Little Bits of History

Black Friday in Australia

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 13, 2014
Black Friday in Australia

Black Friday in Australia

January 13, 1939: Black Friday in Australia. In Victoria, Australia a bushfire started. The days before the fire started had been terribly hot. In Melbourne, the state capital, the temperature had been 110.8⁰ F on January 8 and 112.5⁰ F on January 10. On this day, the temperature reached 114.1⁰ F which was the official hottest day in Melbourne history and remained so for the next 70 years. It is to be noted that in 1851, before the Black Thursday fires, the temperature was said to have reached 117⁰ F – but it is not an official reading. The summer of 1938-39 had been hot and dry and several fires had broken out.

A strong northerly wind swept over the state and the fires already burning were whipped into a one large enveloping conflagration. The most damage was seen in the mountains and alpine areas. However, five townships were completely destroyed – Hill End, Narbethong, Nayook West, Noogee, and Woods Point. Not all of them were rebuilt. Many more towns were badly damaged. The Acheron, Tanjil Valley, Thomson Valley, and Grampians also suffered extensive damage. Yarra Glen, then a separate city and now a suburb of Melbourne was also under fire.

All in all, nearly 5,000,000 acres or 2,000,000 hectares were burned. There were 71 people killed by the fires. Over 1,300 homes and 69 sawmills were burned. A total of 3,700 buildings were destroyed. About three-quarters of the state of Victoria was turned to ashes by the flames. Although the fire presented one major front there were five major fire areas. Ash from the fires fell as far away as New Zealand. Luckily, rain fell on Sunday, January 15 and with this help, the fires were brought under control.

The Royal Commission under Judge LEB Stretton blamed the fires on careless burning as well as the heat. Recommendations were made for forest management and safety and resulted in the County Fire Authority being formed in 1944. Environmental effects from the blaze lasted for decades. There are some regions where dead trees still stand in mute testament. The water supply of the area was compromised by the falling ash. It was one of the worst disasters in Australia and certainly the most deadly bushfire up to that time. Sadly, both the 1983 and 2009 bushfires resulted in more deaths. In terms of area burned, it is second only to the 1851 fire which is estimated to have burned 2.5 times the area.

As a single withered tree, if set aflame, causes a whole forest to burn, so does a rascal son destroy a whole family. – Chanakya

I am as frustrated with society as a pyromaniac in a petrified forest. – A. Whitney Brown

Sadly, it’s much easier to create a desert than a forest. – James Lovelock

Like wars, forest fires and bad marriages, really stupid laws are much easier to begin than they are to end. – Matt Taibbi

Also on this day: Sitting on the Throne – In 1863, Thomas Crapper pioneered his pedestal toilet.
Only One – In 1842, the lone survivor arrived at the Jalalabad garrison.
Greece – In 1822, the First National Assembly of Epidaurus adopts a new Greek flag.
Prison Blues – In 1968, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom Prison.


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