Bush fires swept through the Towamba valley in 1926, 1929 and again in 1939 and 1951. Many graphic tales are told by the elderly residents who grew up in the area.
'The Forgotten Corner Interviews' contain several moving accounts of how the fires affected those who lived on remote properties and how the community helped those members who lost everything.
Brick homes were not common in the valley. Most houses were built from hardwood milled locally with weatherboards on the outside and not many of them were lined. It was common to paste newspaper on the inside walls which helped to insulate the rooms. Open fireplaces and tin chimneys were a continual hazard and accidents did happen. Open fires, dry wood and newspaper made a combustible combination.
ILENE. Yes, and he got burnt just above our place there. ('Lyndhurst' at Burragate)
ILENE. Yes. Copper Farrell. He got burnt and set the house on fire, he had a candle, I think and a curtain got alight. They'd come back from a sale at Wyndham, and we were in bed and I could hear this singing out and I thought it was a cow, and I got up and went out on the veranda and of course, I could see the flames were coming out from under the roof at that stage so I rung everybody around but he was properly burnt before anybody got there, a few bones they raked up, I think. He's buried down at Towamba.
....We lost a beautiful horse in the 1939 fire at Pericoe, that was a day and a half.
KATE. THAT WAS A PRETTY BAD ONE WASN'T IT? WAS THAT WHEN WILF INGRAM WAS BURNT OUT, AND 'HAYFIELD.'
ILENE. Yes, Wilf's was burnt out but at Pericoe only one house was lost and that was because....this was Arnold's, old Mrs. Arnold she had a kitchen from about here to the fence, away from the house and it was bark and that was why it got burnt. Between the road and the house there was a paddock of corn, they could have put their stuff out there and it would have been quite safe. But no, they took it out on to the bogged ground and you know what cow dung's like. Once that gets alight, it never goes out. You know, you read books and they call them 'Buffalo Chips' they use it for burning, its the same thing. And that's what they did. Old George nearly got burnt himself. My father finished up getting him out. He wouldn't leave and I remember he got him behind him on the horse and he was about fourteen or fifteen stone and my father wasn't skinny and this old horse carried them out and we all finished down at 'Pericoe Station' in the creek, the flat part of the creek. My mother was a very level headed woman but we could have been burnt to cinders because my father was no good for any bloody thing. He panicked. My mother sent us down to the bridge, the crossing, there was a nice patch of sand and a bit of water and she told us to go and wait there while she shut up the house. And my father came along and bullied in, 'Git down to the rest of the people so they know where they are!' 'Course, we started and got half way and we finished up sitting in a little puddle backing into a big rock, blackberries all over it which burnt off but my mother had a wet blanket which she put over us. 'Course I panicked and I was going to tear out at one stage and she grabbed me by the dress and pulled me off balance and I finished up in the puddle. No, my father was absolutely useless in a crisis. But after the fire went through...the rush of the fire goes through and then the rest burns off steadily. We were able to get through, I had a pair of tennis shoes to start but I lost those, I don't know how I got through the cinders and we were all sitting in the creek and this horse... Charlie had raced him all day and he let him go and instead of keeping him he let him go and of course, you open all the gates for the stock when there's a fire coming and he saw the other horses go down past and he thought he'd go and join them and he got halfway up the hill and the fire clapped him, like that, and he fell and got up again and it clapped him again, twice he was caught in it, and of course, the poor fellow came out and rolled in the sand and the skin all came off him, oh, it was dreadful. And this poor old Mrs.Arnold was there and she was about twenty-five stone, I think, and she said, 'Oh, I'm done,' and she sat in a heap of blackberries. How they got her out of it I don't know but anyway, I think somebody shot the horse. That was how it went. Those things stick in your brain. We had a setting hen and she came off and she collapsed and died and we had ferrets and there was three sheets of tin, one ferret survived in that, there was straw on the ground, one fellow died and one fellow survived. Oh, it was terrific heat! But my brother was riding the horse that got burnt and he raced him from 'Nungatta' or half way to 'Nungatta' and said they'd lost the fire and to make preparations to get things together. That was eleven o'clock and three o'clock it was on the wharf at Eden! It just went straight through. It was that quick. A fellow who lived at Shadrack's Creek, (south of Eden ) well he had a pig loose and it ran into the house behind the piano and it got burnt. No, she was a bad show.
*** Excerpt from the interview with Ilene Umback in 'The Forgotten Corner Interviews'.
Who was Annie?
Annie was the second eldest. Now, when Annie was eleven, or ten, she got burnt to death at Pericoe on the Alexander farm. They were clearing it. You see, in them times the land had to be cleared. The land was being cleared and it was up on a hill, the house was down below. And anyway they went burning off this day and by some means Elsie got up there and the mother sent Annie after Elsie, to bring Elsie home. When Annie went up to get Elsie, in those days they wore flannelette dresses in winter time, July, and flannelette dresses in those days were thick flannelette and anyway when she got up there and told Elsie to come back...Elsie would only be about two year old, and she ran away and Annie got after her and Annie got around the corner and a flame hit the back of her dress. She went up in flames. So you could imagine the mother's plight at the house. She come running down the hill, mother sang out to Gilbert to pull her down, she said to Gilbert, anyway, she ran past Gilbert and when she got down to the house...all she had on them times was a pair of leather boots, singlet, chemise, panties...they rushed her in and put her on the bed. It was kapok and she was so hot she set the bed on fire. And when the doctor come...they must have brought the doctor from Pambula, he said if she had of lived she'd have been a total invalid because all the oils was gone out of her. That relieved our mother from some of her grief. And my goodness me, what a sight! Yes...she was just eleven.
***Excerpt from the interview with Maria McMahon nee Ryan in 'The Forgotten Corner Interviews'
'The Sydney Morning Herald'
11 March 1876
BUSH FIRES.-The hot weather last week, in the Bega district, was marked by a succession of bush fires on all sides. At Brogo, the hill known as the "Pinch" was one mass of flames, and the country towards Merimbula, on the one side, and towards the Upper Brogo, was well scorched. At Sandy Creek, and Sam's Corner, the fires raged with great severity, and towards Merimbula the bush was on fire in many places. On the Big Jack's road the forests were on fire for miles, and the conflagration extended towards Towamba and Pussy-Cat. The only loss we hear of was among Mr. Black's survey gear. One of his tents and five or six saddles were destroyed. The rain of Sunday appears to have been pretty general; the fires were put out and the clouds of smoke dispersed. Since the above was in type, the Standard has received a letter from Mr. Jasper Blair to the effect that part of his camp was destroyed, including a large tent and five saddles, besides completely burning out two of his men.
'Pambula Voice' January 21, 1898
Fires are now not so prevalent and the temperature is greatly reduced.
'Pambula Voice' February 25, 1898
* Bush fires were raging all around when the rain came and it was just in time to prevent us from being burnt out.
'Pambula Voice' April 8, 1898
* A kitchen and out building owned by Mr. John Mitchell was consumed by fire on Saturday night.
'Pambula Voice' June 10, 1898
Some of the settlers in this locality were considerable losers by the recent fire at Eden when the I. S. N. Company store was destroyed. Mr. G. Love's losses amounted to £38, Mr. J. A. Love Snr., lost about £25, Mr. Tom Love £15, Mrs. John Alexander £4 or £5. The goods consisted of flour, furniture, galvanized iron, groceries, drapery, butter boxes, sugar and sundries. These losses are very serious and it appears the company ( in whose care the goods were) cannot be made to compensate the losers which seems to me a grievous hardship.
Jan 5, 1900
* News reached Pambula last week to the effect that "Lyndhurst" butter factory at Burragate had been totally destroyed by fire.
'Pambula Voice' March 30, 1900
A fire took place in our little township last Thursday, the premises occupied by Mr. Burgess, blacksmith, being totally destroyed. The house was left in charge of the children, the mother being away washing and it is supposed the children got playing with the fire and thus set the house alight. It is a severe loss to Mr. Burgess as the fire started so suddenly and burned so fiercely that hardly anything was saved. A movement is afloat to raise a subscription to relieve the distressed family.
Nov 9, 1904
* Towamba..... nearly surrounded by bushfiires.
Dec 31, 1904
* Disastrous bushfires - a terrible conflagration around Wyndham particularly.... Terrific fires rages through the Tantawanglo and Big Jack Mountains on Saturday night.
September 15, 1905
* Last night Messrs. Rayner Bros. had the misfortune to have their sawmill plant destroyed by fire. At an early hour this morning they were roused with the noise of the shed falling, to find the whole of the plant (excepting the engine) and some timber destroyed. The loss is a serious one to the owner and to the neighbourhood.
July 14, 1906
BURNT TO DEATH.
* The daughter of William Ryan, of Pericoe, near Towamba, aged 12 years, has been fatally burned to death.
November 2, 1906
* Messrs. Rayner Bros. have their new mill plant in full swing at Scotchies Creek.
December 29, 1909
'The Sydney Morning Herald'
DESTRUCTIVE BUSH FIRES.
CROPS AND FENCES CONSUMED.
* An extensive fire has raged here for a week. From the Fingerpost on the Yambulla side of Pericoe to Towamba, the country has been swept, although no dwellings have been destroyed. The farmers lost all their crops and fences. Messrs. Watson and Johnston were very heavy losers, and Mr. T. Love, besides fences, yards, and, outhouses, lost 100 tons of wattle bark. Indeed, at one time so dense was the smoke and fearsome the outlook that everything was abandoned, and families were gathered together preparatory to fleeing for their lives. Fortunately a thunderstorm passed over, and 68 points of rain fell in a few minutes. It saved the situation. About a mile of the supports of the Yambulla - Pericoe line were destroyed.
'Magnet' December 17, 1926.
CALAMITOUS CONFLAGRATION DEVASTATES THE FAR SOUTH.
The fateful Friday of last week, December 10th, 1926, will stand out prominently in the history of Eden and District, as the day on which the fire finally broke loose and swept with the full force of uncontrollable and destructive fury through the south-east coastal region of this State, leaving in its wake little but red ruin and scenes of appalling destruction. Seen from Eden, enormous clouds of smoke rising from the forest between Nethercote and the Towamba Road, betokened the existence there of a veritable inferno which fanned by the high wind, swept through Boydtown and Moutries, to the Kiah, missing fortunately, the old 'Seahorse Inn' of Ben Boyd fame.
Later in the day, under the influence of the north-westerly that had developed into a gale the flames swept blazing and with incredible swiftness, through the grass paddock and with an awful roar, through the bush beyond Cocora and Cattle Bay, then over Thompson's Point to the Lookout. At one time it looked as if the whole town would be swept away, so hopeless seemed the prospect of preventing the buildings in the main sections being set alight and destroyed.
The wharf was set alight several times by burning bark or leaves blown to it from burning trees a mile or more away. In the town, a windburst of cyclonic force wrecked the balcony of the Bank of New South Wales, and a massive chimney stack of the Great Southern Hotel.
The Kiah had its full share of misfortune, the R. C. Church was burnt down, as also were Mr. J. Davidson's home 'Kiah House' and the Store.
From Pambula, Lochiel, Merimbula, Wolumla, Candelo, Bega and far up the coast, terrific fires and consequential losses were reported. Passengers arriving at Eden by the S.S. 'Merimbula' last Saturday, said that all along the coast from far beyond Bermagui, extensive fires were raging. Ashes, leaves and even small branches of trees, fell on the steamer when miles out at sea; and small birds driven from the land by the intensive heat and smoke, sought refuge on the ship. The fire also destroyed the shingle roof of Boydtown Church, and one of Eden's hotels on Rose's Hill.
'Magnet' January 12, 1929
BUSH FIRES - WIDESPREAD DAMAGE
Wednesday was one of the worst days in regard to sultry weather that the South Coast has ever experienced and no place appears to have been exempt from the oppressive conditions which prevailed.
In Eden the heat was altogether exceptional and raised clouds of dust. The 'Magnet' barometer fell to 28.60, the lowest reading within memory and the thermometer within the coolest part of the office registered the record temperature of 103. The linotype operator estimated the temperature in which he worked to be 120 degrees. The heat everywhere was almost unprecedented and conditions generally were almost identical with those which prevailed on the day of the big bush fire which invaded Eden in December, 1926.
Towards midday fires were seen to spring up behind the East Boyd State pine forest further up towards Kiah then beyond Upper Kiah and a little later huge volumes of smoke which quickly obscured all the north-eastern horizon indicated that a fire was coming from Lochiel towards Nethercote.
Friday 11 January 1929
The Sydney Morning Herald
VILLAGES IN ASHES,
£30,000 Plant Destroyed
MILES OF FLAME.
RUIN IN PAMBULA DISTRICT.
Racing down to the grass plains from Mount Darragh, a bush fire swept through Wyndham, and completely wiped out the homes of Messrs. Jacob Umback and Mrs. W. Pheeney. Twenty pigs belonging to Mrs. Pheeney perished, and her motor car was destroyed.
Driven by a strong wind, the fire travelled on to Whipstick mines, where every building, except the school house, was reduced to ashes. The wattle bark extraction plant, which had cost £30,000, and the dwellings of Messrs. Taylor, Jones, David Robertson, Thomas Jones, Charles Tasker, and George Grant were among those that were burned out.
At Whipstick mines the wind caught up the burning debris, and carried it 10 miles away on to the properties at Lochiel of Messrs. Buckett, W. Smith, and McCabe, who saved their homes after desperately fighting the flames, but lost all their grass.
The flames then bounded on to Nethercote, where hundreds of acres of grass were burned out. The fire has demolished many miles of fencing, and also destroyed a waggon belonging to Mr. C. Farrell, a carrier, which was on Wyndham road.
'Magnet' January 12, 1929
Soon afterwards an urgent message was received from Nethercote that helpers were urgently needed there and Mr. W. I. Swinnerton motored out a party of five. They found that the fire had come in from Lochiel through an unoccupied property known as 'Bucket's' on to the properties of Messers Jim Severs Snr., and Walter De La Mare. On Mr. Severs' property a good deal of fencing and grass was destroyed. Mr. De La Mare faired much worse losing almost all his grass and a lot of fencing. The fire approached very close to farm buildings and had not the wind opportunely changed round to the south-east both he and Mr. Severs would probably have lost everything. Willing workers got the situation in hand on these properties and several went to assist Mr. Cyril Legge who was having a lively time in saving the Burton property which he is occupying. With night the wind fell and a cool change set in considerably minimising the danger both to Nethercote and to the Broadwater State pine forest towards which a front of the fire was heading.
Volunteers were called for during the afternoon to go over to the East Boyd pine forest and a number responded. Towards evening the bay was completely obscured by smoke. It was feared that the pine plantation had gone. The next morning it was ascertained that the fighters, about fifteen in number, were holding the fire which was coming in on Mr. Logan's side (Edrom Lodge) and that as long as conditions remained as they were the plantation was not in any great danger. The fire fighters are being well looked after, Mrs. George Davidson having returned to the old home for the time being to keep them supplied with food.
'Magnet' January 12, 1929
DEVASTATION AT MOUNT DARRAGH AND WYNDHAM
Terrible devastation was wrought by the fire about Mount Darragh and Wyndham. At Mount Darragh the fire swept down on to the road camps burning some 140 tents in No. 6 (camp) and exploding a 6 ton powder magazine. The explosion blew a hole in the earth 40 feet deep and nearly 2 chains wide. The vibration wreaked windows at Wyndham and Pambula and was felt as far away as Eden. The crash like a mighty thunder crack was heard all over the district. Mr. M. Egan Jnr., of Eden lost his tent and belongings including, he says, a coat in which he had left saved up wages totalling £50. He recovered a few blackened coins. Mr. Bert Underhill's store was burnt. The residences of Messers Jacob Umback, W. J. Pheeney near Wyndham and Mr. D. Robertson's new residence at Honeysuckle were destroyed. The Reverend J. L. Forbes who was living with Mr. Robertson (his son-in-law) lost his valuable library.
At Wyndham, so bad was the situation that terrified residents flocked to the court house which being of brick was the safest place of refuge. Fowls in the police station yard nearby were scorched to death.
At Whipstick, the homes of Messers Tom Schafer, George Grant, T. Jones and L. Taylor and the buildings and £30,000 plant of the defunct Whipstick Wattle Bark Extract Company were all destroyed. The school, slightly out of the line of the fire was the only building that escaped.
Falling embers started a fire on Mr. A. Smith's farm, 'Six Mile' but it was quickly subdued.
Mr. Christy Farrell who turned his team of bullocks out at the Burragate turnoff near Honeysuckle and went to help fight the fire returned to find only the ironwork of his wagon left.
Honeysuckle bridge was partly destroyed and several culverts on the Wyndham-Burragate Road are badly damaged. A temporary crossing has been made at Honeysuckle.
At Lochiel Messers W. J. and Alf Buckett, P. Smith and McCabe Bros. lost practically the whole of their grass. Buildings and stock escaped.
'Magnet' January 12, 1929
At Upper Kiah a big fire swept in from the back on to the properties of Messers D. Doyle and S. Harris whose homes, with Mr. Pat Doyle's new residence, were saved with great difficulty. They are heavy losers of grass and fencing.
Yesterday the Wyndham police phoned the district coroner Mr. A. I. Nicholson, Eden, that the fire's toll in that area was as follows:
Houses occupied, (destroyed) Mr. Jacob Umback's, Mrs. H. A. Pheeney's, Messers David Robertson's, George Grant's, Thomas Schafer's, Thomas Jones', Lindon Taylor's.
Houses unoccupied (destroyed) Mrs. Pheeney. (2)
Two Main Roads Board camps and magazine of explosives.
Whipstick Wattle Bark Extract Company, £30,000 worth of buildings and plant.
Sheds: Messers J. Whitby's, Foss Schafer's, William Hall's, L. Whitby.
Mr. Christy Farrell's bullock wagon, miles of fencing, an incalculable area of grass and livestock, number yet unknown.
'Magnet' April 12, 1930
* Mr. Oscar Love has been through a grueling experience when some weeks ago a fire broke out near Indigo, he went to give assistance. After the fire was beaten, he, with some other young men, went for a swim to cool off. A few days later, he became very ill and the doctor informed him he was fortunate in not losing his life after such an act. After spending a couple of weeks in bed having careful attention, he is now well on the way to recovery. Curiously enough the other young fellows suffered no ill effects.
'Magnet' September 30, 1930
* A fire broke out in the property known as 'Cram's' near the 'One Mile' on Saturday and several people turned out to fight it but it was successfully extinguished by Sunday's squalls.
'Magnet' January 3, 1931
* Wyndham store burnt down on New Year's Eve. Mr. Turbet owned it. Mr. Foley owned store goods which were uninsured.
Friday 13 January, 1939
TRAPPED BY FLAMES
A man died in the Bega District Hospital late yesterday from burns suffered when his clothes were burned off his body in a bush fire which he had been helping to fight near Bega.
He was W. Underhlll, of Bega Underhill was on horseback, and when the wind changed he was suddenly hemmed in by a wall of flame. While he was making a dash for safety his horse fell, and, recovering, it galloped away through the burning timber, leaving Underhlll to make his way through the fire on foot.
He eventually came out of the danger zone with his clothes burned off his body. He was shockingly burned all over the legs, body, and face, and was immediately rushed to hospital by ambulance.
Fire-fighters were being called out from the town all yesterday to fight fires on properties five miles west of the town. More than 100 men were called out to Snooper's Gully, and they saved the farms and homesteads of Jack Heirgenhan and Len Hetherington. A lot of fencing and grass was destroyed. A horse which Arthur Higgins was riding was so badly burned that it had to be destroyed.
One of the worst bush fires known in the district west of Eden occurred yesterday, when flames on a seven-mile front near Baelcoola, which had been kept in check for seven days, crossed a firebreak and raced seaward.
The roar of the oncoming conflagration was heard eight miles away. As it swept through the Pericoe and Towamba districts farmers liberated their stock in an attempt to save them, but many cattle, sheep, and poultry perished in the flames. Women and children were hurried to the river bed at Towamba, while men strove, in many cases unavailingly, to save their homes. Pericoe School and the post-office were destroyed. There was an estimated loss of 1,000 tons of nearly marketable (wattle) bark.
ASH WEDNESDAY, 1939
This is the story of four-year-old Lola Arnold who was born at Pericoe and lived through the horror.
The 'Sydney Morning Herald' Wednesday, 11 January, 1939:
"The Victorian bushfires continue to ravish the country...Bega on the south coast was encircled by flames yesterday. A residence at Pericoe about 40 miles from the town was destroyed, and others are in grave danger."
The 'Sydney Morning Herald' Thursday, 12 January, 1939:
"The homes of six families were destroyed yesterday in the Bega district. Those whose homes were lost include Messrs. L. King, South, Wilfred Ingram and George Arnold. Mr Arnold lost everything he possessed except the clothes he and his family were wearing. At Pericoe and Towamba 27 men, women and children are homeless. The school building was also destroyed.
Dad was away fighting the fires with other men of the district. We hadn't seen him for several days but we were not too worried about the fires as this was a regular summer happening for Pericoe. We really did not expect it to affect us too much as our home was in a cleared area and quite a way from the nearest bush even though its construction was slabs and weathered timber. Grandfather George Arnold had lived here for more than forty years, on Alf Alexander's dairy farm know as 'The One Mile'. My dad Frank was his youngest son in a family of fifteen children and in German tradition he lived at home to work and care for his aged parents.
I don't remember Dad returning home but Mum tells me that he returned early in the morning of Wednesday, 11 January, from fighting the fires. We all sat around the large table for some breakfast as Dad told the family that there was no hope of stopping the gigantic fire that was headed in our direction so the men had been sent home to protect their families.
It should have been daylight by this time but the sky was black and we could smell the smoke. Dad walked down the long track that was our entrance to the road where there was a large square rock he used as a lookout. From this point he could see the first of the flames heading in our direction. He ran back to the house and told us to quickly get some blankets and he would take my Mum, Joyce, Granny Sarah Arnold, my baby brother Gordon who was just a year old, and me, now a grown up four-year-old, to the river which was just a short distance away. At the river, or creek as it was now because of the drought, we met our neighbours the Galea and Laing families whose women and younger children were sheltering there with blankets to cover their heads from the thick smoke. We settled ourselves on some rock slabs but Granny was a huge lady of seventeen stone with badly ulcerated legs and she could not get down to a safe place in the creek bed so Dad left us and raced back to the house to get a kitchen stool for her to sit on.
After settling us Dad returned to the house where Grandfather George Arnold was trying to rescue some belongings from the house and put them in a cleared safe place further up the paddock out of reach of the fire. Among the goods was my precious Christmas present, a large celluloid doll. The women and children stayed in the river, the fire came over and passed and the house was saved. The fire surrounded us and we could see the flames leaping to the sky abut heading away from us. The dress of one of the young Laing girls caught alight and Mum ripped it off her and then took off her petticoat to give the girl to wear. We had wet blankets over our heads so that we could breath. There were lizards and a snake in the water near us and a tiny bird perched in Granny Arnold's hair. It was all an exciting adventure for the children. Dad and Grandfather stayed back at the house to see if they could do anything to protect it.
Then everything changed!
The wind changed and brought the leaping flames back down from the mountain. Sparks caught the willows behind us, and the wild wind swept flames straight towards the homestead. A spark caught the open hayloft where Dad and Grandfather were. From the burning loft it was just a short distance to the house. They tried to save the house but the wind was too strong. A falling limb hit Grandfather and a neighbour dragged him away to safety on his horse.
Mum had told Dad to try and get the suitcase that held the baby nappies and clothes, so he went back into the smoke-filled house looking for it. He grabbed it and was heading out when a ceiling beam collapsed on him, burning his face badly. My uncle Joe had arrived by this time and dragged both Dad and the suitcase out of the flames, just in time so see the celluloid doll explode in the heat and set fire to all the goods that Dad and Grandfather had saved.
Back at the river we were unaware of all this drama but we were horrified to see a fireball hit a horse that was sheltering nearby. It screamed and ran around in circles until the poor thing collapsed in a heap on the ground. This is still a vivid memory that I connect with the smell of bushfire smoke.
Trauma seems to have obliterated my memory of the remainder of that day. Mum has been able to fill the gaps for me. Uncle Joe had taken Dad and Grandfather down to the Alexander's Station house where their daughter Joy, who was a nurse, could attend to the burns. When all the men returned to take us from the creek, Mr. Galea was missing however he had been trapped behind the fire and later returned safely.
Alf Alexander's home was spared and he cared for my Dad and Sarah and George Arnold until a few days later when Uncle Bill, who was a police inspector in Sydney, sent a car for them to go to Bondi to their daughter Mary's home. The suitcase that had almost cost Dad his life and thought to be baby clothes turned out to be just my dress maker mother's sewing scraps.
Uncle Joe drove Dad's car and took Mum, Dad, Gordon and me to Wyndham to the Holdsworth home where we stayed until Friday, the 13th. There were twelve children in the Holdsworth family and so very little room for more boarders. Again Uncle Bill had arranged for us to go to Dapto and stay with Dad's brother Wally until we could find somewhere else to live. Dad decided the danger had passed and it would be alright for us to try and get to Uncle Wally's.
Friday, 13th January, 1939
The next thing I remember is being in a car with a man driving (Mum says it was Jim Brownlie, another Uncle), with Dad, his face bandaged, Mum and Baby Gordon, and we were being driven through the bushfires. Trees were alight on both sides of the road and the car was a tourer about 1926 with just celluloid curtains for windows. Mum tells me that many times Jim Brownlie would stop the car and ask Dad if he thought we should go on or turn back. However at Wyndham the crisis had passed and Dad thought it was now safe to take us to Dapto to Uncle Wally's house. With Jim Brownlie driving, we set out early on Friday but as we travelled north we again encountered the fires. The men decided it was too dangerous to stop so the decision was to continue on in the hope that we would soon be through the fires.
We were not to know then but Friday 13, January 1939 was the day more than 1000 homes were lost and seventy people (SMH) lost their lives in the Victorian bushfires. The Sydney Morning Herald screamed "Black Friday" and the temperatures were recorded at record heats of 116 degrees Fahrenheit.
We drove all through the fires, until we reached a hotel in Cobargo, which was still standing in 1995 when I revisited the district. It had stairs! I had never been in a building with stairs and I vividly remember being taken up the stairs where I was washed, put into clean clothes and put to bed. People in the village came to our assistance and provided new clothes from the local shop opposite the hotel. Dad's burns, and baby Gordon's back also burned, received attention. I had escaped with just a small burn on my arm.
With clean clothes, a good meal and a few hours rest we set off again for Dapto. Travelling through blackened country we thought we were through the fires when once again the flames appeared and the men had to decide whether to continue or return. Night was now falling and I remember the look of the whole forest alight in the dark night. Our trip continued until flashing lights appeared on the road at Milton. It was the police looking for us as the hotel at Cobargo had notified them that we were travelling through. We were taken to the police station where we spent the next few days until danger had passed and we could continue to Dapto.
After a short time there Dad was moved to Goulburn to work and Mum, Gordon and I went back to live with Grandmother Holdsworth at Numbugga. Grandfather Arnold, Uncle Joe and some of our neighbours built a temporary residence again at Pericoe, where we lived until May 1940 when Uncle Bill sent a car to bring the family to live in Sydney.
Grandfather George never recovered from the loss of his home and life in Pericoe and died a short time later in September 1940.
Family background of Lola Arnold Workman
With 15 children in the Arnold family and 13 in my mum's Holdsworth family I had many cousins, aunts and uncles in the area. To add to this, my grandmother, Sarah Arnold, was an Atkins whose sister married into the Laing and Umback line so this related us to most of the district.
German-born Johann Josef Arnold settled in Bombala in 1855 where he worked as a shepherd. Following his death in the 1880's his wife and children leased the Rocky Hall Hotel and then in 1895 they moved to Towamba where Grandfather George Arnold and his mother Eva leased the Towamba Hotel.
With permission from Lola Workman.
Source: The Valley Genealogist. February 2003
'The Magnet & Voice' January 31, 1952
SOUTH COAST DEVASTATED BY RAGING FIRES
Twenty Homes Destroyed In Shire
Fires, which had been burning slowly in many areas over the past few weeks, were whipped up by the hot north-westerly on Friday morning last and became avenging monsters of red flames and choking smoke which hungrily devoured all before it and left in its wake smoldering ruins of houses, blackened trees and bare scorched earth which would bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened observer.
Friday, January 25, 1952 will live in the memories of our present generation as the day of the most devastating and destructive fires ever experienced on the Far South Coast.
Early in the morning a fierce hot north-west wind was in evidence and it soon became apparent that trouble was brewing for the coastal area.
FIRE NEAR TIMBER MILL
At about 11 am, a fire broke out at the back of Ireland-Timms Mill and they were soon fighting desperately to save the mill and homes.
Assistance soon arrived from other mills and residents of Eden and the blaze was kept from spreading to the mill buildings.
The fire extended along the Princes Highway and fire fighters succeeded in saving the home of Mr. A. D. Smith about a quarter of a mile south of the mill.
A wall of fire then swept down from the Nethercote hills and quickly enveloped the property "St. Audries" but miraculously left the home of Mr. J. Burgess standing whilst those of Mr. R. Kebby and Mr. R. smith also escaped.
This fire joined forces with the fire near the sawmill and a change of wind sent it racing towards the Cannery at Cattle Bay.
EDEN'S NARROW ESCAPE
The fire, driven by the strong wind, jumped over Cattle Bay and set grass alight on Thompson's Point.
Within minutes this fire was racing up the hill towards the main portion of the town.
Volunteer fire-fighters were quickly on the scene but could not prevent the home of Mr. Tom McCrory from catching and it burst into flames and was consumed in a matter of a few minutes.
Fences and outhouses of the homes along Cocora and Imlay Streets were quickly burned but the homes were saved after a desperate battle. Women and children filled containers of all descriptions with water and carried them to the fire-fighters.
CHANGE OF WIND
Wharf Hill was quickly enveloped in flames and smoke and the fire-fighters were grimly fighting a losing battle up Albert Terrace when the wind suddenly changed again and halted the fire. Grass burnt to within inches of some of the homes on Wharf Hill and even charred flooring under others and water taken from the already low tanks alone saved these homes.
DAYLIGHT TURNED TO DARKNESS BY SMOKE
The pall of smoke over the township at 3.30 pm was so dense that it turned daylight into darkness and cars were forced to travel at a crawling pace with lights full on.
The thanks of fire-fighters is extended to Mrs. J. P. Black and Misses M. Welsh and C. Switzer who were always on hand with liquid refreshments and food.
MUCH DAMAGE AT LOCHIEL
Quite early in the morning telephone calls commenced to come into Pambula from Six Mile and Lochiel for help to combat the fires.
Mr. E.C. Hyland immediately placed his taxi at the disposal of those who wished to go and help their friends. On arrival at Six Mile the whole countryside was a raging furnace with the small band of residents fighting desperately to save their homes, which very luckily they did.
By this time the news had spread and there was scarcely a male left in Pambula, all having boarded trucks of Messers. John Newlyn, E.C. Hyland and Chas. Macquire, who conveyed them to the fire area.
Mr. Jev. Bennett was kept busy with his water truck filling up with water and racing to the scene of the fires.
The Six Mile Bridge had to be abandoned as hopeless but fortunately a load of fighters came in from Wyndham and saved the bridge from destruction by the use of fire hoses.
BUILDINGS AND FENCES DESTROYED
From Six Mile the fire raced over the hill in its mad career and was soon devouring the out-buildings, fences and grasslands at the homes of Messrs. Bert Cusack, Fred Smith, Isaac Gordon, Fred Davis, Ted Doyle, A. Clarke. R. M. Hart (Post Office), Public School and residence, Cecil, Harold and Stan Gordon, Bernie Smith, Stan Sawyers, E. Weatherhead, J. Coughran and George Macgrath.
The homes of Mr. A Clarke and Mr. Bernie Smith were the only ones lost.
Those who took part in fighting around these homes describe it as miraculous that the loss of homes amounted to only two as all outbuildings, fences, etc., were completely destroyed.
Fortunately the destroyed fences enabled the dairy herds and other stock to "go bush" and we are informed that the losses in this direction were light in comparison with other losses.
BUTTER FACTORY THREATENED
By this time the wind veered to the south-west and flames were racing towards the Pambula Butter Factory and around the back of the hill overlooking Pambula. Mr. W. Went realising the danger, removed some of his valuable furniture to safety.
After lunch Messrs. Pitt Warn and Harry Beveridge's trucks arrived from Merimbula with a further batch of fire-fighters whose assistance was appreciated by those who had been fighting all the morning.
Residents of Pambula were becoming scared when the fire spread to the grassy flat at the back of Father O'Carrol's but the fighters were able to check its progress.
This fire was lit by a spark travelling from the fire three miles away.
With a change in the wind to a southerly fresh dangers became imminent at Mr. H. Kirk's residence but, with assistance, this was brought under control.
Mr. F. J. Legge, who lives at the top end of Nethercote, (who, by the way, took the full brunt of the fire of Dec. 1926) called for help and his home was saved but a considerable lot of grass and fencing were destroyed.
SOME NARROW ESCAPES
The loss to the district cannot yet be assessed but it is considered to be very substantial. All places in the fire zone are completely scarred with fences gone and not a blade of grass.
Fortunately there was no loss of life and stock losses small.
Mr. and Mrs. Archie Clark, who live below the Post Office, Lochiel, had a narrow escape they being lucky to get away with what they stood up in. Their invalid son had to be carried to safety by his uncle Bert, who narrowly escaped. After the fire Mrs. Clark was admitted to the Pambula Hospital suffering from burns and shock.
Mr. and Mrs. Fred Smith had to flee and take refuge in a creek.
Mr. and Mrs. Bernie Smith's losses are extensive as they lost all they possessed, including clothing for their two young children. At the time of the fire Mrs. Smith's brother and sister-in-law were staying with them on their honeymoon and they also lost everything.
At Bald Hills the residents were fortunate, the fire having missed their end, but at the time of writing they are keeping a watch for any trouble which may develop.
In Merimbula the heat was intense with the thermometer reaching 108 degrees. The smoke together with burnt leaves falling in the village alarmed some residents……..took the precaution of ......some water ready for …necessary, but fortunately was not required.
Mr. H. Williams and Mr. King (Brown Café), have opened a subscription list for those in distress in the Pambula area.
The Merimbula residents started a subscription…fodder with the ….£370 has been…….and this sum will….Central Fund. (pieces of the newspaper missing)
DESTRUCTION AT WONBOYN
A fire passed through Narrabarba destroying the homes of Mr. Dave Jones and Miss F. McCloy. Mr. J.N. Palmer, after a desperate fight and with the assistance of some timber men and a tourist, managed to save his home but lost all his outbuildings and fences.
Others caught in the area took shelter in a bean paddock.
Reports have been received that stock losses in this area have been heavy.
The fire then traveled at an amazing speed through a large belt of timber to Wonboyn.
One resident, Mr. Albert McCamish, stated that the fire roared over the hill and down on to the homes clustered on the water's edge.
A ball of fire passed one hundred feet above the home of Mr. McCamish and….in front of the……residence was ……
The luxury …..Oliver together with the…..of Dr. D. Evans, L. Hem….& sons, and Mr. Charlie…..were completely guttered by the fire. A number of .were also destroyed.
The heat was so intense that the residents were forced to wade into the middle of the lake to escape. (Pieces of the newspaper missing)
'The Magnet & Voice' February 7, 1952
TOWAMBA ENDANGERED BY FIRES
A fire which came from the vicinity of Ryan's Creek, broke out in serious proportions at Towamba last Thursday and fire fighters had to battle desperately to prevent it from wiping out the village.
Driven by the hot westerly wind, the fire swept towards the property of V.J. Clements and crossed the Towamba road and endangered C.B. McDonald's home but this was stopped by the local people before much damage could be done.
The fire then swept towards the town where the team of fire-fighters fought hard to make a break to prevent the flames spreading amongst the homes.
At about 6.30 pm, a call for help was sent to Eden and about 40 volunteers crowded Mr. Dick Edwards's bus and arrived in time to relieve the local fighters who had been hard at it for days and were pleased to have the breather.
Local residents were very thankful of this assistance and with this added aid the fires were brought under control.
About 2 am a light drizzle of rain came and dampened the fires very effectively until daylight.
The power spray of the Towamba Bush Fire Brigade was then used and was very effective in quenching the existing fires and was later used in combating smaller fires which spasmodically broke out.
Luckily the fires have not done any damage of note.
COTTAGES BEING ERECTED FOR BUSH FIRE VICTIMS
Nine allocated to District
The Eden Bush Fire Relief committee met last Monday and much progress was reported in regard to arrangements for housing the victims of recent fires.
Mr. Brassington reported that nine new garage type cottages had already been erected at Palestine for Mrs. H. Bobbin. The cottage is 20 ft x 12 ft and was erected in two days by about ten men.
Mr. E. Stuckey reported that Eden district had been allocated nine prefabricated temporary homes.
Four, and if possible five, more cottages will be erected on Saturday and Sunday by volunteer gangs of men. These cottages will be for Mr. T. McCrory, Mr. J. De La Mare, Mr. H.L. Veness and Mr. C. Veness. It is hoped to erect the remaining cottages next weekend.
Timber for these cottages is being cut by the local sawmills and each mill has undertaken to cut timber for one cottage at cost.
The Committee decided to meet the cost of the flooring for the cottages as no allowance was made for these items by the Central Committee at Bega. Mr. C.S. Goward generously offered to cut the timber free of cost.
Letters of thanks are to be forwarded to the Eden Fisherman's Club and Buffalo Lodge in appreciation of their generous contributions to the funds.
The President and Secretary reported on the visit by the New South Wales Relief Committee who inspected the area and gave information regarding the part to be played by their organization.
'Magnet' January 29, 2009
FIRE FIGHTING ACES TAKE TO THE SKIES
The fire at Jingo Rock was called into 000 by a local Wyndham resident early on Saturday morning. A lightning strike is believed to have started the fire. The fire is currently burning in the Egan Peaks Nature Reserve, seven kilometers south west of the village of Wyndham and 15 kilometers west of the township of Pambula. According to the NSW Rural Fire Service, the last fire through the area was back in the '70s when a fire that started in the same vicinity burnt through Lochiel and down to the coast following a wind change. The weather reports for this week are for continuing hot temperatures. Easterly winds have been keeping humidity levels up which moderates the fire behaviour.
"Forecasts for hotter and drier winds on Thursday will challenge our control lines," said Stephen Dovey, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service area manager.
Residents of the Wyndham and Burragate areas have been watching an aerial battle unfold this week as fire-fighting activity has kept the skies abuzz above these normally quiet and peaceful rural locations.
In scenes that recall airfield battle preparations, the Wyndham sports ground has become a fire staging area, helipad and refueling site for the seven helicopters and on-ground firefighters that are engaging in battle on a daily basis.
The fire is burning in an isolated area inaccessible to vehicles. Crews from all fire fighting services have joined up in an attempt to contain it.
On Sunday fire retardant was being dropped by fixed wing aircraft to create fire break lines. The steep and rugged terrain has challenged pilots to lay down a good retardant line but according to those on the ground they have done a great job.
On Australia Day (Monday) the sports ground was a hive of activity with helicopters landing and taking off every 10 or so minutes. Activity continued right up until 8 pm when the last water bombing runs were made.
As Tuesday morning dawned the fire continued to pose no threat to private property. However at least six water bombing helicopters and two fixed wing planes were continuing the campaign.
Stephen Dovey, National Parks area manager advised that the fire covers about 20 hectares. We've been putting in a large effort because this is a fire that will burn for a long time unless there is rain. We've been setting down fire and retardant lines. At least one of these lines has been broken. It's important that people understand that we are putting this effort in now to stop it from becoming a larger fire needing a lot more resources. We are pleased to have the support of local landowners who have given us access through their properties and phoned us to let us know that our helicopters are welcome to pick up water from their dams. I would like to thank the Wyndham community for their support," Mr Dovey said.
|View of Egan Peaks Nature Reserve
on fire from Towamba. January 2009
Bega District News
BURRAGATE FIRE KILLS RIDER
A prominent show ring rider, Mr. Leslie James "Copper" Farrell, was burnt to death on Friday night.
The tragedy occurred when the house in which Mr. Farrell was sleeping, at Burragate, was completely destroyed by fire.
The late Mr. Farrell's father, Mr. David John Farrell, 74, who was in the same house, escaped from the fire with minor burns.
The two men had been to a cattle sale at Wyndham, on Friday, and had returned home later that evening. Mrs. Farrell, the wife of Mr. Farrell Snr., was in Sydney on holidays.
The two men cooked a meal and sat by an open fire, Mr. Farrell snr., going to bed first in a room in the front of the house. His son slept in a room at the rear of the house.
Mr. Farrell said that his son had gone outside to attend to the horses and after they had gone to bed, they talked for a while through the room partitions. Later, at about 10 o'clock, Mr. Farrell heard his son call out and he went to investigate. He found that the house was ablaze and he could do nothing to help his son.
The small weatherboard house had tanks for a water supply and was about one and a half miles outside the small settlement of Burragate. Mr. Farrell attracted the attention of Mr. Stan Umback who lived about half a mile away, but there was nothing that could be done.
Constable J. Trent, who investigated the tragedy with Detective J. Avery, of Bega, said the house burnt fiercely, being lined with a light inflammable type of lining. The fire may have started from the open fireplace as electric power was not connected.
The date of the coroner's inquest into the tragedy had not been fixed yesterday.
The late Mr. Farrell, who was 39 years of age, was a very well known show-ring rider.
This tragedy has taken one of the most popular personalities from the local show rings, for "Copper" was everybody's friend through his friendly manner, courage and splendid sportsmanship.
He rode with tremendous natural ability and was never worried by the difficulties and height of the obstacles, although his eyesight was somewhat impaired.
The last image of "Copper" will be a solid, little man - becoming a little rotund - strolling into the ring leading his pony high jumper 'Robin', filled with quiet expectancy for the contest ahead.
If he won he was reserved in his elation, and if he lost he celebrated with the winner.
"Copper" took some unnerving bumps when he crashed to the ground in a mix-up with horse and bars, but had to be incapable of rising from the ground before he would submit to first-aid attention. This son of the bush, and disciple of hard riding, never accepted the modern equestrian style, but he appreciated the technique and enjoyed watching the events.
The young, modern riders were his great champions, and he was not one to become lugubrious about the days before "the fancy riding" took over.
Perhaps everybody took this good chap too much for granted, and now that he has gone his unostentatious strolling into the local rings will be missed, and show-ring people will recall his deeds when the horses assemble for the high jump.
His funeral left the Church of England Church, Towamba, after a Presbyterian service, for the Towamba Cemetery. The Rev. R. G. McKinnon conducted the services.
|"Copper" Farrell and 'Robin' sailing
high jump at the Bega District Show, in the
Photo courtesy Leo Farrell.
|All that was left after Copper Farrell's
house burnt down. Burragate.
Photo K. Clery