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90 Years Ago: The First Official NSW State Championship

Fire Brigade Championships (as we know them today) began as ‘Demonstrations’ where fire brigades demonstrated their skills to the local community. Events in the ‘Demo’ are based on real situations that firefighters face daily and are designed to highlight their talent and expertise. These demonstrations were also used as a way to train firefighters. Now, State Firefighting Championships continue to be one of Fire and Rescue NSW’s (FRNSW; formerly NSW Fire Brigades) most longstanding and proudest traditions.


This week, our Championship Historian and guest blogger, John Hand, takes us back 90 years to the 1932 ‘Demo’ held in Wagga Wagga.


Whilst this was the FRNSW’s first official competition, ‘Demos’ began 50 years prior, when the United Volunteer Fire Brigades Association held a ‘Grand Intercolonial Fire Brigade Competition’ in November 1881. The Metropolitan Associated Fire Brigades then held its First Annual Gathering in March 1882.


The 1880s and 1890s saw ‘Demos’ held regularly in Sydney, Newcastle, Lambton, Waratah, Bathurst and Goulburn, with Brigades from across NSW and Victoria competing. Competition was strong between the colonies with 24 NSW Metropolitan and Country brigades amongst the 110 brigades competing at Sandhurst (Bendigo, Vic) in 1882.


Front cover of the official programme for the 1932 NSW State Championship held in Wagga Wagga

Following Australia’s Federation, ‘NSW State Demonstrations’ were conducted at Armidale, Forbes, Orange, Dubbo and the last ‘Demo’ at Corowa, before the formation of NSWFB in 1910.


State ‘Demos’ had been conducted regularly from the 1880s onwards in Victoria and WA, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that NSWFB officials investigated the possibility of following suit in NSW.


Messrs. Pigott & Stinson, the solicitors for the FRNSW Board, reported in 1920 to the Board:

“We are of the opinion that the Board might make By-laws providing for contests which would in their opinion, would conduce to the efficiency and discipline of Fire Brigades and stimulate zeal in the particular exercises which render the members more valuable as firemen.”


In July 1931, at the Southern Division Convention at Junee, it was resolved to hold a NSW state firefighting ‘Demo’ at Wagga Wagga in 1932. The decision was popular with Brigades from across NSW and Victoria who went on to compete at Wagga Wagga in October that year.


To kick-off the event, a Torchlight Procession was held at 7:00pm on Monday, October 10th. An inspection of the competitors’ uniforms was undertaken and points were awarded for neatness of dress, completeness and cleanliness of uniform and position of badges and chevrons.


The event was a great success and some of the event categories included ‘Hose Cart’, ‘Discipline Event’, ‘Scaling Ladder’, ‘Alarm and Rescue’ and ‘100 Yards Championship Event’.


Lithgow Fire Brigade placed first in the ‘Demos’ and won the first Alfred Webb Cup which had been donated by the family of the late Chief Officer Webb. This cup was and continues to be awarded to the Brigade gaining the highest aggregate number of points awarded during a ‘Demo’. Two years later at the championships in Newcastle, Lithgow brigade repeated their win.


Lithgow Fire Brigade with their winnings from the 1932 NSW State Championship held in Wagga Wagga [Museum of Fire Collection]

Prizes were awarded for each event category and amongst these prizes were silver fruit stands, gold sleeve link sets, brush and shaving sets, electric toasters, wristlet watches, cut glass powder bowls and fancy jam dishes


Below are the events that Lithgow placed first in:

Event