"The past is never fully gone. It is absorbed into the present and the future. It stays to shape what we are and what we do."
Sir William Deane, Governor-General of Australia, Inaugural Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, August 1996.

1939 - Fires/Salvage/ Recovery

  • McKinty Jim - Firefighter 1939

    Jim McKinty - Firefighter 1939

    Transcribed from Jim’s notes and as related to Malcolm McKinty

    Following his graduation from the VSF in 1936 and until December 1941 Jim was attached to the Commission’s Forest Assessment Branch.

    In November 1938, Bjarne Dahl, Jim (then 23 years old) and their chainman (Fred) travelled by train to Healesville then by car to Sylvia Creek near Toolangi. There they loaded their equipment onto packhorses lead by Bill O’Connell and trekked over the hills to the Murrindindi River where they set up camp. The task was to map a large section of the Victoria Range between the Yea and Acheron Rivers, progressing south along the range towards Mount St Leonard. Dense scrub here made heavy going and they took turns with slashers to clear the survey lines.

  • Post 1939 Fires - Recovery & Salvage

    Post 1939 Recovery & Salvage


    The recovery program managed by the FCV after the 1939 fires was massive in scope. This article will continue to expand as new information is collected and added. However, it is hoped that, even at this early stage, it provides a reasonable insight into what was probably the largest forestry operation in Victoria's history.

    After the 1939 fires the FCV recognised that it needed to act quickly to recover as much timber as possible. Perhaps more importantly, it also needed to ensure that the fire-killed forest regenerated satisfactorily, either naturally or, if necessary, with assistance particularly in areas that had been harvested, and previously and recently burnt by wildfire in 1926 and 1932. It is also worth remembering that this program had to be initiated at the same time as a Royal Commission was unfolding, and that Inquiry would criticise the FCV for at some of the inadequacies that became apparent during the fires. The FCV needed to respond to those criticisms, while concurrently gearing itself to handle responsibility for fire over a vastly increased forest area, by implementing measures across the board to improve its fire prevention and suppression performance. And World War II was just a few months away from placing more urgency on all of these activities.

  • The 1939 Fires

    The 1939 Fires

    "These fires were lit by the hand of man."
    (Stretton, LEB)

    The section "What Changed?" was written by Mike Leonard

    "We began our training at the forestry school just two years after the catastrophe, and we found that almost every statement about the department and the industry was prefaced by 'before 1939' or 'since 1939' and everyone was quite toey".  Murray Paine


    "In the early days of January 1939 one of the greatest natural disasters in Australian history fell on the State of Victoria. Over a period of a week hundreds of fires that had been burning spasmodically across a large part of the State gathered into a series of vast conflagrations that swept the forest areas, destroying homes and surrounding settlements, in some case almost obliterating small townships, and killing seventy-one people. The fires were accompanied by record temperatures and winds that reached velocities estimated at over one hundred miles an hour. They created freak conditions that in turn accentuated the intensity of the flames and the extent of the damage they caused. Men and animals died horrible deaths. Sometimes their bodies were found after the fires had passed, charred beyond recognition; in other cases they died seemingly from suffocation, scarcely marked by the flames. Strange sounds and sights were reported by those caught in the inferno who escaped to tell their stories. Matches burned blue in an atmosphere apparently charged with an excess of carbon-dioxide. Great clouds of flame leaped from hill to hill, driven by windstorms that carried masses of inflammable gas. Dull booming sounds were heard in advance of the walls of flame. Solid metal melted in the heat. When it was all over, large areas of the State presented a grim scene of desolation. Across thousands of square miles the trees stood stark and blackened. The ash from their destruction lay deep on the baked earth. The tall tree-ferns that filled the mountain valleys had simply disappeared, along with all the rest of the vegetation. Fifteen hundred people were left sheltering in camps and temporary homes. Others lay in hospital wards, their limbs and bodies burned by the flames which had surrounded or passed over them." W. S. Noble (1977) (Frank Noble, a son of W. S. Noble, has kindly given the FCRPA permission to use his father's book on this site.)