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The "Woomera Fire Brigade" Now called the Woomera Fire and Emergency Facility had its origins in the early days when the Range was set up for trial activities in 1947. The Army had total control over the running of this facility and it was not until much later that the duties were taken over by civilian staff. The Army remained in charge of all fire fighting operations until such time as a civilian person was employed to take over these duties.

The person appointed to this position in 1954 was a Mr. CA Bryant and from that time on he became responsible for the efficient running of the activities relating to Fire Protection duties at Woomera. Mr. C A Bryant was known as Mick and apparently inherited this nickname during the war in the London Fire Brigade. He was nicknamed Mick after Bryan Mickey a popular radio personality. Mr. Bryant had been a leading fireman in the Middlesex Fire Brigade based in Wembley prior to emigrating in 1949. He became Chief Fire Officer with the SEC at Yallourn in Victoria prior to taking up the position in Woomera.

Fire fighting duties at Woomera that had previously been undertaken by army personnel working on the range were now replaced by Auxiliary personnel drawn from Stores and Transport branch were now under the control of the Chief Fire Officer Mr. C A Bryant and two auxiliaries. 85% of the personal were auxiliary firemen who received a small retaining fee for their services. The Auxiliary firemen were formed into crews with at least four men to a crew and were rostered on an eight-hour shift from Monday to Friday and 24-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday. Most of these firemen when not on normal duty were on call when the siren sounded.

In those early days there were two stations, one in Killara Avenue Woomera, and the second one at Koolymilka. A third auxiliary station operated during normal working hours in the Technical Area. Two fully equipped Dennis Fire appliances operated one each from the Woomera and Koolymilka Fire Stations. Each was fitted with a two-stage centrifugal pump capable of delivering 350/500 gallons of water at 100 lbs per square inch pressure. The crews on a daily basis tested these daily. The appliances also carried foam making equipment for oil fires, self contained breathing apparatus plus other fire and life saving equipment.

A land Rover Fire Engine was commissioned incorporating a self-priming pump with an output of 175 gallons a minute at 100 lbs per square in pressure. Another appliance of the same make was procured for fire duties later. An enthusiastic collector (a Fire Officer from the Roxby Downs Fire protection unit) much later bought both of these appliances. Two 500-gallon Tankers were allocated to the Fire Stations also and these were fitted with small auxiliary pumps for dealing with fires in remote areas. We used these to great effect in later years when attending fires on the Station properties after rocket motor fires.

The Fire Brigade continued to function in this capacity for a period of time but it was obvious that as trial activities on the range were increasing and more personnel were moving into the village the need for a fulltime time brigade was getting more evident. During this time a Mr. Doug Evans who had been a leading fireman in the Kent UK Fire Brigade before, during and after the 2nd world war decided to migrate. After doing a tour of duty as Captain in the New Guinea Fire Service before their federation he moved to Australia spending time in Toowoomba Queens land. At this time he heard that Woomera was looking for a Fire Officer a position for which he applied and subsequently gained. He then moved to Woomera in the September of 1955 and became their Deputy Chief with Mick Bryant as Chief Fire Officer. In 1960 Mick Bryant the Chief Fire Officer resigned and Doug Evans became the CFO. The position of Deputy then became vacant in 1960 and a Mr. Jack Rudge who was at that time in the Darwin Fire Service joined to fill that position

From that time on the Brigade strength was increased as more personnel continued to arrive in Woomera, these consisted mainly of former members of the British Fire Service. The government of the day showed preference for ex British Fire Service Personnel as they were already trained and they had already been cleared for security on a limited basis and were quickly avail to perform the duties required of them. From January1965 onwards several ex English Fire Service personnel were to join the brigade, namely Arthur Parker, Ted Ramsey, an Auxiliary Fireman Ken Calloway, and soon after Danny Rich, and KD Evans and Harold Barker. Soon after a Mr. Ken Evans was appointed a further two people designated as Fire Station Attendants were given positions, these were John Brown and Max Day. These men were not firemen in the true sense of the word, but manned the switchboard and lived in the Fire Station single quarters at Koolymilka and Woomera. Their quarters had all the facilities needed to maintain a reasonable lifestyle in this remote area. A Mr. John Brown who was a heavy diesel fitter was previously employed by the Department of Works and Services. Max Day had been employed in the explosives section on the range.

The other auxiliary fireman previously mentioned (Maurice McKay) lived in the single men’s quarters at the fire station at Woomera in a room facing the road. Maurice worked at the Tech Area workshops and had the responsibility of driving the Bedford Fire Appliance to the Tech Area workshops every day. In the event of a fire situation Maurice would pick up the volunteers in the Bedford Fire Truck and attend the incident. Another auxiliary a Mr. Jack Lynch was a part time barber and had a room on premises designated as the new Koolymilka fire station. Jack manned the switchboard in the watch room at Koolymilka and also cut hair in his off duty periods. Jack was affectionately called (The Ripple Cut merchant) a name given to him as a result of unsteady hands when cutting the hair of a customer that would end up in a fancy ripple cut style.

Then as a result of increasing trial activities and perhaps the disastrous fire in the tented encampment at Woomera West it was decided to form a fulltime fire brigade. I recollect that the compliment was to be set at 26, which included a balance of Firemen, senior firemen and officers.

In 1967 the Woomera Fire Brigade took over responsibility for the two airfields from the Royal Air Force. The RAF had been doing this from the outset, but on that date they just handed the keys over to us whilst we were on Airfield Crash Duties at Koolymilka and Tech Area. The Brigade took over the appliances and equipment from the RAF that consisted of (three) Thorny croft Foam Tenders, two Emergency Tenders, and two Bedford trucks.

Late in 1967 an advertisement appeared in the Press for Fire Officers with Ambulance and Rescue experience that were needed to work on the Woomera Rocket Range. I rang up the Salisbury Section of Weapons Research Establishment as it was called in those days requesting information on the advertised position. I informed them that I was about five years older than the age limit mentioned on the application, but I was told this presented no problem owing to my having had previous experience in this field of work.

So I forwarded my application hoping to hear something to my advantage. Eventually the Chief Fire Officer of Woomera a Mr. Doug Evans visited me at my home accompanied by his Deputy a Mr. Arthur Parker. They explained a little bit of the history of the township and how and why it had been set up. I think that this was government policy to inform the wives of the change of lifestyle when their husbands took on a job in the outback. I suppose being migrants from a different country they would then know what to expect.

I was told that I had been successful at the interview and would be informed of a commencement date. Then three weeks later I was told to report to Woomera where I was allocated a room in the Fire Station to live until my family came to join me. This room was situated opposite to one allocated to a Mr. Maurice Mc Kay who drove the Bedford Fire Appliance. I soon settled down to my new duties and within a couple of days was offered a three-bedroom house in Coraki Street Woomera. I accepted this with much pleasure as it meant that we could now live together as a family in Woomera.

The house was called a Riley Newsun and consisted of weatherboard walls and had an aluminium roof. These houses had been shipped out from England in kit form and erected in Woomera in 1951. This was the place where I had chose to work and live and as it turned out was to be our home for the next ten years. So the following week I drove the five hundred or so kilometres to my home in Elizabeth to collect a few things and bring my family back with me. None of the roads from Port Augusta going north were sealed in those early days and were quite a hazard to the uninitiated traveller. To travel by car meant negotiating the notorious 181 kilometres of sandy roughly graded track to get to Woomera. This distance would have been about half way to the Andamooka Opal fields. Gibbers, clouds of dust, potholes and kangaroos made the route treacherous at any time.

When it rained, an infrequent occurrence by all accounts, it turned the dust into mud that made the road impassable for days. If one’s vehicle broke down on any one of these outback roads and a person had to leave it to go and get spares by the time they returned the car would have been stripped by other travellers. So one had either to stay with the car until it could be towed away or just accept the fact that it would be a right off.

There were quite a lot of car hulks on the roads in the early days and they were just bulldozed aside when the grader wanted to grade the roads. In the summer with the consistent high temperatures one would have to put up with the "Bull Dust". This was the name given to the dense clouds of powdery dust that spread everywhere clogging up filters, noses, and generally making one feel quite sick. The cars took a battering on the atrocious road surfaces too, and repairing car exhaust systems punctures and loose connections were the norm. In the rainy season of course things were reversed one got bogged down and had to put mats, wire, and in fact anything you could get hold of to get you out of a very sticky bog.

No description of this kind of country would be complete without reference to the flies. They cannot be called a plague though because plagues do go away. These bush flies a smaller variety of the normal house fly exist in fantastic proportions and do not go away unless you kill them off in their thousands. When we first went to Woomera we noticed that a lot of people appeared to be waving at us as they drove by. I thought what a friendly lot of people these people were in the outback so we waved back. This was what was known as the "Great Australian Salute" due to people trying to dislodge the persistent hoards of flying pests by flapping their hands about. One never ventured out on those long journeys without taking loads of personal fly spray, water, an extra spare wheel, plenty of tools, and an assortment of pieces of wire to fix your muffler when it dropped off.  Most people who travelled in the outback in those days carried a canvas water bag and we were no exception to this rule. So we too had a canvas water bag strapped on the front of our radiator and that was absolutely necessary if one expected to survive in the desert. The outside of this bag got covered in red dust that stuck to the outer case but fortunately the contents were still drinkable.

My family soon settled down into their new surroundings in our fully furnished house. The rent was about five dollars a week and that included a small charge for furniture rental as most of ours was put into government storage.  We lived in this house in Cooraki Street that was located in the eastern end of the village. The Fire Chief said that this was too far away from the fire station however as we were on Fire and Ambulance callout duty on our rostered time off. So a new house was found for us at 2 Kilpa Street, which was right opposite the Fire Station, and we lived there for the remainder of my service with the Dept of Defence.

A Mr. Ken Gwinnell then joined us from the UK Fire Brigade and was later to become our Chief on the death of Doug Evans who passed away whilst on Jury Duty at the Woomera Court House on the 31st December 1968.  The new intake of Firemen now started to arrive and eventually over a period of years a total turnover of approximately 87 Firemen was to join the Brigade. We were absolutely amazed at the number of people who had been members of the Woomera Fire Brigade between the years commencing in 1964 and up to the final disbanding of the Fire Brigade in 1994. Unfortunately at least eight of these people have now passed away but I have written their names down at this time mainly because I will certainly not remember them later on.

From about 1976 due to decreasing activity on the range the Brigade strength was reduced and men were encouraged to apply for positions in other areas. Several people took the opportunity myself included and were able to get good positions in a similar capacity with other organizations State-wide. Over the next few years the brigade was still further reduced until only about ten personnel were employed. It was about the middle of the year 1994 that the Fire and Emergency Services facility was put up for private contract and a Company called (SERCO) won this contract and they then became responsible for the efficient running of Woomera services which included the operations of the Fire Brigade.

The remainder of the original firemen that included Les Green and Andy Andrews who was then the CFO were paid off and moved off to other venues and jobs. Les Green now deceased went to live in a beautiful forest setting on a mountain in Rossarden in Tasmania, and Andy Andrews bought himself a nice home in Moonta Bay South Australia. Andy is still in touch with me at this date. The Fire Brigade then became known as the Woomera Emergency Services and Serco recruited and employed their own personal.

In 1995 the contract was awarded to Australia Defence Industries "ADI" and was held by that Company until the 4th December 2000 when their contract was due to expire but it was again renewed for a short period of time until BAE systems took over the running of the Range. BAE Systems still have this responsibility at this date in 2009.

The following pictures include pictures of the dirt road in those early days, some of the early fire and rescue vehicles and the men who manned these appliances.

1947 to present

Woomera Rocket Range