet.
For those who know and have lived any part of its history, the place itself now just oozes the great memories, laughter and adventures that have been absorbed by its walls, floors and longest-serving displays.
May the Gold Coast War Museum continue for many years to come, as it is truly a place like no other.