Interviewee: Len Best, born 1941
Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
for Baulkham Hills Shire Council
Date of Interview: 6 Aug 2001
Transcription: Catherine Sapir, May, 2006
This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee
Len Best is one such volunteer. Now Captain of the Middle Dural Bushfire Brigade, he grew up in Dural in the 1940’s and 1950’s and recalls what sort of a place it then was.
Well it was a very country farming area, fairly remote I guess in some senses even after I left school and other people that you talk to say oh you live out at Dural out in the sticks. It wasn’t very populated. Most farms were 40 or 50 acres at least.
Len was only 15 when in 1956 he was confronted with his first serious bushfire.
Well we knew the fire was there, we could see it from up on top of the hill. We lived up on Old Northern Road at that time on the top end of the property. On that particular day the phone lines went down and there was no contact when we were all down at the end of Cranstons Road all the men of the district were there and all the wives were wondering what was going on. They had a serious fire heading towards them and no communication. It was not good and it was about one o’clock when the fire really got past us and went over the top of us down at Cranston’s property. It ended up getting across into the Galston area.
My brother and I were bailers on the back of a small international truck provided by the Captain’s son with 44 gallon drums with the tops cut out and they were filled with water and we filled the knapsacks with a bucket from the drums. That fire went for three days so we were kept very busy.
What sort of equipment did they use to put out those fires?
It was mainly knapsacks and hessian bags soaked in sump oil for lighting up for burning back. There was a variety of knapsacks going from the old ones with the pump handle on the side and then some that were issued at a later date. I think it must have had a little bit the wrong angle on the piece of metal that went across your back because after a few days it would rub the skin off your back and particularly when your back got wet from the bailers missing the top of the knapsack a bit and spilling the water down on your clothes. It was incredible what these men at that time could do and how many times they would pump a knapsack out in the heat of the day. Really you wouldn’t find anyone today who would be able to do that.
What was the spirit like among those people who were all volunteering?
Oh it was a very good community spirit and they worked all night and all day, they didn’t sleep much. If the job had to be done they stayed there until it was done and it sort of brought the community together quite a bit when there were any fires because then the wives used to get involved with supplying food and drinks and all that type of thing so it was virtually the whole district involved if there was a major fire.
Was there a Fire Station at that time?
No there was no station. The first station was actually built in 1961. It was a while after that that we got a Blitz tanker. It was an ex-army vehicle, of course, and had been modified with a water tank on it. It did have a reasonable pump on it but it was not a type of vehicle you could attack a fire with. It had a top speed of about 35 mph down the hill into Glenorie, I know, and usually by the time you got to Glenorie it was boiling. It didn’t like being pushed too hard.
Bushfire volunteers carrying out management burn in 2006
Apart from fighting fires as a volunteer Len, what other volunteering activities would you have been asked to do?
As each year goes on we seem to get more variety of other types of activities. We did, only a few years ago, have a little boy lost up at Glenorie in the early hours of the morning and we ended up within 20 minutes we had 22 members up there helping in the search. Luckily he was located at a friend’s place a few kilometres away actually within an hour or so of us being there. We get also called to motor vehicle accidents, where persons are trapped, to provide fire protection for the rescue. Storm damage, when trees are down, we do the emergency things like clearing the road or clearing peoples access if they are blocked in their properties. The SES then take over when it’s less urgent. Storm damages, we went down to Kensington and put tarps on roofs, we spent about 600 hours down there over that period of time. That was when the bad hail storm went through, it was too big a task for the SES and they needed some assistance which we were happy to do I guess until we got down there and you found yourself sitting up on a wet roof unable to move because it was too slippery and a shower of rain would come over and you wondered why you were there.