Buninyong Fire Brigade in the 1900s
From its humble beginnings, where firefighters responded to fires on foot with leather buckets to the current brigade, Buninyong-Mount Helen Fire Brigade has played an important part in protecting the community for the past 150 years.
Brigade life member Stephen Warren has been working closely with fellow brigade member Ron Gilchrist and the local historical society to document the brigade’s rich history.
“Newspapers reported a public meeting held in July 1873, where the local borough council called for members to form a fire brigade,” Stephen said.
“The closest fire station was in Ballarat East, which meant firefighters had to travel quite a distance by horse and cart to attend to fires.
“Given the impost on its firefighters, Ballarat East Fire Brigade requested compensation from the borough council to continue to respond to fire calls in the Buninyong area.
“The shire wanted to avoid these costs and essentially, this was the catalyst for the formation of the Buninyong Fire Brigade.”
The brigade purchased an apparatus cart in 1873 and after disastrous fires destroyed half the town in 1876, the brigade purchased a Merryweather horse drawn manual pump from England in 1882.
The Merryweather was designed to be operated by 26 men and with only 12 brigade members at the time, firefighters often relied on assistance of bystanders to assist pumping.
The brigade was originally housed in a shire-built station on Learmonth St, which was destroyed by fire in 1898. The stations fire bell mysteriously disappeared soon after and was presumed stolen.
A neighbouring church bell was used to alert the community to fires and town emergencies, until a replacement station was erected on the same Learmonth St site in 1899, complete with a new bell and belltower.
The alleged missing bell was found in 2015, when a bell with the inscription Buninyong 1883 was discovered in a metal processing plant. The bell was presented to the brigade and displayed in its rightful home at the Buninyong Fire Station.
However, further research revealed the original owner was likely a passenger ship also dubbed Buninyong that travelled between Sydney and Melbourne from 1883 to 1924. Leaving the whereabouts of the original bell a mystery to this day.
Current Captain Gareth Smith said memorabilia like the bell and Merryweather, as well as the stories linked to them, are important when it comes to preserving the history of the brigade.
“The first two decades of the brigade’s history was ironically lost during the fire in 1898," Gareth said.
“Thankfully we have some historians in the brigade and with the support of the community and historical society, we’re slowly piecing it together.
“As the current custodians of the brigade, we have a duty to future brigade members to capture important events and significant milestones like this 150-year anniversary."
An event was held over the weekend at the Buninyong Town Hall, which saw CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan join current and former brigade members, as they came together to celebrate the significant milestone.
To mark the anniversary, Chief Officer Heffernan presented the brigade with a 150-year anniversary plaque, another important piece of memorabilia to be proudly displayed at the station.
Event photography by Drew Smith
- L-R: Commander Malcolm Hayes, Buninyong Captain Gareth Smith, Chief Officer Jason Heffernan, A/ACFO Gavin Hope, Ex Captain Marc Cannan, Ex Captain & MC Ian Crosbie
- Brigade Captain Gareth Smith (left) with ex Captain Marc Cannan (right) presenting Firefighter Callum Parkinson with the 2023 Captain's Encouragement Award
- Chief Officer Jason Heffernan (left) presenting commemorative plague to Brigade Captain Gareth Smith