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Keeping the home fires burning
Wangaratta Fire Brigade has reached a proud milestone with the awarding of a 60-year service medal to brigade life members Joan Rosser and Elaine Graham. Another four women are also very long-serving brigade auxiliary members.
Records being imperfect, it’s impossible to calculate the amount of money raised by the auxiliary which was formerly known as the ladies committee.
“We mainly ran card games and raffles, did sewing and cooking for street stalls and did some catering,” said Joan. “Most of the money we raised was spent on equipment like hoses and running hydrants and even towards the trucks. We paid for everything for the Juniors and the running teams.”
Both women remember that men had to be on duty at the pictures because of the flammability of the nitrate film. They stood at the back and their wives got a free ticket.
“[Husband] John and I went to fire demos every week of our lives and travelled all over with our six children,” continued Joan.
Elaine, husband Peter and their five children were just as active with the running team and she most remembers the laughter.
“The fire brigade was our life,” she said. “I never missed an auxiliary meeting. It was my night out. There were wonderful friendships and all the children grew up together.
“Peter had a van and we had all the young firemen onboard going to a demo when the back door came open and all the sleeping bags and chairs fell out. Gee, we laughed.”
(Let’s not mention the times Elaine emptied a whole bottle of gin into the punch or emptied the ash trays into the punch; understandable when the punch was in a rubbish bin.) We must, however, mention that she makes the best scones and sponges.
There was no light-heartedness, however, in Elaine’s introduction to fire. The devastating 1943 Tarrawingee fire was a lived experience for her; a dark day in her family history which was also the day of her seventh birthday party.
“My father and all the men had to go to the fires,” said Elaine, “and he never spoke one word about it. The fire caused him to take to drink and he changed from being a loving father. That fire caused so much damage to our family.”
One generation later, however, and Joan and Elaine emphasise the building up of families because of the brigade; the brigade as an enduring social bond.
“Protecting life and property only works when there’s support at home,” said Joan. “We were there for the menfolk, cooking in our homes and taking food to them at fires.
“We got involved for the love of our men.”
Joan’s husband John was also a Wangaratta life member and spent 56 years in the brigade. When he died in 2004, “I’m sure, looking down, he would have been pleased with his send off. Some of the auxiliary wives flew back from Western Australia to say goodbye and his casket was driven on the Wangaratta 1938 Dodge to the cemetery.”
Elaine particularly treasures the memory of her 80th birthday party celebrated with the brigade; a wonderful opportunity to rekindle lifelong friendships, particularly with the other women who also kept the home fires burning.