A Brief History of the ACTSMS


Formed to promote the hobby of scale modelling in the Australian Capital Territory, the ACT Scale Modellers’ Society Inc, as it is known today, had a chequered and somewhat fragmented beginning. Members’ recollections date back to 1972, the year which the Society has ordained as its foundation year and celebrated since 1992.

Stalwart of the Society and current member, Peter Mahoney, recalls that the proprietor of the Peter Pan toy & model shop in Garema Square Civic approached him and a colleague now deceased, Gary Bryant, to build models for its window displays. Gary then suggested a club be formed, and the first gathering was held at his flat in Civic followed by subsequent meetings in members' homes.

Life-member and former president John Myszka also recalls larger gatherings of mostly junior modellers at the Police Citizens Boys Club (PCBC) in Turner. These early incarnations developed further in the mid-1970s after the creation of the new township in Woden Valley, as Woden Plaza harboured a new model shop which began to host model competitions.

Growing Years

Momentum grew after Gary Bryant’s home was again the venue for the first formal “foundation meeting” in early March 1978, when the Canberra branch of the International Plastic Modellers Society (IPMS) came into being. Gary was the inaugural president, David Pearse treasurer, and Paul Duff secretary. Paul, together with a few friends from IPMS Victoria (of which he was secretary) had moved from Melbourne to Canberra that year.

In October 1978 IPMS Canberra staged a model display at the Woden Library. But as IPMS rules dictated that affiliated clubs were to pay fees to them, in mid-1979 IPMS Canberra decided instead to become independent, as the ACT Scale Modellers’ Society.

After a year of meeting twice monthly at the PCBC, in early 1979 the club moved to the Griffin Centre in Civic and changed to monthly meetings. At the same time a Society newsletter, ModAction, was started. Initially the Society used a small ground-floor room and the upstairs north room, and from the late 1980s the larger ground-floor Studio Room. In 2002 a move was made to the RSL Club in Civic, followed in 2008 by another to the nearby Canberra Club, and finally to the Hellenic Club in Woden in 2010 when it bought the RSL Club.

By the end of 1979, the initial membership of six seniors and ten juniors had grown to 60. That year the Society first staged a display at the annual model railway exhibition held at Malkara Special School in Garran. Over 43 years of participation in Malkara, the Society has displayed thousands of models and produced several large dioramas, starting with ‘TooBroke’ (Tobruk) in 2010. A hiatus during 2015-17 saw the Society contribute instead to the annual Model Shipwrights display in Melba.

Not Without Controversy

One notable event occurred at the 1984 AGM. President Stewart Gordon-Douglas and committee resigned and walked out en masse, due to perceived criticisms from within the membership, and formed a short-lived ‘invitation only’ group. With the Society in crisis, Ron Young (replaced by John Marane when Ron moved to Adelaide five months later) formed a new committee which adopted a more inclusive agenda, encompassing guest speakers and the like to make the monthly meetings more entertaining. This format continues to this day.

Evolved Identity

1985 saw a larger monthly newsletter introduced, which now included photos. It gained a logo in 1987 (the familiar Parliament House flagpole), went colour in 1999, and became the quarterly ScaleACTion in 2015. In 1985, also, a handicap system was introduced to the monthly competitions. In those days judges completed a full score sheet for each model, and references were required. That same year the club joined in the annual NSW Interclub Challenge Shield competition with IPMS (NSW) and APMA. The ACT hosted the 1986 and 1991 ‘Triclubs’, the latter also being the year the Society incorporated. By 1993 another four clubs had joined the comp, and ACT members also began travelling to compete in the annual comps of interstate clubs.

Flourishing Competition and Meetings

Around 2001 the Society's annual competition and public display relocated from Griffin Centre to the RSL Club in Civic, and in 2005 was named ScaleACT. During 2008-11 it was held at the Harmonie German Club, relocating then to Kaleen UC High School in 2012. The event grew to over 500 local and interstate models entered, as well as hosting theme displays, a swap & sell section, and interstate vendors. ScaleACT was first live-streamed on Facebook in 2017. During the pandemic years 2020-22, some meetings were cancelled and build sessions were hosted online to maintain the social aspect of the hobby. This is planned to continue post-pandemic. From 2021, meetings were occasionally augmented by a weekend event at Holt Community Hall.

Furthering Our Reach

Model-related websites became a thing in 1995. The club webpage appeared in 2000. That year also saw the Society host model-building workshops at the Australian War Memorial, and two years later club members built Kittyhawk aircraft models for the AWM Memorial in a Box educational program. The Kittyhawk then lent its name to the ‘out-of-the-box’ aircraft category of the annual competition, later joined by the Sentinel Shield for vehicles, and The Grail. Also with the new millennium came an annual weekend ‘blitz build’, and special interest groups were formed. 

Since the 1990s the Society has gained exposure by taking part in an annual display and comp as part of the craft show at the Royal Canberra Show. Another annual outreach activity during 2005-2017 was a (mostly) outdoor publicity display for the Defence Community Organisation’s Welcome to Canberra picnic day for newly-posted Defence families (‘Belong 05’, etc). These, no doubt, contributed to the Society’s large Defence membership. In 2011 the Society was invited to ‘twin’ (or triplet) with IPMS Farnborough in UK and IPMS Ottawa in Canada, kicked off with displays of British, Australian and Canadian military subjects by each club. A visiting Farnborough member spoke at a meeting in 2016.

The Society has always maintained a relationship with local model shops. Of a peak of five shops in the 1980s-90s only one, Toyworld, has survived the advent of online ordering, and provides the club with sponsorship and member discounts. The Australian magazine ModelArt, begun in 2001, also published the Society in its pages. ACTSMS membership first topped 100 in 2017.

Honoured Members

The Society currently has seven ‘life members’: John Myszka since 1993, followed soon after by John Purcell; and in more recent times Mike Grieve, Jerry Cashman and Phil Keene. At the recent 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner two further Life Memberships were awarded, to Dave White and Dave Richardson. 

Over the years the Society has had 17 presidents including three now deceased. We remember the following members known to have died and their contributions:

Paul Duff (1993

Ross Anderson (1994)

Patrick Speechly (2002)

Gary Bryant

Michael Armit (2014)

Dean Stark (2015)

Stewart Gordon-Douglas, John Marane, Geoff Shain (2017)

Ross Carlyon (2020)

Mike Stynes (2022).

Drafted by Mike Nelmes, May 2022

Full Society History document

The above synopsis was extracted from the full document: A History of the ACTSMS Incorporated which is available for download here

ACTSMS Newsletter Archive

Members interested in the history of the society can now access our Newsletter Archive. We are progressively scanning early editions of the society newsletter and will be adding these to the archive over time. If you have any early editions of the newsletter (that you can't find in the archive) please let a Committee member know! We'd love to scan it and add to the history.