Tasmania’s emergency services were poorly equipped and prepared to face the fires that swept through the region’s rural and urban areas. In 1967 communications were almost non-existent, water was scarce at best and people reacted in unexpected, even chaotic ways. A council worker reported facing one hell of an inferno, a police officer thought it was what war must be like. Fire fighters, both professional and volunteer, were powerless against the fury of wind and flames.
Policemen were kept busy controlling traffic, helping with evacuations, keeping people calm, preventing looting and, in the following days, retrieving victims’ remains. Hydro workers risked their lives disconnecting power to homes as they burned down. In the aftermath they had to replace thousands of destroyed power poles. The Royal Hobart Hospital was inundated with fire victims, the morgue was full and staff in the Burns Unit laboured for weeks to save victims.
Emergency service workers went beyond the call of duty that day to serve their community. At the same time they often did not know whether their own properties and families were safe.
Firefighter Brian Baker knew by 7:00 am that trouble was brewing, and by early afternoon he had to evacuate people from their homes in South Hobart as he watched the Cascade Brewery burn down.
Russ Ames had been with Tasmania Police for nearly three years before the 1967 fires struck.
Philippa Brettingham-Moore was the matron in charge of the Burns Unit at the Royal Hobart Hospital in the aftermath of the fires.
On the day of the fires, Hydro Electric Commission worker Rod Hurst was sent to South Hobart with a crew to disconnect power to houses that had caught fire.
Image details: Bush and buildings on fire in Hobart. Image courtesy Woolford Family.