The History of Our Rural Fire Service

Bush fires are a constant in Australia and after three months of fires in our local region we are still intermittently shrouded in smoke and with bush fires still active, everyone is extremely thankful that we have a professional and able Rural Fire Service.  So when and how was it formed?

The Bush Fires Act which was passed in 1949 led to the formation of The Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade in Coffs Harbour in 1951.

This followed  a series of devastating fires in the region. Including what was known as “Black Monday” 20 November 1944, when several disastrous fires occurred in Boambee and Korora.  One of the fires started in West Korora and raged all the way to the sea, burning banana plantations, packing sheds and some homes.  Many of the local residents spent the night on the beach. One of the homes destroyed was Mr Tom Jordan’s and after the fire passed the water tank remained precariously tilted with the water boiling inside it.

1946 was again another bad year for fires and when these photos were taken they were fought by local residents working together in informal bush fire brigades with “green bushes , wet bags, chipping hoes and perhaps an odd knapsack spray, mainly possessed by the few banana-growers in the area’ (Secomb, Michael, Red Gold to Green Grass, 1986, P.78)

“The Great Smoke”, Karangi, Neil Potts on bike, 12/9/1946. Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour Mus 07-5950
Bushfire Coffs Harbour 1946, Courtesy Picture Coffs Harbour Mus 07-5954
Dairyville Road , bushfire viewed from above Orara Road at Houlahans, 14/9/1946.  Courtesy of Picture Coffs Harbour 07-5957.

1950 was a very wet year with floods and cyclones, which resulted in the heavy growth of fuel.  This was followed by by a severe frost in July 1951 and then eight months of drought which did not break until March 1952.  After once again another series of devastating fires in 1951 when 22 000 acres was burnt in the Coffs Harbour area Cr Norm Jordan recommended the formation of a shire sanctioned volunteer bush fire brigade which was finally endorsed by the Dorrigo and Bellingen Shire Councils. This meant that combined with the Forestry Department effective bush fire protection could be instituted across the region which has continued to this day.

We thank our Rural Fire Service members for their unstinting service to the community and wish everyone a fire free and peaceful festive season.

Research by Simone Newman


Brewer, Mary,. Looking back: Nana Glen, 1878-1979,. 1979, P47-50.

Blundell, Geoff (retired Bushfire Control Officer for Coffs Harbour and Bellingen Shires),. The History and Development of Bushfire Brigades in the Shire of Coffs Harbour, An Address to the Coffs Harbour and District Historical Society, 22 March 1982.

Bush Fire Brigades to be Formed (1951, December 14). Coffs Harbour Advocate (NSW : 1907 – 1942; 1946 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved December 18, 2019, from

Our Bush was on Fire when Capt. Cook Came In.  (18 October 1962). The Coffs Harbour Advocate.

Raging Bushfires In Coff’s District (1944, November 21). Daily Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1915 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved December 18, 2019, from

Secomb, Michael,. Red Gold to Green Grass,. 1986, P.78.

Yeates, N. (1990). Coffs Harbour: Vol I, Pre-1880 to 1945: Bananacoast Printers.