Fire! Fire! Fire! Man’s best friend and worst enemy. Immediately a fire alarm is raised, whether it be in town or country all eyes scan the horizon to try and locate the origin of the blaze.
The Illabo Brigade was formed at a public meeting convened by the Illabo Progress Association and held in the Literary Institute Reading Room in 1915. According to records Illabo was evidently one of the first Brigades in the area.
Jack Truelove was elected President, Joe Nichols Secretary/Treasurer, Bill Houston, Robert Hamilton and Dennis Morris, vice presidents. The Constitution and By-Laws of the Lake Albert Brigade (where John Morris then lived) were adopted. Clause II stated:- “Duties of Officers: Scouts (in brief, to report fires and move stock). Each Scout shall be provided with a wire cutter and shall as far as possible provide himself with a stock whip.” The Brigade chose its own boundary which was a six mile radius of the Illabo Post Office.
The first equipment purchased were two 100 gallon square iron tanks with No. 4 semi- rotary pump and air chamber, 2Oft. ¾” rubber hose and nozzle for £ 7.0.0 each. Also 1 dozen leather beaters and 4 trail lighters. Each member was asked to provide his own beater.
As time went on fire fighting equipment was obtained from the Bush Fire Authority to Brigade members who payed 25% of the cost to Council, the balance being funded by Insurance Companies, State Government and the Shire. The Brigade as such owned very little equipment as members were encouraged to procure and maintain their own.
In latter times R. G. Hamilton was Captain for 27 years and secretary for 16 years up until 1981. In 1977 he was presented with a Queen’s Medal in recognition of his outstanding service to the Bush Fire Brigade. He was one of the few people in the Illabo Shire to be honoured. It seems that the members appreciate a Captain with experience. Mr K. J. Ryan held the position of Captain for 18 years.
Over the years we have had many fires but none have developed into a major blaze, due to the fact that land owners must provide fire breaks along their northern and western boundaries and around cropping areas. Secondly, as this is a closely settled area, intersected with roads, invariably there is someone on the scene of the fire to contain it until further assistance arrives. Thirdly and most importantly, we have not had an outbreak on an extremely dangerous day when control is almost impossible, for which we should be grateful.
There have been some amusing incidents at fires. On one occasion after the fire was under control and “mopping up” was proceeding, the owner of the property sent a new hand to get a 44 gallon drum of water and a pump off a stand at a certain place, and put out some fence posts that had caught alight. He returned in a matter of minutes, unscrewed the bung from the drum, rammed the pump in and started pumping vigorously, only to find that it was a drum of power kerosene! In his excitement to get the old ute away from the inferno, he put it into reverse gear instead of first gear and finished up in a dam close by.
On another occasion, a chap was going to a fire with a horse drawn Furphy Water Tank fitted with a hand pump when a motorised unit flew past. When they approached the fire they pulled up to get the pump working but the engine refused to start. As the horse jogged past the driver yelled out, “Take that so and so thing into that ploughed paddock — we’ve got one fire on our hands already”.
Then there was the member who was asked by the Captain to check the railway line on his way home and make sure there hadn’t been anything left smouldering after the burn off that day. He was later found trying to climb the distant railway signal post to put out the fire on the top! It was after dark!
The preceding article was written for the History of Illabo published in 1984. Since then the Brigade has been involved in two major fires. The first was in 1988 and started on Sarafan (10 miles north of Illabo) and burnt across to the Bethungra Hills and onto Muttama. It took some 3 days to finally bring it under control. The second started on 3rd January 1990 on the Junee-Temora Road and burnt through the Illabo District and just some 800 metres south of the village. This fire was stopped again at Muttama. The second day the wind changed to an easterly and burnt back into the Bethungra Hills and was stopped on the Bethungra-Nangus Road the next night. Both of these two fires were fought in extreme conditions of high temperatures and low humidity. Two lives where lost in the first fire at Muttama. The second fire resulted in the loss of 3 houses (1 occupied) and numerous numbers of livestock.
The village of Illabo has had two major fires with the loss of the Hotel in 1964 and the Illabo Store on 7th December 2004.
The Brigade’s first truck which was a ford which was donated by Mr Jim Bush. It was later stolen and ended up across the railway line some 3 miles west of Illabo. The second truck was an ex-army 6x6 International. In the 1990’s, we received a Cat 3 Isuzu and a Cat 2 Isuzu which replaced the 6x6 International.
The Brigade has annually helped burn the railway line and various vacant blocks around the village which has helped reduce the fire potential that the main southern railway line posed to the area. Illabo has a fire shed, which houses the main tanker. This shed is on the site of the old Illabo Hall which had been donated to the community in the early 1940’s. The site had been owned by Tooths Brewery. The shed was built by the Illabo Country Music Club. Following the retirement of Mr K J Ryan, in 1989 his position as Captain was taken on by his son, Paul, who retired in 2004. The present Captain is Mr Andrew Hamilton, a grandson of Mr R G Hamilton. Andrew had previously been Secretary for the last 21 years.