Death of Dimboola stalwart Bill McCann

From humble beginnings, success with running teams and a lifetime of firefighting experience, Bill McCann's achievements were celebrated by Dimboola member Bronwyn Hastings in this CFA News and Media story from 2013. 

Bill died last week and, to celebrate his many CFA and community achievements, we reprint Bronwyn's excellent story below.

Having fought hundreds of fires, and worked his way through the ranks, Bill says there are a few incidents that stand out.

“One of the first major fires I remember was at Robinsons Store in about 1954,” Bill said, “it was a womens clothes shop where Rotary Square is now. 

“Then there was Mullers Store in Victoria Street, next to where the old Coffee Palace is. That also burnt down in the 50s.”

Bill was a firefighter during both these fires, when the brigade had just basic tools and equipment to assist in firefighting operations.

“We had no tanker, just a pumper that we rode in the back of, there was no cabin. We had two knapsacks and beaters to put out fires,” Bill said. “We wore whatever clothes we had on when the siren sounded; shorts, singlet and thongs, or the suit we were wearing at the ball.

“We bought our own overalls in the early 1960s, along with our own boots, radios and pagers. We used to raise money with bottle drives. Sometimes we would go out with one group starting at Gerang, the other near Dimboola, and we would meet at the Z2. It would clean up the highway, and we would make money from the bottles we picked up.”

Bill has filled many of the official positions of the brigade since joining in 1953; he was apparatus officer from 1961 until 1963, and first Lieutenant from 1973 to 1984, when the fire of 1980 threatened Dimboola after starting at Pink Lake.

He was elected Captain by his peers in 1988, and held the position until 1992. 

In the early days, a bell was used to alert firefighters to a fire; “fast ringing for a town fire, slow for a country fire,” and a caretaker lived behind the station.

“I remember one fire in the desert that was burning quite fiercely,” Bill said, “I argued with another bloke about where it would come out. He said to go to Pomponderoo Hill, I said that we would go to Barretts and meet it there. I ended up taking my crews to Barretts, where it did eventually come out.

“It was one of the worst fires Ive seen, it was very frightening. As it came towards us, emus and foxes came running out of the scrub. We went through a fence and took shelter in a clay pan, which saved us.”

In more recent times, Bill has taken on communications duties. He was elected Communications Officer and Group Communications Officer in 1992, holding both positions until 2000, and has helped in the communications room regularly since then.

“I was Comms Officer when Cordners Garage burnt around 1997, and when the Dimboola Hotel was lost in 2003. The pub fire was also a significant one, that impacted the town considerably,” he said.

“I have been to fires in the Grampians four times, the last two I was on strike teams – during the first two fires, strike teams didnt exist.”

Bill, a talented athlete, was a part of the brigades successful competition running team, gaining many trophies. 

He also won the 1960 Stawell Gift with a time of 11.8 seconds in the 130-yard (120-metre) event. Vision of the event shows the 25-year-old Bill winning the event easily, even with a handicap of 6.75 yards. Self-trained that year, he won 755 pounds in prize money. 

His running career began with a meet in Maryborough on new years day in 1957, and took him to meets in Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. He retired at the end of 1963, the same year that friend and fellow athlete Max Budde came second in the Stawell Gift – 50 years ago. It was then he joined the railways, and work commitments meant he couldn’t train properly.

Bills work career began with a job at the Dimboola Post Office and phone exchange in 1949 until he joined the railways in 1963, working there until retiring in 1993. 

Bill has three grown children; Arlene, Colleen and Grant, and four grandchildren. Grant has been employed as a firefighter in Warrnambool since 2000, and is also a member at Dimboola. 

Bill took part in the Queens Baton Relay in March 2006, and has a sports house named in his honour at Dimboola Primary School, along with other local celebrities Dr Alister Hinchley and footballer Tim Watson.

Among his achievements is receiving the CFA National Medal, being made an honorary life member of the Dimboola Fire Brigade, and being awarded the Wimmera Mail-Times and Heinz Sportsman of the Year.
Photo courtesy of Dimboola Courier

Author: Leith Hillard