EMMAGOOL BUSH FIRE BRIGADE TURNS 100
ON Tuesday November 7, 1916 the Dubbo Bush Brigade was launched. The mayor, Alderman George Palmer, said the in the 30 years he had been in the district he had never seen such prolific growth in the area. The aim of the meeting was to encourage the formation of Bush fire brigades in the surrounding area with the outlying centres to set their own boundaries.
Within the week, the Emmagool Bush Fire Brigade was formed with Mr John Stevenson of Terrabella as the Captain.
The area of the Brigade, as stated in 1922, was from Terra bella to Little River Bridge, along Little River Wellingtonsprings road, then by a line to include The Springs, Killaloola (Old Nullawa) along Obley Road to Chain of Ponds Creek, then around Dilladerry to Harvey Ranges, then by Belowrie Creek to take in Hockeys, Trethowans, Maloneys, Pascoes Mclachlans and Fox and Sons then along the Obley Road to Cumboogle, up the Macquarie to Terrabella.
In effect it took in all the area which is currently under the Benelong Brigade and about half of the Cumboogle Brigade.
The formation of the Brigade proved its worth at Terrabella in 1917 when a fire headed towards The Springs and Cockleshell Corner. It was stated that the organisation of the Brigade and the use of designated water carts were very effective in stopping the outbreak.
There had been many large fires in the area prior to this;
1888 – A fire on Wambangalang of over 25 miles in circumference which lasted for over three weeks.
1900 – A large fire which included Derowie, The Springs and Goono which raged over two days.
1904 – 8000 acres burned 18 miles along the Obley Road
1913 - A large fire burnt all of The Meadows and developed into a fire with a 14 mile front which burnt into Emmagool, Ierne and Eulandool. Thousands of acres were burnt with miles of fencing, wheat crops, hay and wheat stacks destroyed. The loss of stock was also considerable.
1921 - The largest fire in the district was started by workers on the Dubbomolong railway line. It started at Cockleshell Corner and travelled through Wychitella to Benelong and Terrabella. It then took in Meadowbank where it burnt down the woolshed and many other buildings and progressed up the Little River.
Eulandool, The Springs, Wirroo and Killaloola (Nullawa) were burnt out with the fire contained in the hills five miles from Obley, along the Obley Road and Paddys Creek. Newspaper reports stated 160,000 acres burnt but I think it would be closer to 70,000. John Stevenson was still Captain at this stage.
1922 – 1000 acres of The Meadows was burnt. This fire was one of at least a dozen fires to occur over a two week period.
There is a good article in the Dubbo Liberal and and Macquarie Advocate of November 1922 which describes the Emmagool Bush Fire Brigade. It states: “A perfect organisation capably commanded”. Mr Arthur Wright was then Captain and the brigade had 18 water carts, hundreds of beaters, scores of axes and rakes.
How things don’t change. The article says “Unquestionably, the Emmagool Brigade is the best organisation of its kind in the west, if not the State”. This is an article well worth reading.
The opening of the Dubbo-molong railway line in 1925 was probably one of the greatest fire threats to the district. Many fires started from steam locomotives and also the railway staff burning off debris or in the process of creating fire breaks.
In 1927 a Bush Fires Royal Commission recommended that wax matches should be banned; that the Crown and Railways Commissioners should be brought under the provisions of the Careless use of Fire Act; that all tractors working in the harvest field should be fitted with chemical fire extinguishers and the suggestion that Bush Fire Brigades be formed in all parts of the State.
Mr Arthur Wright remained as Captain until 1947, a total of at least 26 years and the reins were handed over to Lyle Graham until 1966, 19 years. Harry Graham was elected in 1966 and served until 1988, 22 years. Andrew Lane was the Secretary/treasurer from 1942 until 1988, 46 years. The continued service of these people to the Emmagool Bush Fire Brigade has been unsurpassed.
There are many people who can be recognised for their service as they have been recorded in the annals of history but there are many more who have been behind the scene who have had the important, if not the most important, role of support to those in the field.
Special recognition goes to Bea Graham, Harry’s wife, who, while he was Captain for 22 years, coordinated the calling out of volunteers, manning the radio to direct traffic and then rallying the ladies of the Brigade to provide food and water for a long campaign.
The support of Bea and all those other ladies were crucial to the success of the men in the field.
In 1952, Captain Lyle Graham wrote a report on fires, from lightning strikes, which started on “Carinya” and “Dilladerry” and they then had to move to the Harvey Ranges to try and stop another fire reaching the Emmagool area. They failed but after a week of continued fighting contained the fire at the expense of very fatigued volunteers.
More recently, on Christmas Day 1984, a fire started in the Minore area which burnt out 7,800 hectares and was only pulled up on the Obley Road with the assistance of a shower of rain. Regrettably we lost a very valued friend and volunteer, Col Witherford, from the Cumboogle Brigade when he was overcome by flames cutting a fence to allow trucks to move through. The following January a fire started near the Little River and burnt over 5,000 hectares eventually being stopped near Arthurville. It took over two weeks for this fire to be fully contained.
In 1990, 20 members of the Emmagool Brigade were flown into Nyngan to assist in the sand-bagging of the levy bank surrounding the town. The flood waters were rising faster that man-power could stem the flow of water and with the Hercules and the airstrip under water we stayed the night to assist in the evacuation of the town the next day.
The Brigade’s role has changed dramatically over the years with more motor vehicle accidents to contend with; the use of aircraft to assist in containment of fires; better communications and structure of chain of command; up to date tankers which give a quicker response and a safer environment to work in; greater flexibility for others to come in and help us as well as we helping others.
There have been many changes but today’s Brigade members have gratitude for those who have gone before who have been prepared to protect our community and those who will do so into the future.