Unlocking the past | Kurri Kurri Volunteer fire brigade put on fundraising concerts in early 1900s

PROTECTING THE COMMUNITY: Kurri Kurri Fire Brigade circa 1914. The volunteer brigade formed during a heatwave in 1905. Picture: Cessnock City Library
PROTECTING THE COMMUNITY: Kurri Kurri Fire Brigade circa 1914. The volunteer brigade formed during a heatwave in 1905. Picture: Cessnock City Library

Every bushfire season we are comforted by the fact that they're there, but did you ever think that there was a time before local fire brigades?

During a heatwave in February 1905 Kurri Kurri residents attended a public meeting in Central Park, now Rotary Park, to discuss forming a fire brigade. The response - a unanimous ‘yes’.

While enthusiasm was high, the fledgling brigade soon hit financial stumbling blocks. They tried to borrow spare fire-fighting equipment from other fire stations, but were unsuccessful and their applications for government grants were refused.

How could the brigade raise funds to equip themselves and build a fire station? Many suggestions were put forward, but extraordinarily the one adopted was that the firemen form a ‘minstrel troupe’ and put on fundraising concerts. So the Kurri Kurri Fire Brigade Minstrel and Variety Company formed and their first concert was April that year.

The program consisted of a lot of singing, a mime performance of a shoot-out in American cowboy style, more singing and concluded with a short comical farce which brought much laughter from the audience.

Success! In May 1905 the brigade was given a grant of land on Cessnock Street (now Lang Street) for a station. It was an excellent site, next to the new police station being constructed on the corner of Victoria Street. While they waited for their own fire bell the headmaster of Kurri Kurri Public School offered use of the school bell to ring when they needed to warn residents of a fire.

There was just on-the-job training, so the Minmi Fire Brigade stepped in to assist with instruction and the Carrington Fire Station sold them a hose and bell.

The brigade was up and running, but they had complex emergencies to deal with. As well as standard domestic fires, it had to attend colliery fires which could be explosive and unpredictable and the brigade didn’t have to wait too long to see how dire this could be.

In October they were called to a serious explosion in the Stanford Merthyr Colliery. Six miners were killed, nine injured and the brigade had a true baptism of fire as it worked to extinguish the blaze at the pit top, pouring water down the tunnel to quell the fire inside.

Kurri Kurri Fire Brigade we salute you!