#OnThisDay ( #OTD ) – 88 years ago, Good Friday, March 25th, 1932, a terrible and frightening railway accident occurred for a family on holidays from Cobram whilst passing through Wattle Glen.
As reported on page 1 of the Advertiser, Friday 1 April 1932 and many other newspapers throughout Melbourne and the country.
Railway Accident at Wattle Glen
TRAIN DERAILED IN LEVEL CROSSING ACCIDENT MOTOR CAR TORN TO PIECES OCCUPANTS HAVE MARVELLOUS ESCAPES
A sensation went through the district when it became known that there had been a railway accident at Wattle Glen on Good Friday morning. All sorts of alarming rumors were current, and it was a relieved community which learned that, although the train had been derailed and a motor car almost torn to pieces, all the persons who were in the train and car escaped with comparatively minor injuries.
Traffic on the line was completely disorganised for some time as a section of the line had been torn up by the train when it left the rails, and until the line was repaired and the necessary repairs made, a fleet of taxis and a railway bus were used to carry on.
The accident occurred about 11.40 a.m. when the 11.10 a.m. “up’ train was travelling from Hurstbridge to Melbourne. The train was almost entering the Wattle Glen station when the mishap occurred.
Mr. Donald F. Paterson, manager of the Bank of Australasia at Cob-ram, with his wife and two children, had arrived from Cobram on the day before, and had spent the night with Mrs. Paterson’s mother (Mrs. Herbert), whose home is near the station.
Set Out for the Beach
They had decided to visit the beach, and were on their way to reach the Hurstbridge-Melbourne road.
Waited for Another Car
At the railway crossing Mr. Paterson, waited a while to allow another car travelling in the opposite direct-ion, to negotiate the crossing first, and then proceeded. When his car was on the crossing it was struck broadside on by the train.
Hurled Over Culvert
The car was dragged broadside on for some distance, and was then hurled over into a culvert on the west side of the line.
The train, the two leading carriages of which had left the line, continued on, lurching sickeningly as the derailed wheels ploughed up the permanent way.
Post Snapped Like a Reed
The head of the train wobbled from side to side, carrying before it an 18-inch post used to support the over-head electrical equipment. This pole was, snapped like a reed, and did not decrease the speed of the runaway train to any appreciable extent.
All this time the air brakes had been applied, and when the train eventually came to a standstill the leading carriages were canted over at a dangerous angle.
The injured were:
Donald Fary Paterson, aged 36 years, manager of the Bank of Australasia, Cobram. Bruises and shock.
Mary Winifred Paterson, his wife, aged 32 years. Broken bone in right foot and shock.
Richard Paterson, aged 6 years, and Betty Paterson, aged 2 years, their children. Slight abrasions and shock.
J. Howse, driver of train. Shock.
Mrs M. Barnes, Hurstbridge, passenger on the train. Shock.
After the Accident
An inspection of the site revealed a mass of torn up line, whilst the car was literally a mass of twisted scrap iron: -The culvert over which the car had been hurled, and where there is a drop of about 12 feet, was badly splintered, and it is a wonder that the train did not follow the car when it went over the culvert.
To the Rescue
Mr. James McCannon, who was working In his garden, nearby, heard the crash and rushed over to give what assistance he could. There were others also in the neighborhood who hurried to the scene.
Mrs .Paterson was limping about, searching frantically for her two children, completely ignoring the terrible pain from her injured foot. Searchers found Mr. Paterson pinned beneath the wreckage of the car, and across his knees was his son, Richard. The daughter Beatrice was found on the road at the crossing, she apparently having been thrown clear of the car at the time of the impact.
In the train were only the driver (Motorman Howse), the guard, and one passenger (Mrs. Barnes, of Hurstbridge).
The driver had a marvelous escape, his cabin being splintered when It struck the pole carrying the overhead gear, but he escaped with bruises and a few lacerations caused by glass from the broken windscreen of his cabin. The roof of the driver’s compartment had been splintered, and the front crushed.
Mrs. Barnes had a nerve-wracking experience. She was tossed from side to side as the train lurched on its way after leaving the track, sustaining shock and considerable bruising. She was taken to a nearby residence, and after resting awhile recovered sufficiently to return home.
Motorists took Mr. and Mrs. Paterson to the Eltham Hospital, where they were admitted for treatment, and their two children were taken to the home of Mr. Paterson’s mother at Greensborough.
Passengers to Eltham, Diamond Creek on the trains following hear all sorts of sensational rumors of what had happened. At Heidelberg passengers were told that the train was not going any further, but after some time all got aboard again, and the train proceeded to Eltham, where all passengers were again told to get out. They finally re-embarked and were taken to Diamond Creek, from which station they continued their interrupted journeys by taxis and a railways motor bus, which continued the interrupted service. Passengers, who left Melbourne for Hurstbridge at about 11 a.m. finally reached their destination at about 3 p.m.
Restoring the Damage
The railways officials were soon on the spot, and immediately work was started to rebuild the tracks and re store the overhead gear. Work continued throughout the day and all Friday night, normal running being resumed about midday on Saturday.
The derailed carriages were not re placed on the rails until a quarter to 6 o’clock on Friday evening. During this operation one of the large hooks of the steam crane pierced the wood work of a carriage, causing consider able damage.
Mr. Paterson said he did not see the train until it was almost on his car, his attention having been occupied in seeing that another car got clear of the crossing before he negotiated it. Had he not waited for that car he would have cleared the crossing in ample time.
Motorman House said that at this spot the line curved. He was emphatic that he sounded his siren as he approached the spot. His view of the crossing was obscured by sap lings at the curve and he saw the first car get clear, but did not see Paterson’s car as it was on the “blind” side of his cabin.
Mrs. Barnes; who is staying at Cr. J. Ryan’s house, is still suffering very much from shock. Mr. and Mrs. Ryan were in Sale at the time of the accident, but returned as soon as they heard of it.
Mr. J. Howse has been off duty since the accident.
The sub-station at Greensborough was also damaged on account of the heavy surge of current which blew the fuses and damaged the switches. It is expected that the damage to the railways will amount to over £1,000.
It is understood that the insurance on the motor car that was smashed expired the previous week.
#ThrowbackThursday – 50 years ago, the Shire of Eltham Historical Society (now Eltham District Historical Society) worked closely with acclaimed and distinguished Australian author, Alan Marshall in preparing a history of the Shire of Eltham to celebrate its centenary in 1971. The book, Pioneers & Painters: One Hundred Years of Eltham and its Shire, edited by Alan Marshall was the result of that effort and was published in 1971.
Here we see Alan dictating part of the manuscript for Pioneers & Painters to his secretary, Pat Wiltshire, in his bungalow located at 13 Park Road, Eltham in 1970 (now 13 Park West Road). The bungalow was built c.1955 and was Alan’s home from about 1955 to 1980. It is located at the rear of the house, which at the time was owned by Marshall’s sister, Margaret McIntyre Marshall. It is understood the property was sold in September 1981. Marshall died 21 January 1984 and is buried at Nillumbik Cemetery, Diamond Creek.
The Alan Marshall Bungalow at 13 Park West Road, Eltham is registered on the Victorian Heritage Database and is protected by Heritage Overlay, HO 147 in the Nillumbik Planning Scheme, which covers the bungalow and its surrounding site to a radius of 15 metres. It is significant as it was Marshall’s home at the time he wrote Pioneers & Painters and the basic nature of it is illustrative of Marshall’s lifestyle.
Eltham Senior Citizens’ Centre, Library Place, Eltham
In previous years for our first meeting of the year, we have investigated some treasured pictures from our archives. This meeting we will showcase some of the highlights from new acquisitions and donations throughout 2019, as well as some of our other collections digitised during the year.
These are available due to the consistent efforts of our collections team, who over recent years has been active in scanning and cataloguing a range of images, including to our extensive catalogue on the Victorian Collections website.
Many of images to be shown at this meeting are still awaiting cataloguing online on Victorian Collections and so this will present
their first public viewing.
Our meeting will be held at our usual venue, the Eltham Senior Citizens’ Centre in Library Place Eltham. Members and guests are
welcome to attend. Please note our meetings now start at 7.30pm.
Are you familiar with the little yellow and orange brick Op-shop building at 810 Main Road, Eltham, just in front of the Uniting Church (formerly Methodist Church) on the corner of John Street? Nowadays, not many people may realise that this was once the Eltham agency of the Commercial Bank of Australia. Measuring just 3.6 x 4.5 m inside, it was built in 1878 by George Stebbing and is said to have stored gold in the early Eltham-Research mining days.
Well . . .
#OnThisDay – 70 years ago #OTD Thursday, December 15, 1949, the quiet little bank was embroiled in an infamous wild shoot-out between a daring thief and two bank officers. Today, the building still carries the scars ; a bullet hole remains visible in a cedar bench testifying to the events that played out that day.
But let us first time travel back to a few days prior to this incident. It is 3.30 a.m., Friday, December 9. The manager of the Commercial Bank branch at Greensborough, Mr Harry Wallace and his wife are asleep in their bedroom of the little house behind the branch. Harry is awakened by a noise and sees an intruder in a corner of the bedroom. He calls out but the intruder who has switched off the power in anticipation flees through a side door and scarpers down Main Street. Harry summons the police but a search by First Constable Thomas of the Greensborough Police assisted by a wireless patrol car is unsuccessful. A report is filed noting the theft of a .25 calibre pistol from the wardrobe.
Fast forward six days to Thursday, December 15th. It is 1pm and the Commercial Bank has just opened. The branch is only open Mondays and Thursdays from 1-3pm. The morning started off a little cool with some scattered showers but it has fined up and the temperature is now around 61 degrees (16 C). A new grey Singer sports car with soft-top pulls up on the opposite side of the road and a young man, neatly dressed in a dark blue suit, wearing a grey hat and carrying a brief case exits the vehicle. He looks around then crosses the road and walks up the steps and through the door into the bank. There are three people inside; Mr. Jack Burgoyne whose grocery store is situated just 50 yards up the road, Mr. Lindsay A. Spears, the Eltham Agency Receiving Officer and by chance, Mr Harry Wallace, manager of the Greensborough branch.
Jack Burgoyne takes note of the young stranger; thinking to himself he appears nervous.
The man approaches the counter and introduces himself as John Henderson of Greensborough and explains that he wishes to open a new account. He places his hat and £3 on the counter. Mr Spears attends to the paperwork. He asks the young man to sign two forms, which he does but then he withdraws from the counter and starts walking towards the door. Suddenly he spins around pulling an automatic pistol from his right-hand pocket. He exclaims forcefully;
“The game’s on! I’ll take the lot!”
Spears appears to comply by pretending to open a drawer. The man shouts loudly,
“Keep your hand away from that drawer.”
Spears instead reaches for a pistol in his pocket and challenges the man,
“Here it is. Come and get it!”
At the same time, Harry Wallace pulls a pistol from his pocket as well.
The bandit fires a shot but misses, the bullet striking the counter. Both Spears and Wallace open fire and Jack Burgoyne ducks for cover.
As the bandit turns and runs for the door leaving his £3 behind, he fires another shot, which strikes the ceiling. Spears fires back, and thinks he may have hit him in the foot. The bandit flees the bank and heads for the grey Singer car, registration NO-106, parked opposite. Wallace and Spears pursue him to the door and open fire again, striking the car three times around the driver’s door. Spears lets off eight shots and Wallace, seven before his gun jams.
The getaway car initially heads slowly down Main Road towards Bridge Street. About 100 yards down the road, Dave Adams, a PMG employee, who has heard the shots, throws a steel manhole step at the driver. It hits the roof of the car nine inches above the driver’s head and tears the hood. Another witness claims to have seen the door blow open and the driver raise his hand.
The car gathers speed and swings left into Bridge Street racing along at about 60 miles an hour careering recklessly past council employee, Mr. Percy Williams, who is driving a dray along Smarts Road [believed to be Bridge Street].
At the end of the road the Singer fails to get round the sharp turn and crashes into an embankment skidding to a stop outside the home of Mr John Clifford. One side of the car is wrecked. Mr Clifford, an aircraft engineer hears the fast travelling car bump heavily into the road bank at about 1.25 p.m. Hearing the whine of an engine he goes outside to find the grey Singer parked at the side of the road.
Jack George also lives at the corner and hears the car crash.
“The bandit opened the car door, ran 50 yards, and suddenly turned back,” exclaims Jack. “He took something from the car. It might have been a gun.”
In his haste, the bandit drops his grey felt hat, size 6 7/8, on the road and dashes up Sherbourne Road for about 200 yards then disappears into the scrub carrying a brief case and a bundle in which a sailor’s cap can be seen.
About 3 p.m., Mr H.D. Pettie of Mountain View Road, Montmorency is looking through his field glasses and notices a young man walking through thick scrub on private property some distance from his house. The man is wearing a sailor’s cap and disappears along the railway track toward Montmorency.
As the day progresses, ten police cars, one motor cycle, and about 40 police led by Det. Sgt. McMennemin of Malvern CIB are searching for him. They believe he is hiding in thick scrub along the bank of the creek about half-a-mile outside Eltham township. Wireless patrol cars, four mobile traffic cars and the CIB area cars from Malvern and Kew are taking part.
Police check the thief’s car and discover it was stolen from Helen Baxter, of Doncaster Road, North Balwyn from outside Victoria Barracks.
Harry Wallace informs the police that he believes he recognised the bandit as the man who took his pistol from his bedroom the previous Friday morning.
As night falls, armed police are posted at strategic points in the Eltham-Greensborough district. Police in cars are watching the roads. Others are searching the bush and checking passengers on trains. Little do they realise the young man has already slipped out of the net.
YOUTH OF 19 CHARGED WITH ATTEMPTED ARMED ROBBERY OF BANK AT ELTHAM
Weekly Times, Wednesday 15 February 1950, page 6
Detectives who raided a house in Bell St., Coburg, Melbourne, charged a 19-year-old youth, of South Yarra, with attempted armed robbery at the Commercial Bank’s Eltham (Vic.) receiving depot on Dec. 15. Police say they recovered a loaded automatic pistol, diamond and signet rings worth more than £200, a complete set of house-breaking instruments, a sailor’s uniform, and chloroform gauze in the raid.
The youth was charged that while armed with an offensive weapon, he attempted to rob Lindsay George Spears of a sum of money.
He was further charged on six counts of breaking, entering and stealing.
Police allege that the person who tried to hold up Mr Spears in the Commercial Bank receiving depot at Eltham on December 15. escaped in a stolen car, after Mr Spears and Mr Henry Wallace, manager of the bank’s Greensborough branch, had fired at him.
After the car crashed, he escaped into thick scrub and is alleged to have changed into a sailor’s uniform.
On December 9 an automatic pistol was stolen from Mr Wallace’s bedroom at the Greensborough bank. The chloroform pad recovered is alleged to have been stolen from the Dental Supply Company, Plenty Road, Preston.
The rings are alleged to have been taken in a £513 burglary from the shop of James Paton. Sydney Road, Coburg.
Det. Sgt. H. McMennemin conducted the investigations with Senior Dets. R. Newton and M Downie, Detectives l. Dent, R. Rayner, P. Pedersen and M. Handley and First Constable A. Thomas. The youth will appear at Eltham Court on February 22.
Manager’s Gun Used in Holdup at Bank
The Age, Thursday 23 February 1950, page 4
It was stated in Eltham court yesterday that a youth who robbed a bank manager of his pistol, later used it in an attempt to hold-up the bank.
Kay Arthur Morgan, 19, draftsman, of Castle-street, South Yarra, was committed for trial on charges of breaking and entering, and stealing a pistol and attempted robbery while armed with an offensive weapon. He pleaded guilty.
The manager of Eltham branch of the Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd., Henry Clifton Cabot Wallace, said he disturbed someone in the bedroom, in which he and his wife were sleeping, at 3 a.m. on December. 9, 1949. Later he found that his automatic- pistol was missing.
On December 15 a youth, who said his name was John Henderson, entered the bank and opened a new account. As the youth was leaving the bank he turned round with a pistol in his hand and said: — “I want the lot.” Spear indicated a drawer under the counter; and said.— “Here it is. Come and get it.” The youth said:— “Keep your hand away from that drawer.”
Witness said Spear then drew his pistol from his hip pocket. The youth fired at them, and Spear returned the fire. “I pulled my pistol and fired, too” said witness. The youth fired again, ran out to a car and drove off. Witness and Spear fired several shots at the car.
The youth was the accused Morgan, sitting in court, witness said.
Evidence was given that one bullet was found in the celling and the other in the bank.
Morgan was allowed £100 bail on each charge.
But wait, there’s more; another twist
Morgan ended up serving three years for the failed armed robbery and became a notorious criminal. He had twin sons, Peter and Doug and even though only ten years old, Morgan would get his sons to act as lookouts whilst he committed burglaries. The lads became building contractors but when the industry suffered a downturn in 1977 and they were short on cash, they returned to the family business. Over the following 23 months they undertook 24 raids on country and outer-suburban TABs and banks. Whilst robbing one country bank for the third time, just like their father, it all went wrong ending up with a police officer shot. They were nick-named the “After-dark” bandits and are considered to be Australia’s last bushrangers. They were convicted and served 17 years in prison.
Eltham Senior Citizens’ Centre, Library Place, Eltham
As has happened previously at our first meeting of the year, we are going to again have a night when we will investigate some treasured pictures from our archives.
The difference this time is that we will view and discuss some photographs of Eltham, in earlier days, that you may never have
These are available due to the consistent efforts of our collections team, who over the last two years has been active in scanning and cataloguing a range of images to our pages on the Victorian Collections website.
Members and visitors are welcome to attend this meeting, on Wednesday 13th February 2018, at 8:00 pm at the Eltham Senior Citizen’s Centre. We look forward to seeing you then.
#ThrowbackThursday – Today marks our 80th journey back in time. In recognition of that, we are going to time travel back 80 years to the small holiday resort town of Warrandyte before it had been absorbed into an outer suburb of Melbourne. It is Friday, January 13th, 1939; Black Friday.
In the days preceding, Melbourne has experienced some of its hottest temperatures on record: 110.8 °F (43.8 °C) on January 8th and 112.5 °F (44.7 °C) on January 10th. On Black Friday, temperatures will reach 114.1 °F (45.6 °C), which will become the hottest day officially recorded in Melbourne for the next 70 years until it is surpassed on February 7th, 2009, Black Saturday, 46.4 °C (115.5 °F). Unofficial records show temperatures of around 117 °F (47 °C) were reported on the Black Thursday fires of 6 February 1851.
The summer of 1938–39 had been hot and dry, and several fires had broken out. By early January, fires were burning in a number of locations across the state. Then, on Friday 13 January, a strong northerly wind hit the state, causing several of the fires to combine into one massive front.
In the Eltham district, the fires raged from Tuesday to Saturday morning and occurred in the Eltham, Warrandyte, Yarra Glen, Strathewen, Queenstown, Kinglake and Whittlesea districts.
At Etham, the fire begins on Friday morning in the vicinity of Mr. C.A. (Clarrie) Hurst’s Eltham Poultry Farm and Hatchery in New Street (present day Lavender Park Road), one of the oldest in the State, consuming some fowl pens and killing many birds. The fire-bell is rung, and all the firemen of Eltham, together with most of the male residents turn out to fight the flames. Speeding before a strong and searing north wind, it passes on to Mr. H. Rutter’s house at Yarra Braes. It is while the firemen are at Mr. Hurst’s property that the fire attacks Mr. Rutter’s house. Despite desperate efforts, the home is burned to the ground. It then crosses the valley, and threatens Killeavey in Laughing Waters Road, the home of Mrs. J. (Beatrice) Morrison, daughter of Sir William Irvine.
The fire-fighters reach Morrison’s before it is consumed, and make desperate efforts to save the property. They fight the fire there for three hours, and had checked it several times before the house is ultimately destroyed. Only a lack of water prevents the house from being saved.
Mrs. Morrison is currently away on holiday, but her uncle, Mr. Neville Wanliss, with his wife, together with Mrs. Phillips, two boys and a girl, are spending a holiday there. They see the fire approaching, and take refuge in the river, where they remain for several hours. About 4 p.m. they emerge and are seen by Mr. Evans, who takes them in his car to “Kooringarama,” Eltham, where they receive dry clothes. First aid is given to Mrs. Wanliss, whose foot was badly burned. She is now in a private hospital. Although Kooringarama guest-house is not in danger from the fires, a number of the guests have become nervous, and are leaving for Melbourne.
After a desperate effort by more than 50 men for more than an hour, fire fighters save the houses of Mr. W. Linacre and the Laughing Waters Poultry farm owned by Mr. G.W. Petre, the Swedish Consul, but the beautiful home of Mr. A. S. Austin, nearer Warrandyte, was burned, also the home of Mr. Smith, in Mt. Pleasant road.
The fire leaps the river at three points between Mr. Rutter’s and Mrs. Morrison’s where it continues to advance rapidly, racing through tinder-dry grass and forest almost as fast as the wind itself, demolishing every habitation in its path. It joins another fire, and the two converging bush fires sweep down on Warrandyte about 2 p.m., razing nearly half the houses in the district within an hour. It is believed 100 homes have been lost. So sudden is the onslaught of the fire that few people have the opportunity to save more than the clothes they wear.
Women and children are being hurried to the safety of the river shallows, where they wait fearfully throughout the afternoon. Every able-bodied man in the district is engaged in the vain fight against the flames.
The first warning that Warrandyte had was a billow of smoke which rose and people had barely time to realise the warning significance of the smoke when the red glow of the flames was seen.
Sweeping across from Eltham and Templestowe, it leaps from hill to hill. Only a hard fight saves the stores of the town.
The first residence attacked is the shop and store of Mr. J. Kenny, on the northern outskirts of the town. His house and store only feed the flames for a matter of minutes. The fire then advances up the main street, missing the cafe of Mrs. Jones, opposite Kenny’s. A ten-roomed house owned by Mr. C.Blair, and adjoining Kenny’s store, is also destroyed. At the rear of Jones’s cafe and home, the houses of Mrs. McCulloch and McAuley are destroyed.
The experience of the head master of the local school, Mr. M. Isaac, and his family, is typical of the experiences of scores of other families in the town.
Mr. Isaac is resting on his bed, when a tradesman warns his wife. She rushes in and rouses him. They begin to gather clothes together in suitcases. Suddenly a shout is heard. “Run for your lives!”
Hurrying out they see fire racing toward the house. In a moment the flames are licking at the walls of the house. With their few hastily packed cases Mr. and Mrs. Isaac, their daughter, and a grandchild, grope their way through the smoke to their car.
“I can’t see to drive,” Mr. Isaac exclaims. Some shout: “It doesn’t matter whether you can see or not, drive!”
The car is driven into the smoke, crashes into something—a horse-drawn vehicle, Mrs. Isaac thinks she hears a horse whinny in panic—but the car presses on, and presently the party emerge from the smoke.
Mrs. Isaac and the children flee to the river with their few possessions, while her husband goes to join the fire-fighters.
The fire races round the slope of the hill behind the main street of the township, burning house after house as it speeds.
Meanwhile the second fire, on the other side of the river, wipes out Pound Bend, and sweeps up the gullies behind the river cliffs to Kangaroo road, and Artist’s Hill, which is dotted with homes all surrounded by thick bush.
Here the fire displays wanton freakishness, razing a brick house here and leaving a wooden building a few yards away unscathed. Scores of such freaks of fortune occur, aided as the day wears on by strange changes of wind.
It blows first from the north then from the west, from the south-west, from the west again, then switches round to the east. Burning this way and that before the vagaries of the wind, the fire several times threatens to destroy whole groups of dwellings only to sweep back on its tracks and leave intact buildings it was thought impossible to save.
One after the other, three wooden churches Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman Catholic, go up in flames and collapse. All the houses on the western side of Pigtail Hill are burned.
With the destruction of the whole township apparently inevitable, more than 200 residents have taken refuge in the river. Many of them carry their house-hold goods with them, until the river banks are fringed with sewing machines and other portable household articles. Sweeping through the town, the fire destroys the shop and store of Mr. W. Jones, crosses the road, licking up houses in its stride, and sweeps through two miles of lightly-grassed country to annihilate South Warrandyte. Both the school, and the hall, and at least 20 dwellings are lost. The fire then advances on Croydon, where it later burns itself out.
The refuge provided by the river alone prevents a heavy toll of life. The speed of the fire frustrates all efforts to save property, although there was no big timber to feed It. As it sweeps over Melbourne hill to the north of the town residents receive ample warning to evacuate their homes before the fire descends on them. In the country between Warrandyte and Croydon numbers of cattle and horses are caught by the fire and injured. Later, Constable Bercherson, of Warrandyte, has to go out and destroy over 60 fire-maimed animals.
Of Warrandyte itself only the cluster of a dozen or so buildings round the post-office and the hotel-a few stores, guest houses, a garage, and another group about the bridge across the Yarra, are left standing.
Officers from the gas works branch of the St. John Ambulance Association have arrived in the stricken town and render first aid to fire fighters overcome by heat and smoke. During the afternoon food for 100 persons is rushed to the township from the city and made available at a local hall which, together with the hotel, has escaped destruction.
The fire fighters have been insuperably hampered by the absence of water. There is no reticulation system in the township. Most of the residents depend on rain water collected in tanks for their supplies. Only the hotel, and a few of the more pretentious homes in the district, have pumping plants to draw water from the river. These, for the most part, are electrically driven, and early in the afternoon the fire severed the town’s electricity supply.
Only at the hotel is there any considerable storage of water, and this is poured on to the post-office, saving it after an hour’s struggle.
South Warrandyte and the homes in the town standing in heavy timber, are the worst affected parts, a clean sweep having been made of the town’s dwellings. The towns-people watch helplessly while building after building disappears in smoke and flame.
Saturday, 14 January
The fire burns itself out this morning, and only at Wonga Park is there any danger from a future flare. There is plenty of food available for the 200 odd victims, who have been provided for at the Masonic Hall, but there is urgent need for more blankets and clothes.
We find the town stark and devastated. Piles of tin and chimneys are all that remain of more than 100 dwellings. Along the road, stock caught in the fences give evidence of the speed and destruction of the fire.
Reported missing Friday, Mr Frederick Topping, 72, pensioner, of Warrandyte, has been found dead among the ruins of his home near his packed goods. It appears that the fire, which blazed through the town in 20 minutes, came on him before he could make his escape. Mr Topping was for many years the Warrandyte correspondent of “The Advertiser,” and was an active worker in all public movements for the good of that town. He was also an authority on cricket, and a great cricket enthusiast.
Only the presence of the river saved many others in the hills.
Alarms are sent out at 10.45 for more volunteers to fight the blaze at Stony Creek between Warrandyte and Kangaroo Ground, and there is a fear that if the wind changes, Kangaroo Ground will be in serious danger.
Several artists have lost houses at Warrandyte. In Mr Adrian Lawlor’s home, more than 200 of his paintings were destroyed, and Mr Henry Hoile lost all his pictures. The building known as the “Old Studio,” in which the annual art exhibition has been held in recent years, was burned. It was owned by Mrs Connie Smith.
Later in the afternoon fires in the Warrandyte, Eltham and Kangaroo Ground districts are brought under control. Seventy-five men are standing by a fire at Christmas Hills. At Research the fire is being kept to the gullies.
Warrandyte and district has received a paralysing blow. Apart from the destruction of homes, hundreds of acres of orchards, which provide the district with its means of livelihood, have been scorched into unproductiveness, and substantial relief is an urgent necessity.
It is unfortunate that the Eltham Fire Brigade did not have enough hose to reach the place where the fire started, for they might have put out the blaze before it did any further damage. The nearest fire plug was near Mr. Percy Leason’s property in New street, and from this the firemen ran out 1200 feet of hose – all they had – but it was still 300 feet short. Nevertheless, the fire fighters, both members of the brigade and volunteers, working under Capt. W. Allan, Lieut. A. Parsons and First Constable O’Donnell did splendid work. They were on duty continuously from Friday to Sunday, and on Friday afternoon were reinforced by volunteers from the city. There were three casualties. Mr. W. Deards cut his foot; Mr. Berry, the sustenance officer, tripped in some burning ashes at Morrison’s and severely burned both hands; while on Sunday, Mr. G. Carver twisted his ankle while descending a step hill to fight a renewed outbreak near Beauty Point.
Residents of Eltham freely made available their cars, and trucks for the carriage of fire-fighters to the danger points.
Too much praise cannot be given to the ladies of Eltham for the manner in which they rallied to give assistance. When volunteers began to arrive early in the afternoon, and women and children from the Research and Warrandyte districts were brought into the town for safety, Mesdames E. M. Andrew, Ford, Pyke, Parsons, Browne and Crick formed a nucleus of workers, which soon increased by many more, who provided meals for the 150 volunteers who made the fire station their headquarters, and also for the five families who had taken refuge in Eltham. The latter were fed at the fire station, and were provided with sleeping accommodation at the Eltham Hall. They were returned to their homes on Saturday, with a hamper of food for each. The Eltham ladies were cutting sandwiches, preparing tea etc., from early on Friday afternoon until 2.30 a.m. on Saturday morning, and were back at the station by 6 a.m. on Saturday. Ninety men were supplied with food donated by local people, but later on supplies were sent out by the Red Cross Society.
Bush Fires: A pictorial survey of Victoria’s most tragic week, January 8-15, 1939, pp2-3.
THE WEEK REVIEWED
THE fiercest bush fires Australia has known since its discovery are quiescent at the moment, and Victoria, in the comparative coolness of the change which came with rain on Sunday night, has begun·to count its losses.
In the fiery eight days, from Sunday to Sunday, at least sixty-six men, women and children have lost their lives in forest fires, or have succumbed to burns and shock; many others have died from heat; and several serious cases of burns are being treated in hospitals. Two babies in Narrandera district have died, and ten others are in hospital, because of milk soured by the record temperatures of those eight days.
Forest damage totals at least a million pounds, and incalculable damage has been done to the seedlings which were to have been the forests of the future.
Water conservation will be seriously affected by the silting-up of reservoirs and streams from which protective timber has been taken by the all-engulfing flames.
More than a thousand houses have been destroyed, and these, with 40 mills, and schools, post-offices, churches, and other buildings, represent a loss of at least half a million.
At least 1500 are homeless. For their aid, money raised in appeals has now passed the £50,000 mark, and the biggest relief organisation ever set up in peace time has swung into operation.
The First Hint
Victoria’s first hint of what was to come appeared on Sunday, January 8, when most parts of the State awoke to find a blistering day awaiting.
At 12.20 p.m., when the thermometer reached its highest for the day, 109.6 degrees, the first fire victims were at that moment going to their death on a bush track five feet wide off the main road to Narbethong.
They were the forestry officers Charles Isaac Demby and John Hartley Barling, who went to warn Demby of his danger when he parted from his companions, and was himself surrounded by the treacherous fire.
It was not until 8 o’clock next morning that the tragic news was flashed throughout the State.
Searchers found the two charred bodies close together, one seeking protection in the nook of two logs. Barling’s watch had stopped at 1.20.
In the meantime, tragedy was spreading its cloak.
By Monday, big fires were raging at Toolangi, Erica, Yallourn, Monbulk, Frankston, Dromana, Drouin South, Glenburn, and Blackwood, with smaller outbreaks at many other centres.
In the ensuing week, while women and children were evacuated as fast as the flames would permit, Erica-scene of the 1926 fire disaster-thrice escaped doom by a change of wind.
Indeed, those who have been in the fire country these past days say that the numbers of times a change of wind has saved towns from destruction is amazing.
In the towns they speak of miracles.
The escapes from Monett’s Mill at Erica and from the Hardwood Company’s Mill at Murrindindi, near where Demby and Barling went to their death, were Monday’s miracles.
Twenty came out alive from each mill. At the first a 60ft. dugout provided an oven-like refuge; at the second, 12 women and children survived in the smoke-filled gloom of a three-roomed cottage while their eight men, their clothes sometimes afire, poured water on the wooden walls. Three houses out of ten remained when the fire had passed.
Sunday had been the hottest Melbourne day for 33 years; Monday dropped to a 76.1 degree maximum; but Tuesday dawned hotter than ever, the mercury reaching 112.5.
By now rumor was racing ahead of fact; whole towns were being reported lost; the alarm was raised for scores of missing persons. But fact soon overtook rumor, and within a few days the staggering toll began to mount to a figure beyond the wildest imaginings of the panic-stricken.
Six died from heat on this torrid Tuesday, and the fires spread in a wide swathe from south-west to north-east across the State. Fish died in shallow streams.
A curtain of smoke hid the sky from all Victoria, and hung far out to sea. It alarmed passengers on ships. On the Ormonde, on the voyage to Sydney from Burnie, women ran on deck, believing fire had broken out in the hold.
Days later the smoke reached New Zealand.
In Melbourne thousands of fire-volunteers were leaving in cars: vans, motor-buses-anything reliable on wheels-to aid the country in its grim fight.
In the fires at Rubicon and. Narbethong, seventeen were facing death this day. But not till Wednesday, when Melbourne breathed again in a cool change, while the country still sweltered in temperatures up to 117 degrees, did the news come through the tree blocked roads.
A woman and her little daughter, trapped on the road, were among those who died. Their bodies, and those of menfolk with them, were found strewn out at intervals along the road, where the furnace of the surrounding fire had dropped them in their tracks as they ran.
Twelve died at a Rubicon mill, five on the road at Narbethong. At Alexandra, not far distant, a baby was born while the fires raged, and stretcher-bearers brought in the injured.
On Thursday the State Government voted £5000 for the relief of fire victims. The Governor (Lord Huntingfield) and the Lord Mayor (Cr. Coles) visited some of the stricken areas, and dipped into their pockets personally. Later, the City Council, too, voted £5000.
Friday, The 13th
Friday, the Thirteenth, justified its evil name. A blistering northerly came early in the morning, presaging destruction, and forcing the mercury to a new record of 114 degrees.
Racing fires killed at least ten in those terrible 12 hours. Four children were engulfed in the furnace at Colac. Panic drove them, uncontrollable, into the smoke-filled road when the fire raced down behind their home. They choked to death.
In other parts fires were joining to make fronts of scores of miles. Kinglake was being menaced on two fronts, £60,000 worth of timber was going up in smoke in Ballarat district. Warburton was surrounded. Residents at Lorne, favoured resort, were being driven to the sea-front by a fire which destroyed at least 20 homes. Healesville, with flames visible from the town at one stage, was in a trough between two fires which burned four guest-houses, seven homes and left its surrounding beauty-spots wastes of bowed-over, blackened tree-fern fronds; with its famous Sanctuary, however, intact.
Most of Omeo was destroyed this black day: Noojee. while 200 residents crouched in the river, was being reduced to a waste of buckled iron and smoking timber; Erica was once again saved by a change of wind.
Beneath a pall of smoke, the Rubicon victims were buried at Alexandra.
Friday night and the early hours of Saturday saw the streets of beleagured towns strewn with exhausted fire-fighters. Their flails beside them, ready for the next call, they lay where exhaustion overtook them-on footpaths, beside lamp-posts, in gutters, in cars, under trucks.
Saturday’s dawn brought clear skies and lower temperatures in many parts, and from the burnt-out areas came a great rush of tragic reports. The death-roll rushed past the fifty mark with incredible speed.
Some had been trapped on roads, others at mills; some, after burying their treasures, had clung too long to the places they had made their homes for many years. Four men lost their lives because one went back for his dog.
By Sunday, when the first of the saving rain came, nearly another score of names had been added to the list.
Summer 2019: A year of anniversaries
This summer, not only do we mark 80 years since the Black Friday bushfire of January 13th, 1939 (2 million hectares burnt, 650 buildings destroyed, 71 lives lost), but also 50 years since the last bushfire to burn parts of Eltham and district on January 8th, 1969. And on 7 February it will be 10 years since we endured the hottest day ever and the disastrous Black Saturday fire (450,000 hectares burnt, in excess of 3,500 buildings including 2,029 homes destroyed, 173 lives lost). Stay safe and diligent everyone, let’s hope 2019 does not add to this trend.
#ThrowbackThursday – Roll up! Roll up! Come on down to Bremner’s Flat and Ashton’s Circus, the world’s greatest!
Today we time travel back to Bremner’s Flat, circa 1958 where Ashton’s Circus and Zoo have set up their Big Top. A wonderful cast of peerless performers await to entertain us with daring Trapeze Artists, Aerialists and High Wire Acts that will hold you spellbound! We will have the opportunity to see Ashton’s herd of elephants from the jungles of Malaya; a thrilling rodeo of trained horses and riders; Ashton’s Clowns, clearly the world’s funniest and Ashton’s famous circus – the most popular on the road today! Look out for Captain Shultz (late of Barnum and Bailey, the greatest show in America) and The Cage of Death – he works 10 lions and lionesses all in one cage; 3 Nacchines, Continental Clowns; the famous Flying Ashtons; Top-of-the-Tent marvels – Miss Lorraine, Leo St. Leon, brilliant equestrian – Phillis & Douglas Ashton, Miss Marie Sanderson, Mervyn Ashton and more. It’s a show not to be missed.
Bremner’s Flat was the original name given to the reserve located opposite the intersection of Mount Pleasant Road and Main Road, Eltham. It was renamed to Wingrove Park circa 1970.
According to the National Library of Australia; Ashton’s Circus was founded in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1847 by Thomas Mollor, and acquired in February 1850 by James Henry Ashton, a man schooled in the tradition of English circus and who had experienced the hard times of the nineteenth century. The circus operated as the Royal Amphitheatre or Royal Circus. When founder James Henry Ashton died in 1889, his son Fred, then aged 22, inherited the circus. The circus continued to be handed down throughout the family, and today it is run by the 6th generation of Ashtons, Michelle and Joseph and their sons, Jordan and Merrik. As Joseph had founded ‘Circus Joseph Ashton’ in 1998 prior to his grandfather’s retirement in 2000, it was decided to apply this name to the family’s main circus reflecting the current state of ownership and operations. The prior name of “Ashton’s Circus” was retired.
Circus acts referenced from various newspaper advertisements of the time accessed through the National Library of Australia’s website, Trove
Our Society encourages interest in and the sharing of stories about the local history of the Eltham district in Victoria, Australia