Part II: Bertha
Drawing principally on
Scotland Island News (SI News) archives, Part II
focuses on one particularly memorable fire truck.
detail from John Parker’s 1991 painting of
Scotland Island’s old fire shed, which stood
down by Tennis Court Wharf.
The picture appears to show the brigade's
'Blitz' wagon, even though it had been
replaced some 15 years earlier.
Electricity arrived on Scotland Island in 1962 and with it
came more houses, more people, and a bigger fire brigade.
The brigade had begun in 1955 as an offshoot of the
Scotland Island Progress Association, forerunner of SIRA.
At first the two organisations were barely
distinguishable, but during the 1960s they grew apart,
with separate meetings and membership.
But some things didn't change. Every able-bodied man was
still expected to play a role in the brigade. ‘There can
be no back-sliders’, said Captain Grahame Maclean in 1968.
Men were organised into three-man rosters, taking turns to
be on hand during the fire season. Thus the burden of
attending fires was perhaps more evenly spread than it is
'Blitz' in service to the Duffys Forest
Brigade in 1973. Note the white overalls worn
by firefighters at the time.
Even in the 1960s women remain conspicuously absent from
accounts of firefighting activity, save as caterers. But
by 1967 the St John Ambulance Association was training
first-aid officers on the island, and 10 of the 15
certificates awarded to permanent residents went to women.
Attendance at medical emergencies remains a core function
of today's brigade.
Prior to the foundation of the NSW Rural Fire Service in
1997, brigades were largely reliant on local authorities
for equipment. Scotland Island’s brigade was founded with
a £490 grant ($17,000 in today’s money) from Warringah
Council. That was enough for the construction of a small
fire shed near Tennis Court Wharf, as well as the purchase
of a pump, some hose and 20 knapsack sprays which were
kept dotted around the island at people’s houses.
Notably absent from early accounts of the brigade was any
kind of vehicle. Knapsack sprays might handle small spot
fires from falling embers, but larger fires require the
transportation of heavy hoses, pumps and personnel, let
alone water. It seems inconceivable today that a brigade
would be expected to function for its first decade without
some form of land or water conveyance.
Blitz, this one used by
Lismore City Council RFS as a water tanker
It’s indicative of the inadequacy of official support for
the fledgling brigade that it was left to residents to
donate what was presumably the brigade’s first truck.
Following extensive fires in Elvina Bay during the summer
of 1964/5, the then owner of Quarterdeck (on the island’s
north-western point) offered an ‘old but reliable’ Commer
truck, fitted with water tank, pump and hoses. As a
backup, the truck’s tank could be filled from a hydrant
located at the back of Quarterdeck, which was in turn fed
by sea water pumped from the property’s jetty.
Fortunately brigade transport wasn't reliant on resident
largesse for long. Sometime around 1968 the island
acquired ‘Bertha’. Few today remember Bertha, but the
significance of this vehicle in island folklore must have
been such that when, more than 20 years later, brigade
captain John Parker immortalised the old shed in his
watercolour painting (still on display in the new
station), it was Bertha that he depicted as parked
outside, even though by 1991 Bertha had long since gone.
Known to Australians as a ‘Blitz wagon’, Bertha was more
properly described as a Canadian Military Pattern (CMP)
truck. Canadian factories produced 850,000 of these
vehicles in World War II: more trucks than were produced
by the three main Axis nations combined. Indeed the CMP
truck has been described as Canada's biggest contribution
to the war effort.
With a windscreen that was angled downwards to reduce
reflected glare observable by enemy aircraft, and with a
distinctive pug-nosed profile intended to make them more
compact and easier to ship, Blitz wagons were deployed in
just about every theatre of war. Even the Russians used
them to counter the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.
Blitz wagons belonging to Warringah Shire and
displayed at 1962’s Warringah Fire Prevention
It's unclear whether Bertha was among the
vehicles on display.
After the war pretty much the entire British Commonwealth
was awash with CMP trucks. In the case of Australia, where
the Blitz had been manufactured under licence, some of
these surplus trucks were adapted for bush fire fighting.
They were acquired by numerous local authorities,
including Warringah Council. Indeed two such vehicles can
be seen in action here, being used to quell Belrose’s
1967 bush fires.
Acquisition of a truck necessitated a 30-foot extension to
the fire shed. Just like the original structure, this
addition had to be built by volunteers. The 1968 party,
held to celebrate the expanded shed, was described as ‘the
Island’s biggest blowout since the coming of electricity’.
The utility of the island’s Blitz is debatable. One can
only imagine what it was like trying to manoeuvre a
30-year-old wartime truck around island roads, and it was
said that Bertha was a vehicle that only Captain Jim Duff
'was game to drive'.
Bob Green (right) alongside the Land Rover
that replaced Bertha in 1976.
In September 1973 a ‘torrid’ brigade meeting, attended by
a ‘record crowd’ of 51 residents, heard how Bertha’s pump
was inoperative, causing SI News to quip that the
truck was less a fire tender and more a fire tinder. At
the same meeting ‘tempers flared’ when it was alleged that
the truck had been used for private purposes.
In 1976 this vestige of wartime Australia was finally
retired, replaced by a Land Rover and trailer unit,
vehicles perhaps better suited to island roads.
This periodic history of the brigade will be continued
in future editions of the PON.
Monday, 11 October, 7 pm
brigade meeting will be a general meeting. The brigade
intends to use the meeting to elect a training officer
and a station officer. Members interested in these
positions must receive two written nominations from
ordinary members of the brigade, these being sent to the
at least seven days prior to the meeting.
Due to COVID restrictions the
meeting will be held entirely online. A link to the
meeting has been provided to members via email. Please
do not go to the station for this meeting.
West Pittwater Energy Reliability Project
Construction work in Lovett Bay: starting Friday, 1
Work on a
submarine electricity connection between Lovett Bay and
Scotland Island is due to commence Friday 1 October.
There will be no construction work over the Labour Day
A drilling rig is expected to be delivered to Lovett
Bay Friday 8 October. Actual drilling is expected to
start Monday 11 October.
Pedestrian access on Bona Crescent (Lovett Bay) will
be maintained throughout the work.
Further information can be accessed here.
Previously only SIRA members could receive SIRA News
by email. But from now on you can receive SIRA News
even if you are not a member of SIRA.
To be put on the mailing list, email SIRA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIRA News is issued whenever there is important or
useful information to relay to the community; for example
news about the NBN roll-out, upcoming road closures, power
cuts, etc. You can also view SIRA News archives
here: Scotland Island Community Website SIRA
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