Eden’s Bushfires​


Sunday, 3rd January, will be a day long remembered by residents of Eden and adjoining districts. The heat was intense, and the town and ocean were enveloped with dense smoke, which made it difficult for one to breathe. Out Bell Bird way, about three miles from town, the fire came along fanned by a heavy gale of wind, and swept the country for about two miles in width. Direct in the course of the fire in this locality were the houses of Messrs. Stafford, Mark Walker, F. Cox, T. Phillips, P. McGovern, and W. Scanes.

Mr. Stafford’s sons and Mr. Walker were away from home fishing, distant about three miles. The first knowledge of danger was when Mr. Stafford and wife heard a loud noise like thunder. They immediately rushed out of the house and saw that the fire was coming in a red mass, then distant about half a mile Mrs. Stafford picked up a few articles of clothing and a little child, and Mr. Stafford, in the meantime, ran and drew a dray and sulky out of a shed, then both ran from the house, and across the main road, which passes the house about 100 yards below. The far side of the road had been burnt some few weeks ago, and by making in this direction they knew they would be safe. Mr. and Mrs. Stafford had barely got across to the burnt ground when the fire swept up to their home which was quickly a mass of flames, and in a short space of time nothing remained of the house but the brick chimney.

Below the Stafford’s, on the roadside, was the residence of Mr. Mark Walker; at this place, only Mrs. Walker and her sister, (aged 12 years), were at home. When they saw the fire coming they started to make to the Stafford’s house, along the main road, but the flames, leaping across, prevented them from doing so. Mrs. Walker then turned and ran through a dense jungle on to the burnt ground. As the unfortunate woman struggled along with the little children, the heat and smoke quickly exhausted them, and after traversing about a mile and a half the woman fell exhausted.

As the fire was raging in all its fury, Mr. W. T. Hall, who was returning home to Eden, from Bega, came along. Previous to this, Mr. Hall had met Mr. and Mrs. Small, of Pambula, and they informed him that they were going to Eden, but had to return owing to the fire. Mr. Hall then became anxious, knowing that fires were in close to the town, and he proceeded on to try and make his way through, but when within half a mile of the Stafford’s residence he discovered a fire coming with great fury towards the road, the smoke and heat being almost unbearable. The flames, a little later, swept across the road and behind the buggy, thus cutting off all chance of returning that way. When Mr. Hall reached the Stafford’s, the house was then a mass of flames, and on both sides of the road, flames were roaring, and the trees overhead all alight. Mr. Hall raced his horse along, and several times he was almost smothered with the heat and smoke. A bag half filled with chaff on the back of the buggy caught alight, and was thrown off after racing about a mile.

Mr. Hall arrived at the foot of the hill, and found that at the Walker’s residence the fire had passed over some time before the one higher up. Here he found Mr. Walker lamenting over his wife and children, already mentioned as being at home alone. Mr. Hall released his horse from the trap, and then endeavoured to get along the road through the fire to the residence of Mr. Cox, the nearest neighbour, to see if the woman and children had made that way. Finding that they were not there, he then returned to Walker’s, and they then began to look for tracks. A few were found from the house, towards where there had been a dense green jungle, but which now was completely consumed. Grave fears were then entertained for the safety of the woman and children, as it was imagined that they had taken refuge in the green scrub. After searching for a couple of hours, Mr. Hall proceeded to Eden, and informed the police who at once went to the spot, also a large number of the residents of the town.

On arrival at the scene, Mrs. Walker had then been found by the husband and a Mr. W. Johnson, in an unconscious condition, the children seemed little the worse for their adventure, but Mrs. Walker is suffering from shock and exhaustion. Mr. Hall saw the big fire at Wyndham, just four years ago, and says that Sunday was such another day as that which caused so much damage. Reports from Nethercote state that the country there was swept by fire on Sunday, but so far no particulars have been received. The road from Eden to Towamba is reported to be blocked with fallen timber. The residences of all the others herein mentioned were not affected by the fire, owing to the wind changing. At night fires were made to check the original fires progress.

The Bega Budget (NSW: 1905 – 1921) 6 Jan 1909


A message from Eden states that the terrifying invasion by fire will be remembered as an occasion comparable with, a similar occurrence on the memorable Black Thursday of 1883, when the existence of the town was similarly threatened by an insweeping bush fire that wrought considerable destruction. Old hands say however that the onrush of Friday’s conflagration was the most awful and terrifying in their experience.

In the morning bands of fire fighters organised by the forestry officer and shire council endeavoured, but ineffectually, to check the progress of the fire some miles from Eden. In the afternoon an already high north-westerly increased to the velocity of gale, and the fire spread with frightful rapidity at Nullica. Mr. Frank Kelly’s house was saved by a narrow margin, but Mr. Havard’s home was lost at Saltwater Creek three miles from Eden. Pelsley’s homestead and Legge’s sawmill were burned but Leggge’s house was saved. The fire rapidly advanced on the settlements nearer the town, destroying Messres. Nicholson’s and Boller’s houses but the home of the Illawarra Company’s agent (Mr Downton) was saved after an exhaustive fight.

The sweep of fire through the last two miles of forest into the town occupied but a few minutes. From nearby hills was seen a wall of leaping flames irresistibly advancing at frightful speed. It was a magnificent but fearsome sight.
Isolated homes on the western side of the town were saved as the result of the defenders fighting, the flames until midnight. The business portion of the town narrowly escaped. The flames crossed a street parallel with the main street, and were only conquered at close quarters in the premises at the rear of the business buildings, the igniting of any one of which would have involved the destruction of all.

Some women and children were taken to the sea beach, where they remained till the control of the fire rendered their return home possible. For a time the pilot station was in danger owing to falling fragments of burning leaves and bark. So far as is known the wharf, which several times became ignited, is not seriously damaged.

It is stated that the State pine plantations at East Boyd had a narrow escape from a fire which swept about 20 acres before being headed off by the forestry gangs. Several fire-fighters are quite blind today from the effect on their eyes of the acrid bushfire smoke. At one homestead valuable house dogs met a pitiable fate. They were tied up by chains, and burnt to death. By a fire that raged at Kiah on Sunday. Dorren’s store and contents were totally destroyed.

Centres surrounding reported extensive losses of fencing, grass, and growing wattles. At Kiah River the Roman Catholic Church was destroyed. The Nethercote dairying district was badly swept. Homesteads destroyed include those of Messrs. Caustin, Parker and Barnes. Relief committees are being organised…
Fires have been raging from Bega to Eden, particularly at Wolumla and on to Merimbula and at Eden. At Merimbula the fire swept right to the edge of the village.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 14 Dec 1926


Fires, which had been burning slowly in many areas over the past few weeks, were whipped up by the hot north-westerly on Friday morning last and became avenging monsters of red flames and choking smoke which hungrily devoured all before it and left in its wake smouldering ruins of houses, blackened trees and bare scorched earth which would bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened observer.

Friday, January 25, 1952 will live in the memories of our present generation as the day of the most devastating and destructive fires ever experienced on the Far South Coast Early in the morning a fierce hot north-west wind was in evidence and it soon became apparent that trouble was brewing for the coastal area.

At about 11 am, a fire broke out at the back of Ireland-Timms Mill and they were soon fighting desperately to save the mill and homes. Assistance soon arrived from other mills and residents of Eden and the blaze was kept from spreading to the mill buildings. The fire extended along the Princes Highway and fire fighters succeeded in saving the home of Mr. A. D. Smith about a quarter of a mile south of the mill.

A wall of fire then swept down from the Nethercote hills and quickly enveloped the property “St. Audries” but miraculously left the home of Mr. J. Burgess standing whilst those of Mr. R. Kebby and Mr. R. Smith also escaped. This fire joined forces with the fire near the sawmill and a change of wind sent it racing towards the Cannery at Cattle Bay. The fire, driven by the strong wind, jumped over Cattle Bay and set grass alight on Thompson’s Point. Within minutes this fire was racing up the hill towards the main portion of the town.

Volunteer fire-fighters were quickly on the scene but could not prevent the home of Mr. Tom McCrory from catching and it burst into flames and was consumed in a matter of a few minutes. Fences and outhouses of the homes along Cocora and Imlay Streets were quickly burned but the homes were saved after a desperate battle. Women and children filled containers of all descriptions with water and carried them to the fire-fighters.

Wharf Hill was quickly enveloped in flames and smoke and the fire-fighters were grimly fighting a losing battle up Albert Terrace when the wind suddenly changed again and halted the fire. Grass burnt to within inches of some of the homes on Wharf Hill and even charred flooring under others and water taken from the already low tanks alone saved these homes.

The pall of smoke over the township at 3.30 pm was so dense that it turned daylight into darkness and cars were forced to travel at a crawling pace with lights full on.

The thanks of fire-fighters is extended to Mrs. J. P. Black and Misses M. Welsh and C. Switzer who were always on hand with liquid refreshments and food.

The Magnet & Voice January 31, 1952



The Eden Bush Fire Relief committee met last Monday and much progress was reported in regard to arrangements for housing the victims of recent fires. Mr. Brassington reported that nine new garage type cottages had already been erected at Palestine for Mrs. H. Bobbin. The cottage is 20 ft x 12 ft and was erected in two days by about ten men.

Mr. E. Stuckey reported that Eden district had been allocated nine prefabricated temporary homes. Four, and if possible five, more cottages will be erected on Saturday and Sunday by volunteer gangs of men. These cottages will be for Mr. T. McCrory, Mr. J. De La Mare, Mr. H.L. Veness and Mr. C. Veness. It is hoped to erect the remaining cottages next weekend. Timber for these cottages is being cut by the local sawmills and each mill has undertaken to cut timber for one cottage at cost.

The Committee decided to meet the cost of the flooring for the cottages as no allowance was made for these items by the Central Committee at Bega. Mr. C.S. Goward generously offered to cut the timber free of cost. Letters of thanks are to be forwarded to the Eden Fisherman’s Club and Buffalo Lodge in appreciation of their generous contributions to the funds.

The President and Secretary reported on the visit by the New South Wales Relief Committee who inspected the area and gave information regarding the part to be played by their organization.

The Magnet & Voice February 7, 1952


Help arrived too late to save 30,000 hectares of bushland ravaged by fire on Tuesday night just south of Eden.

The fire, believed to have started in a pile of bark involved in a burn-off in May, burnt out about half Timbillica State Forest, almost all Nadgee State Forest and most of Nadgee Nature Reserve.

The co-ordinator of the fire-fighting effort in the Eden region, Mr Dave Ryan, said yesterday he believed that the fire had started in a pile of bark which was set alight in May as part of a clean-up after logging in the area. “There was no rain all winter, and it must have just smouldered away for all those months”, he said. Tuesday had brought ideal conditions for the fire to run rampant.

“It got up to 44 degrees here on Tuesday”, he said. “After the fire was detected, at about 2.50pm, the temperature reached its peak, the humidity was down to 10 per cent, and a strong southerly wind blew up”.

Evidence of the wind was seen yesterday at the small fishing resort of Wonboyn Lake, on the coastal fringe of the fire zone, where caravans were overturned and a house under construction was flattened. Mr Ryan said the wind had reached about 150 km/h.

The fire stopped on the edge of the little town, but bushland around it was charred.

Yesterday afternoon, 100 RAN personnel were flown from HMAS Albatross, Nowra, to Merimbula, the nearest airfield to the fire.

The Navy men moved into the fire zone last night and, under the direction of the NSW Forestry Commission staff, helped clear fire breaks.

During its short life, the fire gutted a National Parks and Wildlife Services lodge in the Nadgee Nature Reserve, on the coastal fringe of the fire zone, destroyed about $175,000 worth of earthmoving and logging equipment, burnt out a house on a small property, after the owner was evacuated, and destroyed sheds and fences and brought down power and telephone lines.

The Canberra Times 20 Nov 1980