Wednesday, 9 January 2013

9 January 1913 and Bushfires


I often whinge about the weather here in North Queensland. It’s hot, humid and muggy most of the year, and we get hit by cyclones, torrential rain and floods.  But because of that rain and humidity one thing we haven’t had in the ten years since I have lived here is fire.  There is little more terrifying than a bushfire heading for your home, and my heart and prayers go out to those affected by bushfire, especially those people in Tasmania at present.  In the worst fires since 1967, at last count over one hundred buildings had been burnt down in south east Tasmania, but thankfully no human lives had been lost.

Bushfire, by Hugh Conran, Australia, Jan 1912 source
Australia has always been devastated by fire.  Before white settlement it may have been good for the bush, to help it burn of dead wood and regenerate, but seeing images of dead native wildlife on the tv makes me think it could never have been a good thing.
BUSHFIRE HAZE, 1913 by Hans Heysen (1877-1968)   source

In 1913 there were devastating fires around the country, including in the Hahndorf region of south Australia, and in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria.  Within a few hours on Tuesday, 4 February 1913, the Monbulk settlement in the Dandenong's " was scorched and blasted from end to end."  About 20 houses and a number of outbuildings, livestock and machinery were lost. The hub of the community: the Mechanics Institute, school house, and the school were all lost in the fires. Most houses in the Patch suffered some burning if not destruction. A wind change checked the worst of the fiery attack on South Sassafras, later rain helped diminish the bushfire threat.  Newspaper reports were suggesting that the locals would henceforth know the day as Black Tuesday.

Tasmania has faced a series of devastating fires from early settlement in 1803 and the new settlers were not used to the summer conditions and high levels of ground fuel which caused fire to spread quickly. After a devastating fire in the outskirts of Hobart in 1854, the Bush Fires Act came into force, aiming 'to guard against damage by fire in certain months of the year', by preventing fires being lit and escaping on to another person's property. Despite the Act, Tasmania has faced many devastating fires since 1854. In 1895 eleven houses were destroyed at Dundas on the west coast, and in 1897–98 an area almost the same as the 1967 and this years fires was burnt when fire spread rapidly through the south, destroying farms and forests in the area towards Port Arthur.  The fire in late December 1933 ­to January 1934 threatened the whole of the Derwent Valley and 300 volunteers were rushed to fight it.
Bushfire 2
Men from the Second AIF about to fight bushfires at Fern Tree, Tasmania, 1940

The 1967 Tasmanian fires also occurred on a Tuesday (7 February) and also became known as the Black Tuesday bushfires. They were the most deadly bushfires that Tasmania has ever experienced, leaving 62 people dead, 900 injured and over seven thousand homeless.  The 1967 disaster did lead to the formation of the Rural Fires Board and eventually the Tasmania Fire Service, which have been doing a splendid job fighting these latest fires.  

There is still a month or two of bushfire season to go, and as I write this there are bushfires raging all over Australia, including to the north and south of us in green and wet Mackay. An historic house in Victoria has juts burnt down and a farm hand single handedly drove 400 cattle out of the bushfire's path. Lets hope there are more heroes but no casualties and that the devastation will  not continue.

On a lighter note, Richard M. Nixon, 37th President of the United States (1969–74),was born today in Yorba Linda, California, at 9:35 pm (he died in 1994). Here’s a photo of him aged about five. So cute!

Stay safe

Deb xxx

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