*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the history of Gulgong Fire Brigade/Fire Station. 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 Gold Rush Fire Brigade (1875-c. 1880)
With the discovery of gold in 1870 at Red Hill (the present-day site of Gulgong) the New South Wales Gold rush brought dramatic population growth to the local area with the population hitting 20,000 by 1872. It was in 1872 that the destructive nature of fire was first experienced in the growing town. The residents of Gulgong were startled into action on Saturday evening, 27 April 1872 as a cry of fire echoed through the town. The fire began at Morris Asher’s store when an employee dropped an oil kerosene lamp after the heat became too much for them to bear. Once the lamp had been dropped it shattered on the floor with the oil and kerosene immediately setting the ground and all around it on fire. Two men inside the store grabbed blankets and attempted to suffocate the fire, however they didn’t leave the fire covered for long enough and it began to spread further. The store contained general groceries, wines, spirits, kerosene, oil and also housed a drapers. All these items were incredibly flammable and within moments most of the store was engulfed by the fire. As those inside rushed to safety, many ready hands came to see what they would do. It was clear that any attempt to save the building was futile and so attention turned to stopping the spread of the fire. It was decided the only way to stop the fire spreading to the neighbouring hotel and Witton’s Store was to tear down the private residence that was directly next to the burning store. With the owner of the residence in Sydney a number of strong men used axes to cut the home from its posts and with rope they pulled the house into the street, leaving a considerable distance between the burning building and the rest of the street. Despite the community rallying together to save their town, many locals were apprehended for looting the burning building. The stock and building was insured, however the store was totally destroyed with over £3,000 (approximately $450,000 today) in goods lost.
As the town of Gulgong continued to grow exponentially, it became clear that something needed to be done to protect the town in case of a fire. In February 1875 it was reported that the NSW Government was sending a firefighting appliance to the town. It was hoped that once the appliance arrived a Fire Brigade would be formed in Gulgong. In April the promised Fire Engine arrived from Sydney for the use of the local Brigade which had recently been formed. This Brigade was largely comprised of the inhabitants of Home Rule (a settlement on the outskirts of the main town), who were said to have boundless energy and town spirit. The Brigade’s meetings were held at the Albion Hotel and were run with the highest of discipline. A governing body had been appointed to oversee the Brigade’s welfare and a letter had even been received from Charles Bown, of the Insurance Brigade in Sydney which provided advice for the Brigade. Mr. Hollebone had been given the keys to where the appliance was stored and was subsequently named Captain.
The Brigade faced their first real test when a destructive fire ripped through Gulgong on 20 October 1875, destroying the public school, bakery and a number of other businesses. The fire began at 3am in a building behind the school before quickly spreading. As the fire began its rampage it was feared that the entire town would be lost, however praise was given to the newly formed Fire Brigade who worked well with the local Police Sargent to save a large portion of the town.
By the start of the 1880s however the goldfields had been all but exhausted and the local population dwindled to barley 1,200 and the Brigade ceased to exist. The weatherboard Fire Station which was built at the time would remain as a lasting reminder of the Brigade that once was. When the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW visited Gulgong in 1930 it was pointed out to them that this building was still standing and had recently been used by a local Police Officer as a garage. The Board were informed that the old manual Engine which had been used by the Brigade some fifty years previous had been left to fall into disrepair and it had therefore been sold to the local Blacksmith for iron. Thus, formally bringing an end to any remnants of the Gold Rush era Fire Brigade in Gulgong.
The Second Gulgong Fire Brigade (1934-Present)
As early as 1899 attempts were being made by locals to re-establish a Fire Brigade, however it wasn’t until 1917 that the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW expressed an interest in extending the Fire Brigades Act to Gulgong. Following this there were four more attempts by both the local council and the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW to establish a Brigade in Gulgong. It was only in 1934 that these steps proved to be successful. While it was agreed that the Fire Brigades Act would be extended to Gulgong from 1 January 1935, the Board of Fire Commissioners NSW agreed to support a Brigade from August 1934 if the council provided temporary premises free of charge until the time that a more formal arrangement could be made the following year. This was agreed to and a station was established on Herbert Street (believed to be where the Gulgong Pioneer Museum is now located). The local country inspector visited and appointed L.W. Norris as Captain. It was felt he was most capable of undertaking Firefighting duties and the role of Captain, plus not only was Mr. Norris the proprietor of the Gulgong Electric Light Supply but he was the Council Turncock. It was the Turncock’s role to turn on the water for the town’s main lines. The other members of the Brigade at this time were: C. Watt, J. Gardiner, W. Gaudry, E. Watt, W. Oldfield, A. Evans, K. Blanning, R. Allen and R. Gudgeon.
After being occupied by the Brigade from 23 September 1935, the Brigade’s purpose-built Fire Station also on Herbert Street was officially opened on Thursday 24 October 1935. The Station was constructed at a cost of nearly £1,000 (approximately $93, 728 today) and was paid for by Gulgong Council from funds provided by the Employment Relief Council.
The New Gulgong Fire Station (2017)
Work got underway on the new Gulgong Fire Station in mid-2015 to replace the existing Station that has been used by the Brigade for eighty-two years. The new Station is equipped with the latest technology and provides Gulgong’s Firefighters with a state-of-the-art facility from which to operate. The $920,000 project is an asset to the fire protection of the local area. Today Gulgong is home to around 2,000 people. According to the latest FRNSW Annual Report (2015-2016), Gulgong Fire Brigade responded to 10 incidents of fire and 36 other incidents.
-Story by the Museum of Fire Heritage Team