13 June 2023

Riverina Rewind: Wagga dwarf sets Snow White on fire!

| Chris Roe
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Snow White

Snow White on fire! An extraordinary event unfolded at Wagga Wagga Country Cub in 1949. Photo: Chris Roe.

People think ”clickbait” is a new thing, but newspapers and magazines have been turning out ”must-read” headlines for generations.

This one from the Border Morning Mail in November 1949 would have been hard to look past and surprisingly does indeed truthfully sum up an extraordinary incident.

“DWARF SETS SNOW WHITE ON FIRE!” it screamed before detailing a night of fun gone awry.

The story goes that well-known Wagga golfer Dick Thorne was “masquerading as Snow White at the Wagga Country Club’s frolic” in the early hours of a Sunday morning when one of his seven dwarves mishandled a candle.

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The Country Club champion and course record-holder was wearing a wig made from highly flammable plumber’s hemp that caught alight at a touch from the candle.

His face was instantly wreathed in flame and a woman nearby screamed as Thorne’s cheesecloth dress also ignited in a ball of fire.

Three men sprang into action and the quick-thinking J McDougall snatched the wig from his head and threw it out the window.

John Baker stripped off his own shirt and wrapped it around the burning man in an attempt to smother the fire while a Mr D McDougal also began beating at the flames.

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There was panic and “some became hysterical” as women wearing flammable dresses approached Thorne where he lay on the ground.

Baker’s pants caught fire and the second McDougal was burnt on the arms, but the pair managed to extinguish the blaze and stripped the hapless Thorne to the waist.

He was treated at the scene by a pair of doctors and it seems he was lucky to escape without being severely burnt.

Thorne suffered second-degree burns to the neck, forehead, shoulders and hand.

Golf tournament in 1949

A crowd at the Wagga Country Club in 1949 to see Australian golf champion Norman Von Nida play local golfers including Dick Thorne. Photo: Lost Wagga Wagga.

Despite his injuries, Thorne recovered and was soon back in the swing, representing the Riverina in golf tournaments through the early 1950s.

In addition to winning several local championships, he at one time shared the course record of 69 and he reached the quarter-finals of the NSW amateur championships in 1953.

In 1954, professional golfer Norman Von Nida visited Wagga for an exhibition round at the country club and told The Daily Advertiser that Thorne was “one of the longest hitters in NSW amateur golf”.

He said that if Thorne “had had more experience, he might have done a lot better”.

Thorne lived for a time in Goonigal Avenue and is believed to have moved to Sydney with his family in the 1960s.

Whether he ever returned to the role of Snow White is unknown.

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