1945 - 1969

Written by Lance Hartley.

(Uncited References — Brigade minutes)

1968

The Bega River had stopped flowing from Christmas to the following March. This was the second time the river had stopped flowing since 1942. This meeting in Bega deputed Mr. Harry Hawker, of the Department of agriculture and Mr. J.B. D’Arcy of the already formed Jellat Brigade to set about organising other Brigades in the district based on the organisation of the Jellat unit. The outcome was the formation of Brigades at Numbugga, Stoney Creek, Erinna, Tanja and Buckajo. Tathra decided to take the area with a western boundary from the head of Blackfellow’s Lake, south to Wallagoot Lake, with the later and the river South and North boundaries respectively. Thus effective fire fighting units for the district came into being. (Citation unknown)

1966

November - Tathra Bush Fire Brigade - AGM - elected officers: Robert Otton (Captain); B. Schumack, A. Matthews, B. Sixsmith, B. Evans and H. Game (Deputy Captains)

1965

14 January - A house and car were destroyed by fire at Tathra on Tuesday night. The Tathra- Bushfire Brigade tried to extinguish the house fire at Hollis Farm, but had little hope of saving the old wooden dwelling. The occupant was Mr. Albert James Bobin. He was not in the house at the time of the outbreak. A 1951 car parked near the house caught alight and was destroyed. The owner was Mrs. Joan Hollis of Tathra. Police said there were no suspicious circumstances. (Canberra Times, January 14, 1965)

1964

August - Tathra Bush Fire Brigade - AGM - elected officers: Robert Otton (Captain); B. Shaw, A. Matthews, S Sproats, B. Evans and S. Stewart (Deputy Captains)

1963

Tathra Bush Fire Brigade - AGM - elected officers: Robert Otton (Captain); B. Shaw, A. Matthews, S Sproats and B. Evans(Deputy Captains)

1955

FIRE BEATERS NOT WANTED.

Only one champion of the fire beater has been discovered as a result of a recently conducted survey to find out if this implement has had its day. Upper Manilla favours retention of the beater, but Tumut, Warringah (Sydney), Cobargo, Oberne Creek and Tathra all agree it has been superseded by modern tools. (Bush Fire Bulletin, September 1955)

1952

27 January - Reports filtering through from the South Coast yesterday gave this picture of the bushfire destruction:

85 homes were destroyed and more than two million acres of pasture burnt out in the Bega district alone. A man and his wife, their clothes burnt off, sheltered in a culvert where they took refuge. A day-long fight saved the town of Bega itself. A man who saw the result of the fires said: “The whole countryside from the mountain range on the west of Bega to the coast, a distance of 30 miles, is almost one waste of blackened earth with no fences or pastures standing and very few farmhouses." The Minister for Labour and Social Welfare, Mr. F. J. Finnan, said last night immediate steps were being taken- to assist the fire victims. Those who died in the South Coast fires were: Marie Otton, 16, of Upper Brogo, 10 miles north of Bega; Jennifer Otton, 14; Rudolf Ogilvie, about 66, also of Upper Brogo. John Taylor, 58, of Quaama, about 17 miles north of Bega, died after a day-long battle with the flames. An elderly Bega resident, Jim Preo, collapsed and died during the heat. Mrs. Fred Otton, mother of the two girls, is in Bega Hospital suffering from burns. Sergeant Frank Dawson, of Cobargo police, said last night that the Otton sisters and Ogilvie were killed when fires swept the Otton property.

It seemed that when, the fire was approaching, the occupants of the house made for a well nearby. "Mrs. Otton, her son Max, and the Rev. David Orange got into the well, which measures four feet by three feet," he said. "The two girls, with Ogilvie, started up the hill. "The eldest girl, Marie, and Ogilvie, collapsed 50 yards from the well, and Jennifer went 200 yards further on on horseback. "Whether she was struck by a limb or not we don't know. "Mrs. Otton and her two companions are safe. Sergeant Dawson said John Taylor was helping to fight an outbreak at Quaama. His companions looked around and found that Taylor had collapsed. He died of heart failure.

Sergeant Dawson said the temperature at Cobargo yesterday was 112 degrees. "Farmers in the district have lost thousands of head of cattle," he said. "Four houses are known to be down-the Ottons', one belonging to Ogilvie, another to a Mr. Vallance, and a fourth. "We have been fighting fires since Thursday." Sergeant Dawson said the fire got to within one and a half miles of Cobargo town. From fire refugees and from the Forestry Commission radio reports reached Sydney only last night of the bush fires, which burnt out thousands of square miles of pastures between Nowra and Eden. Bega is in a desperate plight. Farmers, ruined by the fires, have sent messages to Sydney relatives appealing for help. Bega was licked by flames when Friday's fire was at its peak. Businessmen, farmers, and women and children fought the flames on the edge of the town. Flames destroyed one house before firefighters could reach it. Chemists converted their shops into emergency dressing stations. Other shops closed their doors. Hundreds of people beat the fire back from the Bega Hospital, where fire victims were already being admitted. Nurses left patients to join in the fight. They beat out flames with bags and floor rugs. Bega Hospital treated scores of people for burns and injuries. By last night the Bega fires had burnt their way into the Mumbulla Mountain, 12 miles north of Bega town. Senior-constable R. Patterson, of Bega, said late last night there was a heavy mist forming over the area and some light rain had fallen on the fires. "If the weather continues even as it is we will be all right," he said. "There are a couple of small fires burning, but the immediate danger has passed.

This morning I saw one farm near the foot of Mumbulla Mountain, which is the only one standing in miles of blackened countryside. All the families who have been rendered homeless are living with friends and neighbours in the area. "Supplies have been coming through and we still need some blankets, but our most desperate need now is for fodder. "A lot of stock was saved in the area when it took refuge in small creeks and swampy ground which the fire passed over. "Our big difficulty in Bega was the failure of the water supply. The Fire Brigade could not use its hoses. "Each time the fire came to the edge of the town it was held back only by people using beaters. "Twice the hospital was menaced, but sheer hard work, and once a slight change of wind, saved it. The flames were just phenomenal." Bega police have appealed for clothing for 75 destitute families. Many local farmers have asked friends in Sydney for help. (The Sunday Herald, 1952)

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Bega Now Wasteland EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNT OF FIRE.

A hundred square miles around Bega are a desolate blackened wasteland dotted with the swollen carcasses of cattle killed in last week's fire. According to the Captain of Kiama's Fire Brigade (Ald. W. R. Holden) who came through from Bega on Thursday it is difficult to appreciate the misery following in the wake of the fire without being there to see the black desert which lies where last week cattle grazed on pasture land. Ald. and Mrs. Holden were visiting their daughter's home in Bega when the fires started last Friday. Ald. Holden said that first indication was a cloud of smoke towards Brogo at 6.30 a.m. By 8.30 the town fire alarm was sounding and all but the elderly and invalids were out fighting the blaze. The hopelessness of the task can be realised by the fact that the flames leapt the Bega River - a distance of a hundred yards or more. In three hours the fire had burnt around Bega and half way towards Tathra. It could be seen burning up Brown's Mountain a distance of 40 miles. The flames did not stop until they reached Bateman\'s Bay. Whilst the fire was burning near Bega the township was showered with embers and ash, which fell like black confetti. Air currents swirled it against house ventilators and it is thought that the houses in Bega caught fire in this way. Ald. Holden was impressed by the spirit of co-operation with which Bega folk fought the fire; and the spirit of help-one-another with which they are meeting the aftermath. The two radio stations at Bega and Cooma spent the day of the fire broadcasting messages. Someone in Bega would ask of Cooma "How's so-and-so?" and one of a team of riders there would go out and see so that the reply could be radioed back. This type of message was sent back and forth throughout the duration of the fire.

Appeals were broadcast for clothing. Within five hours a further message said the hastily formed relief committee had enough for 73 families. An appeal for funds brought in £2,700. Farmers who were untouched by the fire rang through with offers of fodder and agistment. A committee has been formed for the erection of temporary homes. The Nimmatabel sawmill has offered to cut the timber. Others have banded together to dispose of cattle carcasses. They are being dozed into heaps by tractor and burnt. Others are droving surviving beasts to grazing land. The spirit of comradeship and charity was good to see, concluded Alderman Holden. Victims of the fire are in dire need of outside help in spite of their efforts for one another. The Kiama Red Cross has started an appeal for funds and clothing. Urgently wanted are men's trousers, women's underclothing and cutlery. Clothing and donations may be left at the Council Chambers. All cash donations will be acknowledged later through the Independent. (Kiama Independent, Feb 1952)

1945

Jack Ward - Inaugural Captain followed by Robert Otton in a position he would hold for the next 31 years). Bob Otton was also the Secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation for many years. Norm Evans, Roads to Water: The History and Story of Tathra, Kalaru & Wallagoot

Bush Fire Causes

When a bushfire sweeps across the country, destroying crops, homes, timber and soil, killing stock and perhaps human beings – don’t suppose it started through the sun shining on a piece of glass or the branches of trees rubbing together or anything of that kind.

The Bush Fire Advisory Committee of New South Wales, which has ben investigating the causes of fires announced that human carelessness or negligence is virtually always the cause.

A cigarette butt only half stubbed before being thrown down, a match which the smoker neglected to break in halves, a camp fire who picnick–cover with soil, a hot coal from a gas producer, ashes from a household stove drying but not dead, the tractor which is not fitted with a spark arrester – these are the causes of bush fires in 99 cases out of 100.

As the warm weather approaches it is apparent that the number of bushfires this year will be much above average. There has been a lush season of green grass nearly everywhere. Soon the grass will be dry and everything will be set for a happy motorist speeding along to knock out the ashes of his pipe or throw away a match, cigar or cigarette.

There are other ways of starting a conflagration. The Bush Fires Advisory Committee hopes every good Australian will learn to avoid them all. (The Bega District News, October, 1945)

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