"The past is never fully gone. It is absorbed into the present and the future. It stays to shape what we are and what we do."
Sir William Deane, Governor-General of Australia, Inaugural Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, August 1996.

Fire Memories

  • Bushfire Widows

    Peter McHugh (bio)

    I have often joked over the years that there are three sorts of firefighters in rural Victoria;

    • Firstly, there are the large numbers of CFA volunteers in their bright yellow overalls and shiny red trucks fitted with flashing lights and sirens who operate in small country towns, on private and cleared farmland or around houses scattered along the more accessible and visible interface with the public forest. The men and women that turn out so rapidly and so selflessly with these tanker crews and strike teams do a sensational job and their local communities and the media are quite rightly very proud of them. I certainly am.
  • Coool Waters

    Leon Pederick (bio)

    The fire raged and roared above us as we retreated along the tunnel, with only a wet blanket between us and the fiery intruder invading our camp. Smoke poured in and we were, for the time being, trapped and in darkness.

    It all happened more than sixty years ago, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. The year was 1952. I was a newly graduated forester, 21 years old, and engaged in resource assessment and themapping of the upper Sandy's Creek catchment, about 40 km north of Bairnsdale in eastern Victoria. The team consisted of three foresters (Peter Britton, Len Laing and me) and five chainmen. Our camp was positioned on the end of a short track off the Mt Baldhead Road, which followed along the divide between the south-flowing Wentworth and Nicholson Rivers. The track to our camp had been constructed by gold miners many years ago, and it wound down off the ridge to a spot where a horizontal tunnel been driven deep into the hillside. Our mess hut was placed next to the tunnel entrance to take advantage of a stream of clear, cold water flowing from it. To emphasise the temperature of the water, we called the camp 'Coool Waters'.

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  • Crowning

    O Raymond (bio)

    This article was first published in “Firefighters. Stories from Australian foresters”, published by York Gum Publishing in 2014, and edited by Roger Underwood and Oliver Raymond. ISBN 978-0-9942271-0-2. The original title of the article was “Bushfires and Fish – an Unlikely Combination” Author: Oliver Raymond.

    It was a glorious early autumn in 1964. The dry weather had produced perfect conditions for a large wildfire to start in the headwaters of Victoria’s Jamieson River. It had been sparked off from a carelessly abandoned campfire during an annual field exercise being carried out by the Citizens’ Military Forces.

    As part of the Victorian Forests Commission’s North Eastern Forest Division’s remote fire fighting crew, I had been sent with my crew to the most distant part of the fire to help in its containment. It had been threatening to burn the Alpine Ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis) forests in the headwaters of the Jamieson, and we had to build a firebreak to stop it.

    Because of the cool, moist nights, the fire had been largely going out of its own accord during the hours of darkness. However, once the heat of each morning’s sun and the inevitable pick up in the wind hit the smouldering edges of the fire it soon took off again.

  • 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.

  • Victorian Fire Crew “Lost” in NSW

    - build freeway and then backburn to keep warm

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

    In about 1972, with many FCV personnel already committed to a big fire at Mt Elizabeth, near Buchan, a very large fire in the Kosciusko National Park “was gradually burning its way south between the Snowy and the Ingeegoodbee Rivers” heading towards the Victorian border and, typical of the time, the NSW people were interested in their own side, not ours. Well, the truth is they probably were not really worried about the fire at all, but we were interested, because if nothing happened we would have a huge unwanted blaze inside our patch.

  • Jim McKinty - Firefighter 1939

    Transcribed from Jim’s notes and as related to Malcolm McKinty

    Following his graduation from the VSF in 1936 and until December 1941 Jim was attached to the Commission’s Forest Assessment Branch.

    In November 1938, Bjarne Dahl, Jim (then 23 years old) and their chainman (Fred) travelled by train to Healesville then by car to Sylvia Creek near Toolangi. There they loaded their equipment onto packhorses lead by Bill O’Connell and trekked over the hills to the Murrindindi River where they set up camp. The task was to map a large section of the Victoria Range between the Yea and Acheron Rivers, progressing south along the range towards Mount St Leonard. Dense scrub here made heavy going and they took turns with slashers to clear the survey lines.

  • MSC Experiences

    Kester Baines (bio)

    I worked on the Connors crew for four consecutive summers, from Dec 1968 – Feb 1969, then Jan-Feb 1970, ‘71 and ‘72, being a leading hand on the ‘71 crew and senior leading hand in ’72.

    Our first fire was in the Buxton-Taggerty area, which started on the same day as the bad Lara fires (8 Jan 1969). We worked in the Black Range, Royston Range and Blue Range and were there for five days. All up we worked on 13 fires over the four summers, mostly lightning strikes in the high country, but one near Mt Roundback on Wilsons Prom was also quite large. But our first was the worst – it’s the only time I’ve been in a fire that was crowning at times. Scary!

  • Nug Nug Chinook

    Bernie Evans (bio)

    This article is based upon a conversation between Bernie and Richard Rawson in August 2018, and it is likely that it describes the first ever use of such a large helicopter in a wildfire control operation.

    On the 17 February 1983, at the same time as the State was in terrible strife from the fires of 16 February (Ash Wednesday), a fire started in what was then the FCV District of Myrtleford, where Bernie Evans was the District Forester and, the way things worked at that time, he was also by right the "fire boss".

  • Walking to Work

    M E W Stump (bio)
    2003

    "Mark gave me a copy of the text in March 2016, together with some photographs and newspaper cuttings. The descriptions of dry firefighting with hand tools are brief and record what was achieved year by year over and over by experienced firefighters, day and night, in public forests, at modest cost, more than half a century ago."
    Alan Eddy, 30 April 2016

    Mark Stump was an Assistant Forester at Heyield from December 1954 to May 1957

    "The philosophy attaching to the combatting of remote fires at that time, was that the suppression crew should be self-sufficient for a period of three days. This principle assumed that a three-day period would provide sufficient time in which to access, extinguish and withdraw from a small fire without the necessity of additional support. For a large remote fire, which could not be dealt with in an all up time frame of three days, the self-sufficiency period provided time for District Administrative Staff to organize the despatch of support equipment/supplies, to be carried to the fire site by pack horse."