Station Focus: Bega Fire Brigade (1901-2016)

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the centenary of Bega Fire Station back in 2016. Should you wish to use any of the information and pictures provided we ask that you please reference the Museum correctly and contact the Museum for permission where applicable.

The Establishment of a Fire Brigade in Bega

The first calls for the establishment of a local Fire Brigade in Bega were made in 1884 after a suspicious fire destroyed two houses in Church Street. The fire was the first serious one to take place in Bega, occurring just after 9am on Sunday 20 January 1884. No one was home at the time in either cottage with all residence attending Sunday morning church services. A small fire was left burning in the hearth of one of the homes which was initially thought to have been how the fire started, however later investigations would reveal the fire began some distance from the fire place. It was only after the second home caught alight that the alarm was raised and locals flocked to stop it spreading further.

Despite calls for a local Fire Brigade, it would not be until the turn of the century that steps were taken to create one and this only occurred after the local brewery was destroyed by a fire. On Saturday 20 January 1900, around 10pm a fire broke out in Arnold’s Brewery. The fire began in the boiler room and should have easily been extinguished by those that discovered the fire, however they could not find any water. As the fire spread quite a crowd made their way to the brewery, which by midnight was nothing but rubble. The estimated losses were £1,700 (approximately $248,000 today).

It was after the brewery fire that a ‘referendum’ was held in Bega. In June 1900 locals voted whether they wanted a Bega Fire Brigade established under the control of the Municipal Council. Out of approximately 300 rate-payers only 48 voted with 21 in favour of establishing a Brigade and 27 against the proposal. Therefore the ‘no’ vote won. It later became evident that the town did want a Fire Brigade, however it was their wish that a Brigade be established, not by the Council but rather under the guise of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) in Sydney. Therefore, the Council approached the MFB to seek assistance in establishing a Brigade. Some £100 (approximately $14,500 today) had already been raised by local residents to go towards the creation of a Brigade; however Council estimates suggested that £500 (approximately $73,000 today) was needed to purchase an appliance.

In 1901 much was done to raise funds to equip and establish a Fire Brigade. In February it was reported that a grant of £200 (approximately $29,340 today) was now available for Bega to establish a Fire Brigade and purchase an appliance. In June a ball was held to raise additional funds for the Brigade with approximately £9 (equivalent to approximately $1,320 today) raised. In April an appliance arrived in Bega for the Brigade. The appliance was one of the first of its kind, being considered compact and powerful. So proud of the appliance was the Brigade that in March the following year they exhibited it at the local Bega Show. During the Show at a special ceremony the appliance was publicly named ‘The Henry Clarke’, in honour of the district member who was instrumental in obtaining the Government Grant to purchase the appliance.

The Fire Brigades Act Comes to Bega

Finally, after years of attempting to be associated with the MFB, the Fire Brigades Act was extended to Bega in 1910, therefore bringing a number of changes to the area. Many in Bega considered this to be a blessing as for many years the local Council had campaigned for funding to sustain the local Volunteer Brigade, however this had not been forthcoming. Now under the NSWFB, funding came much more readily, as did advancements to fire firefighting in the area. The Chief Officer of the Division wrote to the Board of Fire Commissioners suggesting that from 1 March 1910, Robert Whyman, who had already been acting in the role as Captain since 1901 be appointed Captain and Archibald Hamberlin be appointed Engine Keeper of the Bega Volunteer Fire Brigade. At this time the Volunteer Brigade was operating out of a disused blacksmith shop on the corner of Gipps and Upper Streets. The shed building was said to be in such a dilapidated state that new premises needed to be found to house the Brigade. At this time Bega still did not have a reticulated water system and so a series of tanks were established throughout the town to allow access to water, (it would not be until late 1929 that a water system would be available in Bega).

Bega's First Purpose Built Fire Station

By 1914 reports were making their way back to the Board of Fire Commissioners that despite the best efforts of the Brigade, due to the dilapidated state of the building in which the appliance was kept, it was near impossible to keep it in working order. Therefore, Bega Fire Brigade was finally promised a new Fire Station.

On 7 July 1915 a portion of land was resumed from the Berne Estate (the land that currently houses the Brigade) for the cost of £440, 15 shillings and 4 pence (approximately $43,122 today).

In October of that year the Clerk of Works reported that due to Bega’s remote location, having the materials for the building of a new Fire Station transported was costly. A timber Station was estimated to cost £525 (approximately $51,362 today) while a brick Station would cost about £625 (approximately $61,146 today).