World class collection for museum

31 July 2007
Len Ashworth

Move over James Bond! There's a real life Man With the Golden Gun and he's been to Lithgow on a mission that will have considerable long term benefits for tourism in the local area.

In Lithgow at the weekend was Queenslander Ron Hayes, the justifiably proud owner of what must certainly be one of the world's most important collections of historic handguns.

He was in town for an informal ceremony that marked his donation of the entire collection to the Lithgow SAF Museum - a generous gesture that will immeasurably boost both the status and appeal of the museum.

The occasion had a dual purpose as a book launch for Ron Haye's superbly produced 600 page book dealing with his collection and a for a second book by his associate, another firearms expert, Ian Skennerton.

The museum was packed for the launch on Sunday, with collectors and other enthusiasts travelling long distances to take part.

On display was just a small part of the total collection housed in several security cases but the impressive variety of weapons on show clearly indicated the results of Ron's lifelong passion and just what an attraction it will be.

There is everything from duelling pistols from the 1800s, through the Wild West, military issues from around the world from throughout the years (including an 1849 model 44/40 revolver with ivory grips from the American Civil War), right down to tiny weapons that would fit in a woman's purse.

There are some beautifully engraved works of art.

And there are the golden guns - gold plated presentation weapons that gleamed among the black, grey and silver of the more usual examples of the gunsmiths' art.

When complete at the SAF Museum there will be around 2000 handguns as well as Ron's collection of 'long arms' - with a value estimated at close to two million dollars.

Ron Hayes told the Mercury that the collection had taken around 50 years to assemble.

"I first got the firearms bug when I was a small boy growing up in Sydney and my dad used to take me out bush shooting rabbits," he said.

The interest never waned, even when he went into businesses as a supplier to the printing trade.

He joined the Concord Rifle Club at Liverpool and later became interested in handguns after reading American publications.

After moving to Queensland in 1968 he set up a firearms dealership business and became Australian representative for the American Smith and Wesson corporation through his company, Grycol.

In recent years, realising that no one lasts forever, Ron began looking around to get a 'good home' where his collection could be kept intact in a secure environment and enjoyed by the public.

He first offered the collection to the Queensland Museum but they intended keeping most of the collection out of sight in storage.

Then Ian Skennerton suggested the Small Arms Museum at Lithgow and negotiations began.

A few samples from the Ron Hayes pistol collection have been on display at the museum for some time; it is only now that the entire collection is progressively making its way here.

Out of this vast collection does Ron have any favourites?

There are two that stand out in his affection.

One is a Bodeshart; manufactured in 1893 it was the world's first successful commercially produced semi automatic pistol.

The example in the collection is very close to new condition.

Even dearer to this gun collector's heart is a set of French duelling pistols, made in 1886 and in mint condition in their original presentation box.

"These are very special pistols as they came towards the end of the duelling area around the world," Ron said.

"Duelling was banned worldwide around this time."

All of the weapons in the display have been professionally labelled for easy identification.

And none of them will ever again fire a shot in anger or for any other purpose; all have been permanently disabled before being placed on display.

One thing is certain, Ron Hayes will have a special affection for Lithgow in the years ahead - and Lithgow has good reason for a special affection for Ron Hayes, the man with the golden guns, and the silver ones, and the black ones, and the chrome ones.

This article can be found in the Lithgow Mercury - Tuesday, 31 July 2007.

© Copyright 2005 The Antique and Historical Arms Collectors Guild of Victoria. All rights reserved.