Brave souls re­mem­bered

Emo­tional tributes to the fallen at Tar­rawingee fire 75th an­niver­sary ser­vice

Wangaratta Chronicle - - News - BY JEFF ZEUSCHNER [email protected] ne­me­dia.com.au

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.

PHO­TOS: Jeff Zeuschner

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.

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