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125 Years of Competition

For this week's blog, Championship Historian John Hand takes a look back at the first annual Fire Brigades "Demo" held by the Victorian Brigades in 1896, 125 years ago.

Competition between Fire Brigades in Australia began in the latter half of the 19th Century. In colonial Sydney, there was fervent competition between the Insurance Fire Brigades and the Volunteer Fire Brigades which resultantly saw the emergence of 'Demonstrations' being conducted to showcase the firefighting skills of both organisations. These ‘Demos’ can be considered the beginnings of organised training in the brigades, long before Training Officers and Training Centres evolved.

In September 1883, 110 brigades competed at Sandhurst, Victoria (now known as Bendigo) with 23 brigades participating from NSW. By 1896, Demonstrations were well established in NSW, Victoria, WA and Tasmania.

Victoria Demo, The Illustrated Sydney News, 1883 (provided by John Hand)

In March 1896, the Victorian Brigades held their first annual Fire Brigades Demonstration in Ballarat, Victoria. At this time, two NSW Brigades from Albury and Newtown competed. Preceding the competition, a torchlight procession of 2,000 firefighters and 15 brass and drum bands was held.

In August of the same year, a Fire Brigade Demonstration was held in Freemantle, Western Australia to celebrate the christening of the new Freemantle steam fire engine, named “The Premier”. This new fire engine led the parade to the competition ground.

On Boxing Day of 1896, the annual demonstration for volunteer fire brigades was held at Leichhardt Park on the foreshores of Iron Cove:

"A number of events were with by teams from Granville, Paddington Brewery, Leichhardt and Rookwood. Events included Hose Practice for eight men, Hose Practice for four men, Alarm and Rush for six men, Hose Practice for Two men, Rescue Drill and Firemen’s face in full uniform", Excerpt taken from the Daily Telegraph, Mon 28 December 1896.

The first ever inter-colonial event to be held in NSW took place back in November 1881 in Prince Alfred Park under the auspices of the United Volunteer Fire Brigades. On 8 November the torch-parade was met with cheers from the crowd, setting the tone for what would be a successful Demonstration. Another procession took place on the morning of 9 November which was the day of the Demonstration events and this drew attention to the day’s proceedings and aided drawing in a crowd.

In all, about 6,000 people attended the day’s proceedings, however long intervals between events meant that the crowd became restless and began to walk across the Demonstration ground which was off-limits to the public. A number of Firefighters attempted to stop the public entering the field, however their efforts were in vain so a new technique was tried, directing the water from the hose at the crowd to keep them back. This did not bode well though as in a portion of the crowd hit by the water were a number of ladies who were relatives of one of the promoters

Pictured Above: An example of a manual pumper used in early firefighting and competition during the 1850’s to early 1900’s

These Demonstrations, now known as Championships, ceased upon the formation of the NSW Fire Brigade in 1910. However, in 1932, these demonstrations were reintroduced by the Brigade. Fire and Rescue NSW upholds this tradition to this day. Over time, modern firefighting and rescue equipment has been introduced to complement the existing historical practices exhibited at these demonstrations.

-Story by Championship Historian John Hand and Museum of Fire Heritage/Engagement Team


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