From Sticks and Wet bags to Aircraft – Fighting Bush Fires through the Decades.

Early Australian bushmen beat fires out with sticks and wet bags or canvas and created fire breaks by raking the dry grass and leaves towards the fire.

In 1926, a descriptive article described the stages in bush firefighting:

… to conquer the monster, working with might and main, raking the dry grass and leaves back toward the coming fire, pulling down the loose bark from the trees, cutting off the dead logs and throwing them back, and then, when the trail is ready they set alight to the rubbish they have raked and thrown back, and beat out the flames as soon as they have burnt some yards wide, sufficient to stop the bush fire when it reaches this spot.

Bush Fires, The Brisbane Courier, 25 February 1926, p.11,

Fire Fighting in the bush at Mountain Park property, ca. 1935; John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative number: 59033.

A decade further on from 1926, it was reported that technology was making life easier for the bushman to fight fires as science was being applied to firefighting. Trucks now allowed drums of water to be taken to the fire and pumps allowed water to be aimed at the source of the flames. Now the beating with wet bags was done as a follow-up to the water lorry and it was even suggested that in future, aeroplanes could be used to quell the fires.

Science in Fighting Bush Fires, Sunday Mail, 8 November 1936, p.4,

In 1952, it was reported that the question was asked in the Federal Parliament regarding the use of foam or fire retardant from aircrafts being used on bush fires.

On 6 Feb 1967, two Piper Pawnees contracted from Alpine Aviation of Benambra made the first operational drops of retardant on a small lightning-strike fire in north-eastern Victoria.

“50 Years of Firebombing Operations”, National Aerial Firefighting Centre, 5 March 2020,

In 2003, the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) provided a cooperative national strategy for combating bush fires in Australia.

Despite advances in firefighting techniques, bush fires continue to challenge skills and technology, as they did for early families in rural Australia.

Is the history of firefighting of interest to you?  

Use your free State Library membership to access databases online. There is a wealth of articles on the development of firefighting techniques and technology. The Australian Public Affairs Full Text (APAFT) database is a useful source for learning about the Australian experience of fighting bush fires. State Library also has a range of other publications and archival material on the topic of bush fires and their management.

State Library Resources





Archival Material - AUDIO

OH 81 Queensland Rural Fires Board oral history

Queensland. Rural Fires Board ; 1927-1990

This collection contains interviews regarding the history of the Queensland Rural Fires Board from 1927-1990. Box 9699: Master transcripts, interview logs, photographs and other interview documents.
Available: State Library South Bank Collection, request then collect from level 4 (Box 9699).

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