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​Remembering the 1967 bushfires


It was one of Australia's worst disasters. In just a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, 7 February, 1967, 64 people lost their lives and 900 were injured. Around 1,400 buildings were destroyed - homes, factories, schools, churches, halls. People lost family, their livelihoods, homes, friends, pets and possessions. Thousands of animals were killed. 

50 years on, we invite you to reflect on the chaos of the disaster, its aftermath, and the beginnings of recovery, through the records of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. 


'On the 7th February 1967 there were at least fourty-one fires in the affected areas and most of these "ran" on the 7th February 1967. It was too late – all action should have been taken prior to that date. Fires that had been burning and which had been brought under control and were considered "safe" caused most of the major fires. It would appear no attempt [was] generally made to stop fires burning in wooded areas or hilly country until these fires [came] out into the open paddocks or cleared areas... 

'The fire hazard on the 7th February 1967 was extremely high...The exceptional growth during the year, the extremely dry conditions, high temperatures and gale force winds [caused] a fire storm which was impossible to control. The fires travelled at frightening and incredible speeds. The temperature reached [40°C] the highest February reading for sixty-eight years.'

'At times smoke and air borne debris reduced visibility to practically nothing as westerly and north-westerly winds carried the fire before them through large areas of the Municipalities of Glenorchy, Hobart, Kingborough, Cygnet, Huon, Esperance, Clarence, Richmond and Sorell, resulting in a tragic loss of life; the destruction of hundreds of homes; the destruction of large rural areas...fencing, farm buildings…the destruction of thousands of head of livestock.' Police Superintendent, 1967 (AE239/1/2)

​'I am perfectly convinced that no amount of machinery, equipment nor the numbers of men could have controlled the fires under the conditions prevailing on the day. I have experienced large fires…I have never seen one so out of control' Police Constable, Swansea, report dated 7 March 1967 (AE239/1/1)


​Disaster 



Bridgewater...

'the flames from the burning houses [were] right over the road, and sparkes and debris from the fire, also iron from the roofs was flying accross the highway. Hydro and Telephone poles, were burnt and fell accross the road...' Sergeant, Southern Traffic Control, report dated 8 February 1967 (AE239/1/2)


New Norfolk...

'Flames were hundreds of feet in the air and jumped the river Derwent near Forest Lodge, and continued on to Sorell Creek. In fact the township was surrounded by a fire storm.' Police Inspector, New Norfolk, report dated 15 February 1967 (AE239/1/2)


Kingborough...

'Every person from the labourer to a Salvation army Captain and Father Lloyd, the Catholic priest were all endeavouring to prevent the spread of the flames from reaching a number of houses but it was being learnt fast that it was impossible to contain.' Detective Constable, Kingston Police Station, report dated 1 March 1967 (AE239/1/2)


Levendale State School...

When the fire [came] it was impossible to shelter the children on the oval since strong down-draughts of air caused sheets of flame from the steep hill bordering it to cover the oval with flame. The serious situation that ocurrred at 2:15pm when the flame encircled the school was not forseen...[The remaining children] were evacuated...it was known before evacuating the children that the area to which they were going was safe and that only a few hundred yards of flame had to be passed through. Headmaster, Levendale State School, report dated 11 April, 1967 (CBE24/1/4)


Snug Area School...

At approximately 1:30pm, all children on school premises were taken...to the School Assembly Hall. At this time visibility was poor and...children clasped hands in order to keep together...curtains were drawn so that as little as possible of what was occurring outside the building could by seen by the children, and the Music Teacher...conducted Community Singing...At approximately 2pm, it was realised that there was a fire inside the tower adjacent to the Assembly Hall...After all children had left, the fire in the school tower spread through the main wing of the school proper. Headmaster, Snug Area School, report dated 14 April, 1967 (CBE24/1/4)




Drag the bar across the photo to compare the images taken before and during the fire


Kingborough...

'Just could not at times get any message through as by now the fire had become completely out of control…the Channel Highway was becoming almost impassable from smoke and other burning debris.' Detective Constable, Kingston Police Station, report dated 1 March 1967 (AE239/1/2)

Colebrook...

'I smelt smoke and looked towards the north west and could see some smoke, and it didn't give the impression of being close. We worked on, but at the same time I noticed heavy smoke to the south…the time I saw this smoke there was no fire in this valley at all…Dad took the tractor and went off towards the fire. That was the last I saw of him…' Property owner, Colebrook, report dated 16 February 1967 (AE239/1/2)

'The fire came over the top of Mt. Mercer and ignited the whole of the valley. I tried to let my dogs off, but got cut off. This would be a bit after 12 midday. 

I then tried to get back to the house, but was again cut off and had to go into the bush to escape the flames. I made it to the Colebrook Road but fell over; as I did this however the flames passed straight over my head. 

By this time the house caught fire and I got my wife and got out to the middle of the road. My wife didn't get burnt, but I suffered bad burns to my hands, arms and face. I've been in hospital now for fifteen days.' Grazier, Colebrook, report dated 23 February 1967 (AE239/1/2)


Lenah Valley...




Huonville...

'The obtaining of…volunteer fire fighters took considerable time and the response was only moderate, no doubt due to the fact that men who would normally be available were probably already engaged in fighting fires in and around their own properties...no equipment was available to supply to the fire fighters…Several houses and buildings were already burning and could not be saved. The only thing that could be done was to protect other houses and buildings...to prevent them from catching on fire, and to move stock from paddocks of dry grass into the nearby orchards. ' Police Sergeant, Huonville, report dated 8 March, 1967 (AE239/1/2) 




Chigwell...

'At 1:10 pm…I saw a wave of fire 50 feet high jump 200 yards of previous burn off near the Chigwell water reservoir coming towards my fence…I applied the hoses to the fences and sheds and was engulfed in 50 foot flames. My son found me and we did save [my house]. All 3 side fences were alight at one time...The fire swept on and engulfed the workshop in front of my home and swept back...towards Glenorchy. This was at 1:30-2pm.' Resident, Chigwell, report dated 26 February 1967 (AE239/1/2)





Glenorchy...

'We were using garden hoses to try and dampen the grass along the rear of our properties…the fire started in the top end of the paddock and raced towards us at terrific speed. When the fire was practically to us, I threw my hose over the fence and jumped over myself...I saw Mr. [-] pick his hose up and make towards his fence…I ran to the radio car...and radioed for any assistance available...

I could hear Mr [-] singing out...I found him running down my yard with his clothes and boots on fire. His hair had been burned off and he was a mass of flames. I grabbed a bag and tried to smother the flames in his clothes but this was unsuccessful. I then tore his clothes and gumboots off. I then heard Mrs [-] going up her yard and I called her over to attend to her husband whilst I went back to fight the fires which had set alight to our fences…

After assuring that our properties were safe, I was taken to the Royal Hobart Hospital for treatment to my left hand which was burned when I tore the clothing and gum boots from Mr [-]. Whilst I was fighting the fires in our fences and in Mr [-]s wood shed, other men arrived to assist but I do not know who was there or where they came from. I do know that some Police Officers were there.' Senior Constable, Glenorchy, report dated 14 March, 1967 (AE239/1/2)











 


Aftermath


'Although the tragedy of February 7th passed, the picture for days and weeks ahead presented grave possibilities of further tragedy in the event of possible outbreaks in tinder dry areas. There was no expectation of prolonged relief from high fire danger on account of extremely high temperatures and blustery north westerly winds.' Police Superintendent, Hobart, report dated 27 April 1967 (AE239/1/1)


Cygnet...

'At approximately 5am [on the 8th of February] I ascertained that all persons who had been burned out had been given shelter, and all had a place to sleep. Due to reports of further fire danger I decided that the schools should not open…' Senior Constable, Cygnet, report dated 20 February, 1967

New Norfolk...

'On the morning of the 8.2.67 a Relief Centre was set up at this Headquarters...Mrs [-] took charge of a local team of voluntary female staff and appropriate records were kept of those calling at the centre for their needs over the course of the following five days. Many and varied supplies were received from many centres and organisations. These were distributed as equably as possible…' Police Inspector, New Norfolk, report dated 15 February 1967 (AE239/1/2)





'There is hardly an area we have not worked in. We have troops working in practically every devastated area. We have been distributing water from water trucks. We have provided ambulances to assist with the collection of the dead. We have assisted with the stock killing and disposal and handled some thousands of tons of stores. All this of course is in addition to the staff we supplied to Brighton Camp to house these people. We supplied 600 mattresses, couple of thousand sheets, a thousand pillow slips, a thousand hurricane lamps…At this stage all this is continuing. Since the fire risk has decreased slightly we have been able to use fire-fighting teams in the field to assist land-owners in clearing up." Army Colonel, report dated 16 February, 1967 (AE239/1/2)





The fires caused damage and destruction to many landmark buildings around Hobart. Some of these survived, some were rebuilt. Others have been all but forgotten.

Cascades Brewery kept its iconic facade, but lost many of its outbuildings, including the bottling plant, leaving behind tons of melted and shattered glass 

Drag the bar across the photo to compare the images taken before and after the fire

Recovery


'It is normally accepted that the only profit in a wildfire is in what can be learnt from it.' V Cleary, FPO Victoria, July 1964 (AE239/1/2)

'We will never eliminate altogether fires being lit either deliberately, or accidentally. But fires can be controlled while in their infancy, and before they become a threat. Fires must be completely extinguished. The only fire that is under control is the fire that is out.' Fireman, New Norfolk, report issued 23 February 1967 (AE239/1/1)

'Prior to the 7th of February1967 there were occasionally small fires burning about the scrub area…On all occasions we noticed any fires they were reported…These call were never recorded prior to the disaster day, but we are making it a practice to do this now.' Shift Operator, Hydro Electric Commission, Chapel Street, report dated 4 May 1967 (AE239/1/2)

'I am perfectly convinced that no amount of machinery, equipment nor the numbers of men could have controlled the fires under the conditions prevailing on the day. I have experienced large fires…I have never seen one so out of control' Police Constable, Swansea, report dated 7 March 1967 (AE239/1/1)

'It is impossible to remember all the many acts of kindness and assistance received, as well as details of all events of the fateful day of February 7, 1967, but one thing will always be paramount and that is the cooperation and loyalty of the staff at this Headquarters. They displayed all the true traditions of the Force, and carried out their duties magnificently, at no time was there any panic." Police Inspector, New Norfolk, report dated 15 February 1967 (AE239/1/2)

On 8th February 1967 at the request of State Authorities a relief camp was established at Brighton for some of the homeless. Acommodation for up to 500 was offered. Some eighty families were processed through the camp, the last families leaving three months later on 28 April 1967. A considerable quantity of stores were provided from the mainland for this camp as well as those from local army resources. Army Colonel (CBE24/1/1)