Happy New Year and welcome to this, my first CEO blog of 2022!
I feel like I’m becoming a broken record when I say this, but the year did not get off to the start we expected (as it didn’t last year either)! With COVID-19 cases rising, the Museum faced the same difficulties as most of the state including staff shortages and a decline in visitation as more people elected to stay home or were in isolation.
Due to the situation we elected to postpone the awards ceremony for the Museum’s Art Competition, and it will now take place in the next school holidays when we look forward to welcoming all of our young, shortlisted artists and dignitaries into the Museum to celebrate the works of these children.
The theme of this year’s competition was resilience, and it seems the topic remains all too relevant as we look at the prospect of another COVID-19 impacted year. The shortlisted works on display in the Museum’s gallery show the hope of our next generation which should give all the adults out there the confidence that, at least in the eyes of our youth, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we will recover from the impacts of these last few years.
Our judging panel met before Christmas to assess the works and FRNSW Commissioner Paul Baxter made his selection for the FRNSW Commissioner’s Choice Award. Only myself and one other member of our team know who our winners are and our lips are sealed until April! We cannot wait to be able to finally share the winners when the awards ceremony is held. Voting in the People’s Choice has been extended to the end of January so make sure you get your vote in!
Last year’s awards ceremony was now a year ago and I’m still incredibly proud of what our team achieved with the launch of this new program and exhibition, but I am also still blown away by the calibre of work produced by our primary school children. Many visitors have commented on this as well, especially on the display featuring the works that have been added to our permanent collection. This remains on show in the Museum as will the 2021 exhibit until later this year – keep an eye on our social media for updates on when the exhibition closes.
One thing that we have been able to offer this month is our much-anticipated Junior Caretaker’s Day! Back in mid-2020 the Museum received a donation from Roots and Shoots NSW to enable our team to host a special environment focused day for children. During this day children were invited to help plant Australian natives in special garden beds, and they got to plant some into pots to take home. The day was all about how we impact the environment and what we can do to help regenerate new life. This is particularly important at the Museum given the sudden growth of high-rise apartments around our grounds that have seen many of the natural habitats and plants be removed.
It was great to get our hands dirty with the kids and see them engaging with what we were trying to achieve. We look forward to welcoming the kids back over the coming years so they can tend to their gardens. In the meantime, our volunteers will keep a watchful eye on their development!
As the school holidays continue it is a great time to consider a visit to the Museum. On scheduled days we have volunteers running fire engine rides and throughout the year we will advertise weekends when rides are being offered. In February we have our first Heritage Day for 2022 coming up and the theme of this day is “International”.
This topic was inspired by the longing of our team to travel internationally and the fact that in 1972 the NSW Fire Brigades (NSWFB, now FRNSW) saw a new type of fire engine enter service designed by the NSWFB themselves – the International ACCO 1600. Fifteen of these units were produced in total and delivered to the NSWFB across a two-year period (1972-73) and one of these is part of the Museum’s collection. As Heritage Day approaches, our team will be sharing more about this vehicle type and those that entered service 50 years ago.
Fifty years ago, the Sydney Fire District was extended to include the fast-growing areas of Marayong, Doonside and Plumpton. Two new fire brigades were also established at Albion Park (at the time known as the Albion Park Rail Brigade) and Ulladulla. As these anniversaries come up throughout the year the Museum looks forward to sharing more brief information and photos on our social media.
To house the new brigades, stations were erected in 1972 at Albion Park and Ulladulla, and around the state new stations were also built at Murwillumbah, Sawtell, Redfern, Hornsby, Culcairn, Wentworth, Moss Vale, Swansea, and Riverstone. In total these capital works came to $400,000 (today equivalent to $4.2 million).
This growth in brigades and stations was necessary as the NSWFB faced its busiest year on record when it came to calls for assistance with 46,548 responded to. At the time, this was a record but today over 120,000 calls are answered a year across NSW! The most notable of these are fires I was familiar with from my previous role as the Museum’s heritage officer when I researched them for various history books. The two incidents I refer to are:
On Wednesday 11 October, 1972, fire broke out at the Woolworths Family Shopping Centre in Liverpool. Within half-an-hour of the fire breaking out, thick black smoke could be seen hanging over Liverpool up to 26km away. Luckily at 5:15pm, the time of the fire, there were few shoppers in the complex and so the evacuation took only ten minutes. The fire is believed to have started in a wall cavity and then been spread throughout the building by the highly combustible in Liverpool merchandise found throughout the building. Initially crews attempted to battle the fire from inside the building, however, as the roof collapsed and the structure of the building began to fail this was made impossible and so efforts continued from the outside of the building. Fairfield Brigade was amongst those crews that arrived at the scene at 5:25pm as the number of crews responding was increased to ten. Over the coming days crews worked to fully extinguish the blaze with the destroyed remains of the centre smouldering for a number of days and drawing crowds of spectators. It wasn’t until 5:55pm on 13 October, two days later, that the Brigade declared the fire completely out.
In July, a 60,000 square foot cotton store, housing 9,000 bales in Narrabri, was destroyed by fire. In arduous conditions the local brigade battled to stop the fire spreading to nearby properties, and after many hours, they had the fire under control. They even managed to save 1,500 bales!
What a year 1972, fifty years ago, proved to be for the NSWFB. What will 2022 look like?
Remember we always have something happening at the Museum and are open 7 days, 9:30am-4:30pm, so be sure to visit!
-Belinda McMartin, Museum of Fire CEO