Brigades of CFA: Ballarat

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Ballarat Fire Brigade proudly boasts being the oldest operational fire brigade in the southern hemisphere to still operate from its original site.


The brigade has been stationed at the same location on Specimen Hill in Ballarat East since 1858, servicing the people of Ballarat and surrounds since its foundation in 1856.

Ballarat is well known for its rich history, with thousands flocking to the area during the gold rush of the 1850s in the hope of finding their fortune.

After the population surge, a terrible fire broke out in 1855 destroying many buildings in the town.

Following the fire, a notice was placed in the Ballarat Times newspaper calling for a public meeting to be held at the Star Hotel on 31 May 1856, with the intention of forming a fire brigade.

A number of meetings were held, and committees were established in the months that followed, before the first volunteers commenced their duty with Ballarat Fire Brigade in January 1857.

Proposed Station for Ballarat Fire Brigade

The Ballarat East Fire Station Tower was designed by renowned Ballarat architect, Henry Caselli and constructed in 1864 by local builder and volunteer firefighter, William Cowland.

When designing the fire tower, Caselli also designed a main building for the fire station. However, the double storey, four-bay engine house design was deemed ‘too elaborate for the area’ and the plans were scrapped.

What was ultimately built was a more modest, single storey building, which paid tribute to the 1858 structure it replaced.

This brick engine bay was officially opened in 1916 and still stands today, proudly housing the brigades lovingly restored 1938 Dodge Pumper.

Ballarat Dodge

Unbeknownst to many, the station’s fire tower played a significant part in Australia’s telecommunication history.

Prominent local designer, engineer and inventor Henry Sutton generously donated one of his inventions to both of Ballarat fire stations of the time. This invention was the double compound telephone system.

Henry installed this telephone system in April 1878, connecting Ballarat Fire Station on Specimen Hill, Ballarat East, with what was then known as Ballarat West Fire Station, on the corner of Sturt and Raglan Streets. This made them the first fire stations in Australia to have a telephone system.

When the first telephone call was made between the two fire stations, Henry Sutton and a number of other officers and gentlemen joined Captain Williams of Ballarat West brigade and Captain Morris of Ballarat brigade.

Henry Sutton’s telephones were an invaluable gift, not only to members of the two fire brigades but to the wider Ballarat community.

Ballarat Fire Station

These are only a few instances of a brigade that is rich in history and steeped in tradition, a brigade whose members are proud to be preserving it for their successors.

The following extract is taken from a note published in the Evening Post in May 1875, which still rings true today:

If there be one body of men in the colony more deserving of consideration, than another, it is the Volunteer Firemen, who spare neither time nor pains to benefit their fellow man; who risk their own lives to save those of others, and who heed not personal injury so long as they can be of public use.

They are a body who are always in active service, for from the formation of a brigade until the day of its demise it is always liable to be called upon - and at a time when the greatest possible inconvenience is felt.

Not only do they receive no pay, though they are the means of saving thousands of pounds worth of property every year, but they have to abide the loss of clothes destroyed whilst fighting with the common enemy, they have to bear their own expenses and they have, in order to become efficient firemen, to devote a very large proportion of their time to practice as well as to actual service.


Ballarat Fire Station

This story is part of a new profile series which highlights our brigades and the great work they do in their communities. Each week we will share a story from a different brigade, with all stories to be featured on the CFA website so all communities can learn more about our brigades.  

Public link: Brigades of CFA

CFA member link: Brigades of CFA


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Submitted by CFA Media