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Station Focus – No. 211 Ballina Station – 1903 to 2023 Celebrating 120 Years

*This information is an extract from the colour-book produced by the Museum of Fire's Heritage Team to celebrate the station opening of Ballina Fire Station in 2016. The following is dedicated to the station's continuing history celebrating now at the time of writing in 2023, 120 years of history. 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 Volunteer Brigade in Ballina

the original Ballina Fire Station, 1908 [Museum of Fire collection]
The original Ballina Fire Station, 1908 [Museum of Fire collection]

The hot climate of Ballina made it particularly susceptible to fire. Due to Ballina’s remote nature this also meant that if fire was to occur help was not close at hand. These factors thus led to the dedication of a piece of land on Crance Street for the purpose of building a Fire Station on 31 March 1894. Despite this step it would however be a number of years before a Brigade was established in Ballina, leaving the town vulnerable to fire. This fact was highlighted when the Royal Hotel was completely burnt down on 14 January 1897;prior to this the building had stood in the town for around eighteen years. Dry weather, causing the timber of the building to also be very dry was blamed for the speed at which the fire took hold of the building. Fortunately, no one was injured and those inside were able to work rapidly to try and save some of the furniture.

The need for a Fire Brigade in Ballina was further emphasized when, in 1900 an estimated £3,200 (approximately $460,000 today) damage was caused by fire. Within one day seven business and five homes were destroyed as fire ripped through the remote town. It was very lucky that no one was injured or killed as residents struggled to keep out of the way of the fire. The fire began around 3:30am on 5 May 1900 and over 500 locals came from their beds to assist, however without a local Fire Brigade it was fortunate that the fire burnt itself out.

It was thus timely that the tender of T. Carlill of £108 (approximately $14,500 today) was accepted in October 1902 to erect a Fire Station at Ballina on the dedicated council land. Due to the limited funds available for the establishment of a Brigade each night a member of the Brigade had to sleep at the Station as funds were not available to erect a fire-bell or connect the station with the telephone exchange. The new Brigade were catered for by the local community though, with over £100(approximately $13, 500 today) raised to support the Brigade. Eleven men joined the initially, under the guidance of Captain Moon, who had three years’ experience with Sydney’s leading Fire Brigades. On 17 March 1903 it was reported in a regional newspaper that the Ballina Fire Brigade were now ‘duly constituted with a fine up-to-date Station and a hose a reel’.

The Fire Brigades Act comes to Ballina

In 1908 the Sydney Fire Brigades Board took an interest in the Brigade at Ballina issuing a report into the state of the Station, Brigade and their finances. The report stated that the Fire Brigades Act had already been extended to the town of Ballina but to date nothing had been done by the Board to implement the Act. At the present time the Brigade consisted of twelve men and a Captain, who lived in a cottage adjoining the Station. Due to the vast nature of the fire district, (it covering 14.5km) when the fire bell was sounded members would proceed in the direction of the bell to attend the fire rather than first attending the Fire Station. The report stated that this practice seemed to be working effectively. Further, over the coming years two sub-stations, that housed hose reels and other appliances, developed in North-East Ballina (1916-1927) and West Ballina (1914-1924) to assist the Brigade in responding as quickly as possible to fire. After a more modern main station was erected in 1928 and a motor appliance was provided for the Station, these sub-stations were closed.

In 1910 the Fire Brigades Act was formerly extended to Ballina and so the Brigade and Station Building came under the watch of the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW. At this time the Brigade possessed a reel and hose cart that was described as being in fair order and five years old. One of the first acts by the Board of Fire Commissioners for Ballina was to accept the tender of Mr. Edwards for the supply of a horse and harness. Prior to this the Brigade had been having difficulty hiring horses to attend fires and this would solve their problems. It was arranged that Mr. Edwards would sleep on the station premises to make his horse readily available. At a later date the Brigade’s Captain, Mr. Kerby showed his immense dedication to the Brigade and town of Ballina when he provided his own horse and chose to live at the Station to best serve the Brigade. The Station was also still lit by kerosene lamps and so steps were taken to have electricity installed. Despite making some positive steps to assist the Ballina Brigade there was much concern amongst the members of the Brigade as to the fee they received and to the fact that the new uniforms that were promised to them were yet to arrive. The Brigades senior officer, Captain Kerby wrote to the Board of Fire Commissioners stating the Brigades concerns, requesting a monthly increase in retaining fees from 7 shillings to 10 shillings (approximately $45 and $65 respectively). The Board replied by promising to look into the matter at some point in the future. By 1928 the Brigade’s retaining fee had been raised to their requested amount.

The aftermath of the destructive Ballina Fire, 31 March 1923 [ Museum of Fire Collection]
The aftermath of the destructive Ballina Fire, 31 March 1923 [ Museum of Fire Collection]

Ballina experienced a drought in the summer of 1915-16 which created a strain on the town’s water supply. To aid the water situation a manual engine was requisitioned from Casino to stand-by in Ballina in case of a fire. The appliance was sent by boat to Ballina and arrived there on Saturday 8 January 1916. Luckily the appliance was scarcely needed; though the Brigade reported that it was an unsatisfactory piece of equipment. Therefore, when the Board wished to give it permanently to the Ballina Brigade, they requested that it be returned to Casino.

The Second Fire Station

In 1924 the Board of Fire Commissioners inspected Ballina Fire Station amid reports that it was seriously damaged by termites. The inspection revealed the reports to be true and so all maintenance work was suspended on the property and a decision made to erect a new station on the existing site. Efforts for a new Station in Ballina received a boost when the municipality boundaries of Tintenbar Shire and Ballina were altered. Part of Tintenbar was added to the Ballina district and thus the Fire Brigades Act of 1909 was re-applied to the new Ballina Municipality.

Despite this, initial funds for the work were not forthcoming and hence it wasn’t until three years later on 24 August 1927 that a tender was accepted from Ainsworth Brothers of £2,600 (approximately $197,000 today) for the new Station and removal of the old Station. While the land was cleared and building work was undertaken for the new station steps had to be made to find somewhere else for the Brigade to operate from. The living quarters of the Station had been occupied by the Brigade’s Engine keeper, Baird and his family. The Baird family were housed in the old council chambers during this time which adjoined the fire station property. The bell and other Firefighting equipment were removed to the chambers until the new station was completed. On 24 March 1928 the new Station was officially opened.

The Second Ballina Fire Station frist built in c. 1920s, 1980 [Museum of Fire Collection]
The Second Ballina Fire Station, 1980 [Museum of Fire Collection]

Prior to the opening of the new Station the Board sent an Officer to Ballina to reorganise the Brigade, after some dissention and ill feeling had been expressed towards Captain Simpson. A growing issue that was causing problems with the efficiency of the Brigade was that due to the remote and rural nature of Ballina, many local men had to work away for months at a time to provide an income for their families. Many members of the Ballina Brigade took extensive periods of leave to work in the cane fields of Queensland or to work on the railways. While this did cause some inconsistency with the Brigade it was decided that a change in Captaincy was needed and so J. Reardon, who was serving as the Brigade’s Engine keeper was named Captain. Unfortunately, Mr. Reardon would not remain Captain of the Brigade for long as in late 1926 he tendered his resignation after he lost his eye during an accident while at work at the council’s quarry. Captain Reardon was held in such high regard by the local community that the local council wrote to the Board of Fire Commissioners imploring them to retain him as Captain despite the loss of his eye.

Ballina Captain’s List

Moon: 1903 –c. 1908

Kerby: c. 1908-1917

Fryer: 1916 (Acting)

Simpson: 1917 - 1924

Reardon: 1924 – 1926

Bryant: 1926 – 1931

Denford: 1928 – 1931 (Acting)

Mountfield: 1931 – 1947

Tranter: 1947 – 1951

McGrath: 1951 – 1957

Whitehead: 1957-1982

Hankinson: 1982 – 1989

Henry: 1989 - 2021

Vanderberg: 2022 - Present

Current Ballina Fire Station opened in 2016 [Museum of Fire Collection]
Current Ballina Fire Station opened in 2016 [Museum of Fire Collection]

- Story by Musuem of Fire Heritage Team


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