Arcadia Fire Brigade History 1935 – 1995

The First Sixty Years 1935 – 1995

Reproduced from the book The First Sixty Years written by John Kennedy.


  • A Letter from the Regional Officer
  • The Early Years
  • The Sixties
  • The Decade of the Seventies
  • The Eighties
  • Heading into the Nineties
  • Long Service Awards
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
Gerald Quirk

May I welcome you and congratulate our past and present firemen and women for their continued support of the Arcadia Fire Brigade.
As it was in 1935, that a few people had the courage to band together to fight and prevent disaster happening, that we today celebrate 60 years of continuous history of the Arcadia Fire Brigade, as written in the following pages, and as a tribute to the foundation members.

The role of fire brigades has changed over the years, from just firefighters to a role of helping at floods, to accident assistance and cleanup, and to many other ways of helping the local community as well as assisting other brigades.

I must congratulate the members today who are to receive badges for many years of dedicated service to our brigade. This of course is not that those who haven’t served as many years are any less recognised for their part in the brigade. All I can say to these people, is, stay in there you are needed, help your brigade and your day will come for distinguished recognition.

To all officers and brigade members and their families on behalf of the 60 year Diamond Jubilee committee and the Arcadia Fire Brigade I wish you well in the years ahead.

It has been a privilege to be your Captain.

Thank You.

Captain Arcadia Rural Fire Brigade

Alan Davies

A letter from the Regional Officer

The Arcadia Rural Fire Brigade has reached a significant milestone, 60 years of service to the residents of the Arcadia district.
Fire service delivery in country Victoria continues to be predominantly supplied by dedicated and community minded volunteers. Over the years several generations of district families have contributed greatly to the provision of a 24 hour a day fire suppression and prevention service to the Arcadia district and beyond.

The brigade has seen many changes over the years such as the upgrading of the old Austin tanker with the larger capacity and improved capability of the current Hino 3.2 tanker. Also, the existing Fire Station provides the brigade and community with a valuable asset that provides a focal point for the activities of the Brigade and other community groups.

Arcadia Rural Fire Brigade has been a great brotherhood of service to the community, a great example of team spirit and to the many members who have passed through the ranks of the brigade we record grateful thanks for 60 years service. We look forward to the future and the continued support for, and dedication of, the current and future brigade membership to the provision of an efficient and effective fire fighting service to the Arcadia district.

Regional Officer in Charge
Fire Control Region 22

The Early Years

It must be one of the worst sensations country people feel, the thoughts that race through your mind, the quickening of the heart as the adrenaline flows, when suddenly you look up to see smoke billowing into the sky on a hot, windy summers day. It may have the effect of numbing the brain where you cannot think logically for a few moments, but as the reality of the situation emerges it galvanises you into action, for you have this inbred fear of the devastation of a wild fire in the middle of Summer.

This respect and dread of fire has been a reality to country people ever since this land was settled. Our weather pattern here in southern Australia, of winter-spring rains and long, hot, dry summers, makes this land one of the most fire-dangerous in the world.

The realisation of this danger and the devastation uncontrolled fires can cause in both personal tragedy and economic loss, have brought a group of people together to work and support one another in the suppression and control of fire. These people have joined together to form the many fire brigades throughout the country.

It was the experience of these combatants of wild fire coupled with the technical knowledge that is now available from bodies such as the Weather Bureau and the Country Fire Authority (CFA), that have changed our understanding of fire behaviour and the manner in which we combat it.
In the early days the only means available to fight the foe was with a branch ripped off a tree in the case of a grass or bush fire, or with buckets of water in a building fire. Consequently, it was a matter of save what you could, have regard for your own protection by seeking a safe haven and let the fire burn out.

Down through the years there has been a marked progression in the way in which we combat wild fires whether it is in the bush, a building, or hazardous material such as inflammable fuels and chemicals. I believe the philosophy of the CFA and its members is to attack the foe having at all times the safety and well being of its members a priority. As a result there are many times when a firefighter has to retreat, re-access the situation and make a stand at another point.

The manner and technique which we approach and combat fire is a changing process governed by the equipment and technology available to us. There have been many changes over the years from the humble tree branch and wet sack to leather fire beaters and knapsack, to tanks of water with hand operated pumps, and in the case of the Arcadia Fire Brigade a tank and motor driven pump that could be loaded onto an available truck.

Then as funds became available tankers were provided for brigades, as new tankers came into the region the older ones were passed onto brigades that didn’t have one, resulting in the case today where all brigades in Region 22 have a tanker. The tankers and equipment on them are being constantly updated, changes from petrol to diesel driven truck and pump motors, protection for the crew such as fire shields, clothing and breathing apparatus, wetting agents and foam.

Earliest records of fires

In the early history of Arcadia, there were instances of wild uncontrolled fires, some we know of through reports in the local newspapers which I have recorded below chronologically, others though have not been recorded or have been forgotten over time.

The earliest instance I have found of a fire in the Arcadia area was reported in ‘The Goulburn Advertiser’ on the 3rd. of February 1881, where it was stated that: …’the then Minister of Railways had received a deputation from Arcadia, consisting of Messrs. Jas Miller and S. Kerr to ask for compensation for fires caused, as they alleged by sparks from the locomotives’. The fires had destroyed grain, fences and grass in considerable quantities. Mr. Patterson replied that parliament had made a great mistake in granting compo on a previous occasion, because he knew of cases where hay stacks had been erected close to the line evidently with the hope that passing engines would set them on fire. He did not intend to recommend compo for any more fires because he was of the opinion that farmers should adopt some means for protection of their property.

The fires referred to in this article occurred in the 13 months following the opening of the Goulburn Valley Railway Line in 1880.
On the 2nd. of April 1886 (reported in ‘The Goulburn Advertiser’) a fire in the early hours of the morning destroyed the premises known as ‘The Arcadia Refreshment Rooms’, owned by the Oates family.

Goulburn Advertiser April 2, 1886.

Then some years later, on the 22nd of December 1898, a bush fire caused considerable loss to two farmers, Mr. Jas McCluskey and Mr. McKendry. It was reported in ‘The Goulburn Advertiser’ that Mr. McCluskey who had just finished harvesting his crop had 50 out of 70 bags of grain destroyed. This fire had the potential of much greater devastation if it had not been contained. Ironically it was stopped at the Murchison/Violet Town road, the same road from which the notorious Longwood bushfire started 67 years later, in 1965.

Formation of Bush Fire Brigades

In searching the historical records, the formation of any local Bush Fire Brigade did not evolve until the dawning of the twentieth century, when in December 1905 a bush fire brigade was formed at North Murchison. It was suggested after the formation of this brigade that farmers in other parts of the district should take similar steps to safeguard their properties.

Farmers wanting to reinforce and promote the concept of other bush fire brigades being formed in nearby districts, began to write into the local paper. The following item appeared in ‘The Murchison Advertiser’ on the 28th of December 1906; ‘A farmer writing from a neighbouring district on the subject of Bush Fire Brigades, says that farmers run a terrible risk in not providing some means of coping with an outbreak of fire during the Summer months goes without saying – and their apparent indolence in this respect will assuredly cost them dearly sooner or later. If the farmers were to band themselves together considerable property could be saved in the event of an outbreak, which may now be expected to occur at any moment with the grass as dry as tinder. Were a brigade to do battle with the flames, under proper leadership and supervision much wasted labour by the fire beaters could thus be saved and the spread of fire which might otherwise leave a track of devastated country in its trail could by this means be checked to some extent at least.’

However time went by, and there appears to be no formation of any new bush fire brigades in the surrounding area until 1926 when the Dargalong Wahring Bush Fire Brigade was formed. At their inaugural meeting hope was again expressed that the Arcadia farmers on the north, and the Nagambie farmers on the south would also form similar brigades. This would then establish a huge fire fighting organisation in the region.

The formation of new fire brigades was further promoted by ‘The Murchison Advertiser’ on the 10th of December, 1926 where it stated that:’
…’organised bands with proper appliances for fighting and combating an outbreak if it should occur are a necessity in every district and land holders should join up and assist in every possible way to prevent the devastating influence of the fiery fiend’.

The districts that had formed local Bush fire Brigades, no doubt saw the wisdom and the advantages of having an organisation to obtain fire-fighting equipment and to co-ordinate the fire fighters if an outbreak should occur. Some of the ideas put forward at this time were far-sighted and it wasn’t until many years later that they actually came to fruition.
The concept of a large district fire brigade made up of smaller, local, individual brigades appeared in ‘The Murchison Advertiser’ on the 24th of December, 1926. This suggested the sharing and pooling of equipment housed at a central location.

‘Formation of a large district Fire Brigade was muted in addition to the individual brigades. Several forms of organisation were suggested with headquarters in Murchison. Areas mentioned were Dargalong, Wahring, Murchison South, Bailieston, Waranga, Murchison North, Arcadia and Moorilim. If such an organisation could be formed they could consider the purchase of a fire brigade motor pump as recommended by the Country Fire Brigades Board. Housed at Murchison and to cover a radius of 12 miles.’

Fires however, continued to burn, which one may have expected would have highlighted the need and increased the urgency of a united response. Even a large fire at Arcadia on the 8th of February 1926 did not prompt the community to band together to form a bush fire brigade.

The following article appeared in ‘The Murchison Advertiser’ on the 12th of February 1926.

Murchison Advertiser 12 February, 1926.

There may have been several reasons why a brigade was not formed at this time in Arcadia, some being: the geographical position of Arcadia; the Goulburn River formed a natural fire break along the dangerous western side of the district, much of the land had not been improved, consequently there was not the growth of grass and pastures as we know them today that would fuel a fire.

The introduction of irrigation to the area tended to reduce the danger of a serious fire occurring. At a meeting of the Moorilim brigade in 1932 (reported in ‘The Murchison Advertiser’ on the 16th of December) regret was expressed that the residents of Arcadia had not formed a brigade. It was considered the Arcadia centre was a dangerous point on account of holiday makers and the proximity of the railway lines. It was thought in the event of a brigade being established the combined (Moorilim and Arcadia) fighting material, which would be at the disposal of members in the event of a fire outbreak, could prove most effective.

Formation of the Arcadia Bush Fire Brigade

In 1935 the Arcadia Bush Fire Brigade was formed. A report in ‘The Murchison Advertiser’ on the 18th of January, described its formation, equipment requirements, levies and territorial boundaries.
‘A meeting was held recently when a Bush-fire brigade was formed. Messrs. Bailey, Brown and Flynn, of Murchison, came along and gave some useful information. It was decided that beaters, knapsacks, and fire lighters be procured, there being several tanks available. Mr. D. Kay was elected captain with Messrs. W. Clarke, M. Noonan and D. Graehame lieutenants, and N. Gedye secretary. A levy of 5/- per member and 1/- per 100 acres was made and the territory allotted is from Goulburn River to Seven Creeks, one mile north of Murchison road to Union road.’

Murchison Advertiser 18 January, 1935.

The First Office Bearers

The first office bearers of the Arcadia Rural Fire Brigade are listed below with brief personal profiles.

Mr. Louis Boschetti. Lou was the President of the brigade from it’s inception in 1935 until the responsibilities of that position was assigned to the Captain of the brigade in 1973. Lou was very involved in community affairs of which the fire brigade was one. He retired from farming in 1977 having resided in the Arcadia area since settling here in 1915. Lou passed away in 1984.

Mr David Kay. Dave was the son of an original selector in the Arcadia area. He continued this farming tradition on the family farm which was situated on the Eastern side of the brigade area. Dave was the inaugural Captain and had the responsibility of insuring the brigade was diligent in carrying out the charter. He retired from active farm life some years before he died in 1972 aged 83 years.

Mr. Norman Gedy. Norman, at the age of 28, was the brigade secretary until the family left the district in September 1936. He and his wife owned and conducted the business of the general store in Arcadia, having arrived here about 1930. One son Peter was born while they resided here. Norman passed away in 1982 aged 74 years.

Mr William Clarke. Bill was one of the three Lieutenants appointed at the first meeting of the brigade. In 1941 he was appointed Captain, a position he held for over 20 years. Bill and his family conducted a dairy farm, “Summer Hill” which was situated on the Goulburn Valley Hwy. It was the Clarke truck that nearly always provided the transport for the tank unit in the latter days of his captaincy. Bill passed away in 1963, aged 69 years.

Mr Dougal Grahame. Dougal carried on a farming enterprise at the Northern end of the brigade area on Union Rd, beside the Sevens Creek. He farmed here until his passing in 1949 at 65 years of age. Dougal was also one of the Lieutenant.’s appointed at the 1935 meeting.

Mr Michael Noonan. Mick spent the greater part of his life in the Arcadia district, having settled here in 1919 when his widowed mother bought a property on the Euroa Rd. Mick later purchased a property south of Arcadia where he and his family resided until his passing in 1981, aged 80 years. Mick who was dedicated to the brigade was also one of the lieutenants appointed at the first inaugural meeting. He held many positions over this period, the most notable being that of secretary, a position he held from 1945 to 1981.

Raising funds and obtaining fire fighting equipment

Following the formation of the brigade the foremost objective was to raise funds and obtain fire fighting equipment. Funds were raised through a subscription fee and levy collected on land within the brigade area. The main equipment was knapsacks and fire beaters. However at a later date several small galvanised tanks with a capacity of 100 gallons were obtained, these were transported by horse and dray or a trailer towed by a motor vehicle. These tanks were used to carry water for the knapsacks and were situated on farms in various parts of the brigade area. Progression was made and the brigade obtained the use of a larger tank with a hand pump.

One of the tanks used by brigade members to cart water for knapsacks.

The new equipment was put to use in 1937 at two local fires. The first was at Mr. W. Clarke’s property, when an engine used for pumping water backfired setting fire to some nearby grass. Mr. Clarke was away, Mrs. Clarke and others extinguished the fire, burning however a stack of lucerne hay. The other occurred at the Penrose property where the prompt arrival of the brigade assisted by others prevented a serious fire, 5 to 6 acres of grass was destroyed.

There is little doubt that during the period of the Second World War equipment for fire fighting was hard to obtain, anything motorised nigh impossible. The restrictions imposed by the war also brought their own hazards such as the gas producers that were fitted to motor vehicles, these produced a fuel from burning charcoal instead of petrol. In January 1943 a fire alleged to have been started by a gas producer on a car swept from the roadway through Captain Dawson’s property burning about 6 acres and destroying 2 newly completed hay stacks.

1942 Annual Meeting of the Arcadia Fire Brigade.

This article appeared in ‘The Shepparton News’ on the 30th of November 1942, outlining the elected brigade members, a report on the quantity and condition of equipment and levies for the following year.

The new Fog Branch

An ingenious new piece of equipment called the ‘fog branch’ was demonstrated to members of the brigade in 1943. Its use in assisting firemen to enter burning buildings is described in this article appearing in ‘The Murchison Advertiser’ on the 19th of February 1943.

‘During a recent visit by Chief Officer McPherson of the CFB, to the Goulburn Valley a demonstration with a new water branch brought out from England was given to firemen.

With it the operator can, by the turn of the hand, regulate the volume of stream to create spray, fog, or direct stream. The value of this being when attacking burning oil a fog is created which settles or smothers the flames. When a fireman is entering a burning building filled with dense smoke, he can adjust the branch so as to form an umbrella of clearance, enabling him to penetrate the building unaffected by smoke.’

From Bush Fire Brigade to Country Fire Authority.

In January, 1939, following an abnormally dry season, the State of Victoria was devastated by the most disastrous fires in its history when 71 lives were lost and property losses were enormous. Practically the whole State was involved in fires which in most instances were ‘lit by the hand of man’. Following the disastrous fires of 1939, parts of Victoria were again ravaged by wild fire in January 1944, the most devastated area being the Western District where some small townships were virtually wiped out. Again there was tragic loss of life and hundreds of square miles of grass and forest land were burnt throughout Victoria.

As a result of these two great bushfires a Royal Commission was established to investigate and make recommendations towards fire prevention in the state of Victoria. The following report appeared in ‘The Murchison Advertiser’ on the 21’st of January 1944. ‘Judge Stretton in his report in May 1939 on bushfires, made a scathing denunciation of official disregard of responsibility associated with the disastrous bushfires in January 1939, which caused appalling loss of life. Among the important recommendations made by Judge Stretton was the constitution of a State Fire Authority free of control of any Government department or combination of departments, to plan and carry in to effect the prevention and suppression of fires.’

The article highlighted that this recommendation had not been carried out, as the Government regarded it as impracticable and thought that the proper fire authority should be the Forest Commission. ‘The fact that 19 people have lost their lives and damage to property has reached two million pounds in extent should have been an incentive for the Government to rouse from it’s apathy instead of “fiddling while Rome burns”.

After the 1944 fires another Royal Commission was called. As a result of this second Royal Commission the present CFA was established by an Act of Parliament in that year, and both the urban and rural brigades were brought under it’s control.

The Act gave the Country Fire Authority control over the prevention as well as the suppression of fires. This was achieved through the ability to enforce the prevention of the lighting of fires and for the removal of fire hazards.
At the establishment of the CFA in 1944 there were 185 Urban brigades and 727 Rural brigades. The number ?