Brave souls remembered
Emotional tributes to the fallen at Tarrawingee fire 75th anniversary service
AROUND 100 people, including family members of many of the 10 men who perished fighting the horrendous Tarrawingee fire on December 22, 1943, attended Saturday morning’s 75th anniversary service at the memorial site on the Great Alpine Road.
Two men who fought the fire and survived, Ron Morrison and Harold Stewart, were also there to pay their respects, joining CFA members and other emergency service personnel, Rural City of Wangaratta mayor Dean Rees and fellow councillor Harvey Benton, and local state MP Tim McCurdy (MLA, Ovens Valley) at the service.
Judy Dickson, a niece of Claude Hill who was 14 when he died fighting the fire, spoke on behalf of family members of the deceased.
Tarrawingee CFA brigade captain Warrick Benton noted the landscape - green with water still lying around from the unprecedented flash flood a week earlier - was the stark opposite 75 years ago, ravished by drought, the fire powered by strong winds whipped through the dry grass.
For Wangaratta’s Christine Walker, Saturday’s service was a moving but emotional tribute to a grandfather she never knew.
Joseph Ryan was one of the 10 Wangaratta men who answered the call to help fight the rampaging fire on that fateful day of December 22, 1943.
“He used to drive a truck as a linesman for PMG and he was called to come and help, and he did,” Christine said.
“My father was only 11 when his dad (Joseph) died in the fire and his eldest brother Lawrence was 13…he had to leave school and find work to help support their family of six.
“For me it’s the hardship the family faced back then…their lives changed so much.”
Those present heard the tragedy was a constant reminder of the dangers and perils when called out to a fire.
The large crowd was re-assured by fire authorities that the 10 men would never be forgotten.
Mayor Dean Rees said the dramatic storm and flash flood that hit Tarrawingee in the last 10 days had again shown Tarrawingee’s strong community spirit and determination that was called upon in the face of the fire tragedy 75 year earlier.
Cr Harvey Benton said the devastation of the fire, and the pain it caused, is still raw for many.
Mr McCurdy paid gratitude to the families who lost a very significant person in their lives in the fire, and noted that the legacy of those who perished was the formation of the CFA we know today - a 60,000 strong volunteer organisation, the largest of its kind in the world.
CFA Deputy Chief Officer Garry Cook paid tribute to the 10 firefighters, and noted that volunteers would more than likely be called upon as early as this week - with soaring temperatures and fire danger - to again protect the wider community.
Tarrawingee brigade chairman Graeme Norman, said the service provided an opportunity for the families of those who died in the fire a chance to “catch-up”.
“It was a wonderful turn out, it showed how much respect there is for those firefighters,” Mr Norman said.
“The wind was so strong that day; once it started there was no stopping it.
“It was one of those tragic things and we can only hope it never happens again.”
He paid tribute to Neville Bell and Sons who restored the stone memorial six months ago and also to CFA Brigade Administration Support Office Craig Hearson for helping to organise the event.
A FAMILY REMEMBERS: Family relatives of deceased firefighter Joseph Ryan were among those who laid wreaths and flowers during the memorial service. Pictured (from right) are Joseph’s granddaughters Christine Walker and Debbie Ryan with Joseph’s great grand children Dallas and Murray Ring.
LASTING TRIBUTE” CFA deputy chief officer Garry Cook represented the wider CFA community, paying tribute to the service of those who perished 75 years ago.
NEVER FORGOTTEN; Judy Dickson (left), with Val Clarke, spoke on behalf of family members of deceased present at the service.