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Friday January 13, 1939 would go down in history known as Black Friday.  The day would later be described at the Royal Commission as “it appeared the whole of Victoria was alight”

In the days preceding Black Friday, some of the hottest temperatures to date had been recorded, but it was Friday that recorded a temperature of 45.6 degrees Celsius (114.1 Fahrenheit).  This temperature would remain the hottest on record for 70 years.

That summer had been hot and dry with several smaller fires burning, but on January 13 a strong northerly wind hit the state. This coupled with fires being lit by landowners, campfires, inappropriate sawmill operations and domestic fires,  All these conditions had the catastrophic effect culminating in several smaller fires joining, leading to a massive fire front.

By the time the fires were brought under control, they had led to the deaths of 71 people, several towns, 1300 homes, 69 sawmills and 3700 other buildings were destroyed.  It was estimated the three quarters of the state of Victoria was burning.

The fires would be brought under control with the help of rain that crossed the state on Sunday January 15.

The Royal Commission headed by Judge Stretton was held 3 weeks after the fires and attributed blame for the fires to careless burning, such as for campfires and land clearing. It made a number of recommendations to improve forest management and safety, such as the construction of fire towers and access trails. It also encouraged the creation of a regime of supervised burning, which still exists today.

The fires contributed directly to the passing of the Forests Act, which gave the Forests Commission responsibility for forest fire protection on public land. They were also a key factor in the founding of the Country Fire Authority in 1944.

Some of those killed in the fires included:

  • Forests Commission Overseer Charlie Demby, Toolangi
  • Forester John Hartley Barling, Toolangi
  • Baden Johnston, Rubicon Forest
  • Alfred Neason, Rubicon Forest
  • Peter Murdoch, Rubicon Forest
  • Forests Commission foreman, John West, Rubicon Forest
  • Joseph Cherry, Rubicon Forest
  • George Brundrett, Rubicon Forest
  • Vivian Argent, Rubicon Forest
  • Archibald Payne, Rubicon Forest
  • Geoffrey Wyatt, Rubicon Forest
  • Lemuel Sims, Rubicon Forest
  • James Cain, Rubicon Forest
  • Thomas Le Brun, Rubicon Forest
  • Ken Kerslake, wife Ellen and daughter Ruth, Acheron Way
  • Frank Edwards, Acheron Way
  • Chris Soldaris, Acheron Way
  • Antonio Igoshus and his brother Peter Igoshus, Acheron Way
  • Hugh McKinnon, Loch Valley north of Noojee
  • Ben Saxton, his wife Dorothy Saxton and a young timber worker named Michael Gorey, Tanjil Bren
  • W. J. Loosemore, Hill End
  • Nellie O’Keefe, Woods Point
  • Thomas Rusden, Frenchmens Creek
  • William Bolton, Aberfeldye
  • James Fitzpatrick, Matlock
  • Cecil Fitzpatrick, Matlock
  • George Fitzpatrick, Matlock
  • Joseph Rodgers, Matlock
  • James Knuckey, Matlock
  • James Howitt, Matlock
  • Thomas Crowley, Matlock
  • Walter Gladigau, Matlock
  • John Wallace, Matlock
  • George Osterman, Matlock
  • Kevin Kearns, Matlock
  • Alexander Kent, Matlock
  • Michael Rogers, Matlock
  • Henry Illingworth,  Matlock
  • William Illingworth, Matlock
  • Prospector James Lowry and his nephew Ronald Lowry, near Bright
  • Walter Scammell and his mother Margaret Scammell, Kiewa Valley
  • John Edeny, near Homans Gap
  • Ernest Richards, north of Bairnsdale
  • Theresa (14), Mary (12), Vera (10) and Paul Robinson (8), Barangarook
  • Freda, Eric and Rex Habel, near Stawell
  • Charles Cattenach, Moyston
  • Albert McGinty, Casterton
  • Frederick Topping, Warrandyte
  • Ernest Shafter, Warrandyte
  • Albert Dudley Pentreath, Strathewan
  • William Doig, Black Forest District
  • W, Angus, Black Forest District
  • William House, Drummond

 

On this day ………… 7th March 1929

An airforce aircraft crashed and incinerated a mechanic during a refuelling stop at Wangaratta, on this day in 1929. The plane was flying from Richmond, NSW to Point Cook, Melbourne and made a routine landing. The local manager for Vacuum Oil, Mr N. McGuffie delivered 12 gallons of petrol. By 230pm, with refuelling completed, the aircraft was ready to resume it’s flight. The take off over a bumpy section of ground left the plane badly balanced, and it narrowly missed a fence, turned sharply, and at a height of about 12 feet clipped a tree. The wing snapped and the plane nosedived into the ground. The pilot, Thomas Swinburne of Richmond NSW was able to leave the cockpit. The mechanic in the other cockpit, Herbert Worland, was trapped and incinerated. A bushfire started burning 20 acres.

 

 

On this day …….. 28th of January 1942

An inquest was held on this day in 1942, into the death of two men who were hit by an aircraft in a paddock outside Benalla. The aircraft, was making an emergency landing, after experiencing engine trouble. The men were two farmers, George Forshaw and Russell Fleming. At the time, they were fighting a bushfire, together with two policemen. The two policemen were injured. The inquest return a verdict of accidental death.

 

 

On this day …… 20th January 1944

Almost half of the State under fire. Victoria has had a fire experience which was even more disastrous than the holocaust which swept the State in 1939, when human life and homes were destroyed. The fire originated on the same day as that which occurred in South Australia at One Tree Hill, but in Victoria there were many out breaks in different parts of the State, and the losses are colossal. Nineteen deaths of fire fighters have been reported, but the police do not think this covers the full death roll. 70 people are in hospital, suffering grievously from burns. Over the tremendous area laid waste the incomplete records show that over 700 homes were completely destroyed, with many others damaged. Thousands of sheep, cattle and horses passed out, it being said that in the Western district of Victoria alone, 250,000 sheep were destroyed. Those beasts’ which escaped are now roaming aimlesly through the fire waste, bereft of any fed. Damage to property is expected to exceed £1,000,000. In a survey of Victoria’s bushfires, the destruction has been set down. Hamilton and district, 50 homes, the railway coal shed, sawmills, and gun club pavilion. Tarringon, 26 homes. Dunkeld, 36 homes, a total of 112 houses, countless wool sheds, tens of thousands of stock and many hundred miles of fencing. In the country above Cape Otway, stock losses will be 250,000 sheep including some of the finest studs and the most highly prized breeding sheep in the world, 4000 beef and dairy cattle, 1000 swine, 2000 poultry, and 400 horse. Crop’s of flax and cereals, wool, farm equipment and hundreds of miles of fencing. Ninety-eight per cent of the properties were not insured. The Federal Government has made a grant of £200,000 for relief, and the State Parliamentary Committee is investigating relief measures.

On This Day – January 13, 1939

On this day in 1939, Melbourne reached its hottest day on record when temperatures soared to 114.1 degrees Fahrenheit (45.6 degrees Celsius) at 12.30pm. The conditions led to the loss of 71 lives, over 1000 homes and 1.4 million hectares of land and would become known as Black Friday.

A fire began quietly on New Years Day near Kinglake and was noticed by a Forest Officer at Toolangi. The fire would eventually roar through the Black Ranges, Rubicon, Acheron, Marysville, Warburton, Noojee, Tanjil Bren , Hill End, Woods Point, Matlock and Erica.

In Bright, the fires had started in September 1938 in a remote area with little access. In early January a second fire started in the ranges around Tawonga South. On January 13, conditions enabled the fires to join and head towards Omeo and Bright. Corryong would also be affected by this fire.

image

In the Otways, there were several fires deliberately lit in early January which would lead to the forests behind Apollo Bay being well ablaze. On Black Friday the fire had spread to Barongarook where 4 children from the Robinson family would perish fleeing the flames. The fire was only stopped once it reached Bass Strait at Lorne. In the Western Districts, fires burns in scrub to the west of Portland, the Grampians and Moyston.

The rural areas of Melbourne such as Warrandyte, Doreen and Whittlesea would come under attack from these devastating fires. The Black Forest area of Gisborne, Macedon and Drummond would be affected as northerly winds drove the flames through.

Relief would finally be felt two days later with rain finally dampening the flames. But the death toll from these fires would stand at 71 people.

A Royal Commission was held three weeks later to seek answers to the devastation. It stated that it had “seemed as though the entire State of Victoria” was alight. Some of the finding from that commission still govern our fire practices today including the establishment of a State Fire Authority, which was realised in 1944 with the establishment of the Country Fire Authority.

On this day ………… 7th March 1929

An airforce aircraft crashed and incinerated a mechanic during a refuelling stop at Wangaratta, on this day in 1929. The plane was flying from Richmond, NSW to Point Cook, Melbourne and made a routine landing. The local manager for Vacuum Oil, Mr N. McGuffie delivered 12 gallons of petrol. By 230pm, with refuelling completed, the aircraft was ready to resume it’s flight. The take off over a bumpy section of ground left the plane badly balanced, and it narrowly missed a fence, turned sharply, and at a height of about 12 feet clipped a tree. The wing snapped and the plane nosedived into the ground. The pilot, Thomas Swinburne of Richmond NSW was able to leave the cockpit. The mechanic in the other cockpit, Herbert Worland, was trapped and incinerated. A bushfire started burning 20 acres.

 

 

On this day …….. 28th of January 1942

An inquest was held on this day in 1942, into the death of two men who were hit by an aircraft in a paddock outside Benalla. The aircraft, was making an emergency landing, after experiencing engine trouble. The men were two farmers, George Forshaw and Russell Fleming. At the time, they were fighting a bushfire, together with two policemen. The two policemen were injured. The inquest return a verdict of accidental death.

 

 

On This Day – January 13, 1939

On this day in 1939, Melbourne reached its hottest day on record when temperatures soared to 114.1 degrees Fahrenheit (45.6 degrees Celsius) at 12.30pm. The conditions led to the loss of 71 lives, over 1000 homes and 1.4 million hectares of land and would become known as Black Friday.

A fire began quietly on New Years Day near Kinglake and was noticed by a Forest Officer at Toolangi. The fire would eventually roar through the Black Ranges, Rubicon, Acheron, Marysville, Warburton, Noojee, Tanjil Bren , Hill End, Woods Point, Matlock and Erica.

In Bright, the fires had started in September 1938 in a remote area with little access. In early January a second fire started in the ranges around Tawonga South. On January 13, conditions enabled the fires to join and head towards Omeo and Bright. Corryong would also be affected by this fire.

image

In the Otways, there were several fires deliberately lit in early January which would lead to the forests behind Apollo Bay being well ablaze. On Black Friday the fire had spread to Barongarook where 4 children from the Robinson family would perish fleeing the flames. The fire was only stopped once it reached Bass Strait at Lorne. In the Western Districts, fires burns in scrub to the west of Portland, the Grampians and Moyston.

The rural areas of Melbourne such as Warrandyte, Doreen and Whittlesea would come under attack from these devastating fires. The Black Forest area of Gisborne, Macedon and Drummond would be affected as northerly winds drove the flames through.

Relief would finally be felt two days later with rain finally dampening the flames. But the death toll from these fires would stand at 71 people.

A Royal Commission was held three weeks later to seek answers to the devastation. It stated that it had “seemed as though the entire State of Victoria” was alight. Some of the finding from that commission still govern our fire practices today including the establishment of a State Fire Authority, which was realised in 1944 with the establishment of the Country Fire Authority.