Gelignite Can Be Very Useful Stuff

Bernie Evans (bio)

This article is based upon a conversation between Bernie and Richard Rawson in August 2018

On his first visit to the FCV District Office at Swifts Creek in early 1960, while he was assessing in the area of Davies Plain, Bernie was to find the District Forester, Moray Douglas, sitting in his office with feet on a footstool comprising a number of boxes of gelignite. Now, even in those days that seemed a little unusual. Powder magazines were a common feature of FCV locations, but they were not usually located in the main office.

As many at that time would have done, Bernie got the relevant “you can blow stuff up” ticket when he was posted to the Erica District in 1965. Stan Duncan was the District Forester. Mountain Ash stags from the 1939 fires were still a common feature of the forest landscape in Victoria, and in Erica, presumably as elsewhere, they from time to time caused significant fire problems. Lightning would occasionally cause fires to ignite in the upper levels of a dry stag, and on a bad fire day this ignition source could provide the opportunity for a major fire, so the issue had to be confronted. The Erica solution was to blow the stag out of the ground, and then put the fire out once it was accessible.

“It was a team effort. There were usually six of us, and the deal was that at least two would shelter a crew member from falling burning material while he dug under the stag and placed the gelly in position. I did this myself on at least a couple of occasions. We used a very long fuse, believe it or not, and the explosion would lift the stag vertically a few feet, like a rocket, and then we would go back in and rake around the mess and make as safe as we could. I have no idea if this method was used in other Districts, but it was certainly the Erica way of solving the problem.”

One night Bernie received a call from the gravedigger at Walhalla. He had a problem. With a funeral in two days the ground was too hard for him to get the receptacle to the correct depth. Would Bernie, because he had the relevant “you can blow stuff up” ticket come and set a charge that would improve the gravedigger’s progress? Envisioning bones in neighbouring graves flying through the air, Bernie found he was “sorry, but I have other commitments.”