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Fire-Beaters, 1914.

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How the good people of Eltham dealt with bushfires, before there was a fire brigade.



What with an epidemic of fire and the local sports meeting, the ordinarily quiet folk of our village have been all agog for the last few days.

Shortly after noon on Friday, the 9th, smoke was seen rising on the hills to the east of the township, and a migration of nearly every able-bodied man hastened towards it to find a grass fire raging in a field between Pitt and Dalton streets, and traveling fast in the direction of Mr. Isaac Hill’s and towards the river. This outbreak was subdued after some few acres of grass were burnt, the fact of a bare road intervening saving Mr Hill’s and other properties from destruction.

Whilst battling this outbreak, another fire started on the south-east corner of the Terminus Estate, near a cluster of small cottages, principally week-enders, and opposite Reeves’ store. Leaving a few to watch the remains of fire No. 1, the bulk of the fire-fighters, who now numbered some 40 or 60, hastened to attack enemy No. 2, and found that the fire had leaped from the Terminus Estate across a street, and was raging through a stubble field post-haste towards the barn and stables of Cr. Taylor(1)82 Bible St.. After strenuous efforts, the fire was stayed at the fence within a few feet of the barn. It was what firemen call a “good save”, especially as the fire was very near to some cases of benzine.

A battle in a lesser degree was going on near the source of the fire, where several distressed women and one or two old fogies were struggling with the outbursts of blazing grass amongst the cottages, till more effective assistance turned up.

It was a hot time throughout for all concerned, and great was the satisfaction when Mrs. Taylor and daughters brought round some liquid refreshments.

But as the hymn says- “Still there’s more to follow”.

The sports on Saturday gave a welcome opportunity to wash the smoke out of mouths and eyes; and on Sunday everybody seemed happy-when-after dinner, dense volumes of smoke were seen rising from the hills between here and Greensborough. After dinner naps were broken some good folks had neither dinner nor nap, but men hastened by all roads to the scene. The fire raged all along the hills west of the township towards the Heidelberg road just outside the paddock of Mr. Orr(2)Bolton St. where Ridge Medical Center is now located.. It was kept from crossing the road into Messrs. Falkner’s, by vigorous efforts, but later on leaped the road into a paddock at the back of West’s, which, being covered with debris of fallen timber and numerous small stacks of timber, provided the best of food for the devouring element. Here the fighters had to retreat, the heat and smoke being unbearable. The fire was eventually stayed some chains from the houses of Mrs. Shackleton and Mr. R. West. The workers had a rest and watched for a time, and at last a south wind gave a respite. About 6 pm. most of the fire-beaters left for home, but some had to watch all Sunday night for fear of the fire doubling back. The light rain of Monday has dispelled all fear.

Fully 100 men of all sorts and conditions were engaged from this side alone. At one period a clerical gentleman, on the road to his service, left his “bike” on the roadside, and for a while battled with the rest, whilst another on horseback rendered good service by acting as messenger between the different parts of the field during the engagement with the relentless enemy. But for the willing efforts of so many, several homesteads must have gone up in smoke. Messrs. Long are the chief sufferers, having lost some hundreds of acres of grass, and the loss of cut firewood has also hurt some unfortunate worker.

As far as can be ascertained these outbreaks are all due to someone’s carelessness, showing that “Evil is wrought by want of thought, As well as want of heart”. Most of the Eltham men at present have the odour of a chimney sweep, combined with that of a singed cat.

Great satisfaction is felt at the unqualified success of the sports meeting on the 10th, and its promoters deserve all credit for the same. The only unpleasant feature of the affair was the presence of those unsavoury specimens of humanity, the raucous voiced “bookies,” who might well have been absent, and who legally had no right there. Still there are always some “flies in the ointment,” to mar its perfection. The concert in the evening was a satisfactory completion to a good day, and is admitted to have been exceptionally good, the trio party coming in for special commendation, as also the comicalities of Messrs. Allan Hughes, and the original Joe Morris. Every item was thoroughly appreciated, and Mrs. Pepperell proved an accomplished accompaniate. Cr Taylor made a splendid chairman and donated a sovereign to the funds as a thanksgiving offering, for the efforts of those who saved his property from the fire of the previous day. The Austin-Hospital should benefit substantially through the movement.


Eltham. (1914, January 16). Evelyn Observer and Bourke East Record (Vic. : 1902 – 1917), p. 2 (MORNING.). Retrieved January 12, 2021, from


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