20 March 2023

Riverina Rewind: That time a whole street burned down in North Wagga

| Chris Roe
Start the conversation
Wagga's volunteer fire brigade, established in 1880.

Early members of Wagga’s volunteer fire brigade, established in 1880. Photo: CSURA.

The saucy Australian Firefighters Calendar was established 30 years ago as an annual charity fundraiser, but judging from this image of Wagga’s first volunteer fire brigade, they could have started the initiative much earlier!

These likely lads, boasting snappy uniforms and facial hair (but wearing more clothing than their 21st-century counterparts) are among the first members of the brigade that was formed in 1880.

Alex Bolton was the captain and they were first based in Baylis Street before moving to Morrow Street and later The Esplanade.

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: What on earth were they doing with ‘Cocky’s Joy’ at Lake Albert?

Fires were common in colonial Australia with wooden structures and candles making for a combustible combination.

In January of the same year that the brigade was established, a fire at the Pastoral Hotel left a string of buildings in ashes in North Wagga in the area now known as Bomen.

According to the Maitland Mercury, it was around midday that Mrs Davis raised the alarm.

“Standing at the door talking to the baker, she saw smoke proceeding from the inside and found it came from one of the bedrooms, which she saw was filled with smoke and flames. She ran out of the house with her three children,” the story reads.

“Her cries of alarm reached Mr Reynolds, government line inspector, and he hastily collected men working on the railway, and rushed to the scene of the fire.”

READ ALSO Polishing a cultural gem – Museum of the Riverina opens refurbished doors

But despite their efforts, the wooden building with its tin roof was quickly engulfed by flames.

As a strong wind picked up the empty shop next door also caught alight and “took but a few minutes to complete its destruction”.

A butcher’s shop and a newsagent were the next in line, the latter was “built with brick walls and iron roof, and the walls were soon left standing alone, the roof and woodwork being swept away”.

With the fire now blazing out of control, the desperate locals turned their attention to “Slattery’s Terminus Hotel, which stands at the corner of the street, near the railway”.

Abandoning the line of buildings to the fire, the railway workers concentrated their efforts on the corner hotel with success, “though, of course, much damage was caused by hasty removal of furniture”.

The Wagga Wagga Advertiser records that five months later on Saturday 12 June, a meeting was held at the assembly room of the Mechanics Institute to establish Wagga’s volunteer fire brigade.

After being elected captain, Mr Bolton said it had taken “a great deal of persuasion” to get him to sign up, but now that he had the gig, “he hoped all the members would assist him to carry out the duties appertaining to the office.

“He would expect that all would enter upon the duty seriously, and make up their minds that it was not a plaything, but a matter which required their earnest attention; if this principle were strictly adhered to, the fire brigade would be a success.”

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.