Bushfires

My brother lives in Tasmania, but not in an area currently affected. This is the latest news at the time of writing: Fears for missing residents as fire fighting continues.

Police fear there may have been deaths in the fire-ravaged south-east of Tasmania, with a number of people reported missing.

Since Friday, more than 100 homes have been destroyed by a bushfire between Forcett and the Tasman Peninsula, in the state’s south-east.

Residents of the worst-affected town of Dunalley have told of how they were forced to dive into the canal in the middle of the town to escape the wall of flames coming towards them on Friday.

State Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard says there are grave fears for a small number of people reported missing…

We are, it is fair to say, still facing over a month of fire season.  I was trying to remember when there was last a severe fire down here in The Gong. I vividly remember 1968 – and the season came early: November that year. The whole of the Illawarra Escarpment went up. Living where I am now I would have been uncomfortably close.

1968/69: Widespread damage occurred over much of the eastern part of the State. Major fires at Wollongong burnt rainforest, destroyed 33 homes and five other buildings. Fires in the lower Blue Mountains were fanned by 100km/h westerly winds and destroyed 123 buildings. Three lives were lost.

Julie at Woonona has a Flickr collection superimposing historic photos on current shots. There is one showing Austinmer, north of Wollongong, in 1968.

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I was still teaching at Cronulla High at the time and I remember the sky being filled with smoke to the south.  There were also severe fires in 1997-8, though as far as this area was concerned more to the north.

1997/1998: There were major fires in the Burragorang, Piliga, Hawkesbury, Hunter, Shoalhaven, Central Coast and Sydney’s south (particularly Menai) that proved difficult to contain and suppress, and posed a major threat to communities, their assets and the environment.

However the fires were brought under control in a timely manner with only relatively minor property damage. There were in excess of 250 significant fires, and:

  • approximately 500,000ha were burnt
  • over 5,000 firefighters were utilised at any one time
  • over 60 fixed wing and rotary aricraft were involved
  • 10 homes were lost at Menai
  • 20 local government areas were affected
  • 4 firefighter lives were lost.

The principle duration was 16 days, though fires started in late November 1997 and continued until 28 Feb 1998.

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The Menai fires, 1997

See also Turn and burn: the strange world of fire tornadoes and Jim Belshaw’s Saturday Morning Musings – fires, land management & risk.

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Oldest house in Wollongong?

There is a story in Saturday’s Illawarra Mercury about a house I can clearly see from my window when I look towards Mount Kembla. For example:

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Once upon a time it looked like this:

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Wollongong Public School principal Harold Cosier and partner Jenny Dixon plan to spend the next five years on what many would see as a daunting project.

"It’s been a bit of a struggle getting finance because banks don’t seem to like old buildings, but now we’re to this point it’s all very exciting," Mr Cosier said yesterday.

The once-grand Georgian house in Bukari Street, West Wollongong, was built in 1843 for Judge Roger Therry, a barrister from County Cork who was attorney-general, sitting in the NSW Legislative Council from 1841 to 1843.

President of the Illawarra Historical Society, Carol Herben, said the sale was a victory for the city.

"It’s a landmark building with huge significance and it’s been very sad to see it deteriorate over the years," Mrs Herben said.

National Trust Illawarra-Shoalhaven branch chair Meredith Hutton was overjoyed.

"Properties of this age and style are disappearing through neglect so we welcome restoration plans."…

The house was originally on 143.7 hectares of land.

It had French doors leading on to an upper verandah which wrapped around three sides of the house, which have been lost over time.

Mr Cosier said the restoration would be based on plans supplied by both heritage authorities and Wollongong City Council.

"The aim is to get it back to how it looked externally to when Judge Therry occupied it," Mr Cosier said…

Sadly too the house was cement rendered in the 1930s. Originally it was sandstock brick.

But is it really Wollongong’s oldest house?  Local academic Michael Organ participated in an exchange on this last year.

2 November 2011 – Keera Vale

Protect oldest house – News that the oldest house in Wollongong is on the market – Keera Vale circa 1842 in Bukari St – provides Wollongong City Council with the opportunity to redeem its poor heritage credentials. Decades of over-zealous development by previous councils have resulted in the destruction of numerous 19th century buildings in the city. The survival of Keera Vale in West Wollongong for more than 150 years is therefore to be wondered at. It is perhaps now time that this rare and precious building comes into public ownership, to ensure its ongoing protection and preservation. Keera Vale could serve the community well as a museum, gallery or cultural heritage centre, and form an integral part of Wollongong’s heritage trail for residents and tourists alike. With the council looking to spend $14 million on cosmetic changes to Crown St Mall, surely it can find – with community support – less than a tenth of that amount to purchase and restore this grand old mansion. As the oldest house in town, it deserves nothing less. Michael Organ, Austinmer.

  • 8 November 2011 – Standing up for history – The story on Wollongong’s oldest house Keera Vale (1844) at Bukari St (Mercury, November 5) was informative, but worrisome. The comment by the real estate agent selling the property that "it has no heritage listing at all" flies in the face of work done by Wollongong City Council’s former heritage committee during the 1980s and 1990s when the house was allocated a "regional" significance rating. It was also on the list of heritage items submitted on May 12, 1999, for gazettal. Why has this listing disappeared? Heritage management by the council is a shambles and the new councillors need to address this black hole as a priority. The fact that the oldest and most historic house in the city is devoid of any heritage protection reveals just how little value the previous administrations gave to our local heritage. Michael Organ, Austinmer.

  • TherryResponse 14 November 2011 – Value our history – I am writing in support of Michael Organ’s letter (Mercury, November 8) regarding Wollongong’s oldest house – Keera Vale. I would like to thank Mr Organ for voicing his concerns and agree with his sentiments regarding the previous council’s heritage management and hope the newly elected councillors address this problem of the disregard for our local history. I have a personal interest in this property as the original owner, Sir Roger Therry [right], is a direct ancestor. He played a significant part in the history of New South Wales by his involvement in our judicial and political systems. An important trial he presided over was the Myall Creek Massacre that lead to the conviction of the men responsible. He also worked with Father John Therry and the Irish Catholic community in their struggle for justice and equity. Sir Roger Therry’s first house in Paddington was demolished to make way for the Royal Hospital for Women that was also demolished in turn. Apartments now occupy the site. Wollongong councillors have the opportunity to preserve a property that is a last link to a man who brought justice to the Illawarra and described the local area beautifully in his book Reminiscences of Thirty Years Residence in New South Wales and Victoria. It would be nice to have the means to secure the property myself and ensure its preservation but unfortunately I don’t. Linda Crawford, Corrimal.

  • Response 15 November 2011 – Keera Vale not oldest – In response to the article (Mercury, November 5), and the subsequent letter from Michael Organ (Mercury, November 8) in relation to Keera Vale, Bukari St, Wollongong, there are a number of factual errors that should be clarified. Firstly, Keera Vale is listed as a heritage item within the Wollongong Local Environmental Plan 2009 as the "Former Roger Therry Residence", 30 Bukari St, Wollongong. Secondly, Keera Vale is not the city’s oldest house as claimed. It is believed to be pre-dated by a small number of remaining residential buildings including Marshall Mount Homestead (1838-1840), Horsley Homestead (1842), and the small Stockman’s Hut which is incorporated into Nudjia at Unanderra (1839-41). This correction is made to ensure historical accuracy and not to discount the high level of significance of Keera Vale, which forms a key element of our city’s heritage. In response to Mr Organ’s criticisms of council’s heritage management practices, on October 31 council considered two reports relating to heritage matters and resolved: 1. To reform the Wollongong Heritage Advisory Committee, under the guidance of Councillor John Dorahy (chairperson), and Cr Vicki Curran. 2. Adopt the Wollongong Heritage Strategy 2011-2014 and the Wollongong Heritage Action Plan 2011-2014. These policies were developed under the former Wollongong Heritage Advisory Committee membership, and outline council’s significant commitment to the protection of the city’s heritage. Community members interested in the city’s heritage are encouraged to have a look at these documents which can be accessed online, and the many positive things council is doing to protect the city’s heritage. Andrew Carfield, Director, Planning and Environment, Wollongong City Council.

I note too that Therry was a “resident judge at Port Phillip”.

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Outbuildings at Horsley, another candidate for oldest surviving buildings in Wollongong.

Image from Wollongong Library.

Mind you we did have much older in Surry Hills, also rather sadly neglected.

Update

Thanks to Joe Davis for drawing attention to Pitfalls of rewriting history.