Black Friday 1939

71 deaths, 3,700 buildings.

Sixty-nine mills were burned. Millions of acres of fine forest, of almost incalculable value, were destroyed or badly damaged. Townships were obliterated in a few minutes Mills, houses, bridges, tramways, machinery, were burned to the ground; men, cattle, horses, sheep, were devoured by the fires or asphyxiated by the scorching debilitated air. Generally, the numerous fires which during December, in many parts of Victoria, had been burning separately, as they do in any summer, either ” under control ” as it is falsely and dangerously called, or entirely untended, reached the climax of their intensity and joined forces in a devastating confluence of flame on Friday, the 13th of January. On that day it appeared that the whole State was alight.

At midday, in many places, it was dark as night. Men carrying hurricane lamps, worked to make safe their families and belongings Travellers on the highways were trapped by fires or blazing fallen trees, and perished. Throughout the land there was daytime darkness,. At one mill, desperate but futile efforts were made to clear of inflammable scrub the borders of the mill and mill settlement. All but one person, at that mill, were burned to death, many of them while trying to burrow to imagined safety in the sawdust heap.

At the Inquiry afterwards.

The  truth  was  hard   to   find.  Accordingly,   your   Commissioner   sometimes   sought   it   (as he was entitled to do) in places other than the witness box. Much of the evidence was coloured by self interest. Much of it was quite false. Little of it was wholly truthful. The timberworkers were afraid that if they gave evidence they would not be given future employment in the mills. It is difficult to imagine a sufficient reason for the absence of representation of these men before the Commission of Inquiry. Some of them, disregarding advice, gave evidence, which was clearly truthful. The Forest Officers were, in the main, youngish men of very good character. Mostly, they were afraid that if they were too outspoken, their future advancementin the Forests Commission’s employ would be endangered. Some of them had become too friendly with the millers; whose activities they were set to direct and check. It was regrettable that some of the saw­millers and some of the Forestry Officers were loud in praise of one another, when, to the knowledge of both each had neglected many obligations in the matter of fire prevention and suppression.


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14 Responses to Black Friday 1939

  1. stackja

    And in 2020, still the same problems.

  2. Nob

    Now it’s a case of finding a firefighter who echoes your opinions and parading him (because really they’re still all firemen) as the voice of authenticity.

    Never mind that firefighters will have as many opinions as there are in the community.

  3. nb

    I’ve posted this before, but posting again might be useful to some:

    A chronology of major bushfires in Victoria, Australia, from 1851 to 2013:

    In 1851 one quarter of Victoria, 50,000 km2 or 5 million hectares, burned. (1 hectare = 2.5 acres.) Victoria is 228,000 km2.
    Fires with a million or more hectares damage, in Victoria only:
    2003: 1.3 million hectares
    1944: 1 million hectares
    1939: 1.5 to 2 million hectares
    1906: Possibly. See below.
    1851: 5 million hectares
    See a story about the 1906 fires at for 26 Jan, 1906
    See also Tony Heller, Eighty Years of Climate Change

  4. David Brewer


    some of the Forestry Officers were loud in praise of one another, when, to the knowledge of both each had neglected many obligations in the matter of fire prevention and suppression

    …and now:

    Former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins …is one of the founders of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action Group…Mr Mullins said current fire chiefs were doing an outstanding job

  5. C.L.

    Much of the evidence was coloured by self interest. Much of it was quite false. Little of it was wholly truthful.

    My – haven’t we come a long way in 80 years? I will say this of the 1939 commissioner – at least he was really searching for the truth and was clearly frustrated about all the political bullshit he had to put up with. There will be an inquiry regarding the current fires, of course. The pressure on the presiding commissioner will not be to honestly explain the hows and whys of the event but to tilt his findings in favour of KLIMATE CHANGE.

  6. Genghis

    They cut down the Mountain Ash and buried it in big pits (keeping it wet) and recovered it over the next decade. Much went into building aircraft known as Wirraways during WW2.
    This will not happen today. We will continue to import timber from the fragile tropic forests

  7. Judge Dredd

    That is an interesting read. There is nothing new under the sun.

  8. Yes that was almost the heading of the post.

  9. duncanm

    Melbourne Argus, 11Feb 1851

    As distance allows the various accounts to reach Melbourne, news of destruction, devastation, and ruin come pouring in upon us, until our very heart sickens at the fearful nature of our duty.

    if only today’s journalists were so circumspect: 10 Feb

    In our Saturday’s issue we briefly alluded to the extensive and destructive bush fires that pre-
    vailed throughout the country, more particularly on the Thursday preceding. Rumours had reached us of conflagrations on every side, but as we did not wish to appear alarmists, we refrained from noticing any but those that were well authenticated, knowing how exceedingly prone report is to magnify and distort particulars.
    Since then, however, we learn with regret that little only of the ill news had reached us, and that
    what we thought magnified, is unhappily very
    far from the fearful extent of the truth.

  10. PB

    And this toll of lives and buildings in a far less built-out and populated Australia.

  11. Professor Fred Lenin

    Shouldnt that be “Burned Friday,theother word is so i=uncool and racist . Collingwood jerseys are ? Dark grey and white

  12. Tim Neilson

    each had neglected many obligations in the matter of fire prevention and suppression.

    Yes. Even before left wing green “activists” had become a blight on the nation the temptation to make false economies was there. The sanctimonious conceited meddling green turds just make things worse.

  13. Tel

    1939 Royal Commission Report, Chapter IV, Page 20:

    State Fire Authority and Local Fire Authorities — The institution of a State Fire Authority is recommended. It is strongly recommended that no public department or possible combination of public departments interested in forests should be permitted to gain control of this authority. The reasons for this suggestion have been stated in other connexions in this Report.

    He knew exactly what they get up to … and he did his best to warn us.

  14. rickw

    Australia has been a shithole for a very long time.

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