Victorian Fire Crew “Lost” in NSW
- build freeway and then backburn to keep warm
In about 1972, with many FCV personnel already committed to a big fire at Mt Elizabeth, near Buchan, a very large fire in the Kosciusko National Park “was gradually burning its way south between the Snowy and the Ingeegoodbee Rivers” heading towards the Victorian border and, typical of the time, the NSW people were interested in their own side, not ours. Well, the truth is they probably were not really worried about the fire at all, but we were interested, because if nothing happened we would have a huge unwanted blaze inside our patch.
Divisional Forester, Keith Gidley, (“The Godfather”), organized an aerial reconnaissance and he, together with the Orbost District Forester, Barry Johnston, and Bernie, identified a possible location from which they could construct and hold a control line. The site chosen was well inside NSW. On return Bernie was given the task along the lines of “fix this please”. Bernie reckoned “It looked like a fair challenge at the time.”
So Bernie, with Forest Overseer Barry Worseldine (then at Nowa Nowa), and a hand-picked crew of nine (the maximum number imposed by Keith Gidley) with a D6 dozer, headed north and did what they were trained to do.
They camped on the Ingeegoodbee Track inside NSW and built a trafficable fireline west and down into the Ingeegoodbee River, and east and down to connect with the Snowy River. The Ingeegoodbee side was not too difficult to get the track in, but the Snowy side was “very very difficult with switchbacks required. I had Roy Hunt with me, a very experienced Construction Foreman, and Ken Jones was the machine operator, and a very good one.” Over a period of 5-6 days they built a freeway, sorry, fireline, and then backburnt and stopped the fire in its tracks.
By the time the fireline was completed the main fire was close and it was imperative that the backburn was completed quickly. “I got two packs and filled them with fusees, we positioned ourselves in about the middle of the track, and I gave one to Barry and told him to start lighting and not stop till he got to the Ingeegoodbee, and I took the other and headed down to the Snowy. We were fortunate because there was a bit of a southerly that assisted the burn, before the main fire pulled the backburn in and, honestly, it was all over in a couple of hours. It was the most classic backburn I have ever seen.”
Bernie always wondered whether anyone told the NSW people they were coming. “The NSW people knew we were there, because they kept looking at us from the air, but we had no comms that would allow us to talk to them.” The legalities? “No idea. We just went and put the thing out.”
And if you doubt any of this, the track is still there and highly visible. It is shown on this map. Bernie’s son Anthony is a Manager in Kosciusko National Park, and one day he mentioned this track to Bernie, wondering why it was there and who built it. “You mean that track that is about 10 km long and between about 4 -10 km inside NSW? Well, that could have been me.”