Scarily familiar: Bega's bushfires of '52 remembered

The January 1952 bushfires have long been the benchmark for fire disaster references in NSW's Bega Valley.

Time will tell if the 2020 New Year bushfires claim that unenviable mantle.

Front pages of the Bega District News in February 1952 following devastating bushfires. The papers were discovered in an old shed this week by Wolumla's David Warren.

Front pages of the Bega District News in February 1952 following devastating bushfires. The papers were discovered in an old shed this week by Wolumla's David Warren.

Perhaps coincidence, perhaps providence, but copies of the Bega District News from February 1952 covering that year's deadly and devastating fires were found recently by Wolumla resident David Warren.

He had gone to one of his old sheds to track down some fire safety gear and in an old Army-issue box in the back corner, he discovered the papers.

They're a bit mildewed and mouse-nibbled, but regardless a precious snapshot of that tragic time in our history.

David was sure they were put aside to keep by his mother, Nita Quinn.

"Mum was a bit of a hoarder and loved the auction sales. These have been preserved for a while," David said.

We've scanned in the pages and reproduced the Febuary 1, 1952, issue of the Bega District news in full. Click here for the digital interactive edition to check out the articles, images and photos from the time.

The front page lead reads, ominously echoing recent weeks:

Today, after seven hours of horror last Friday, the lush green hills of the normally bountiful Bega Valley have been laid waste; are charred and blackened with gaunt wreckage of the worst bushfire rampage ever known in the history of the district. Damage is estimated at many thousands of pounds, in the area of ruin from Tilba to south of Eden, calculating the loss of income from the tremendous drop in production.

Later on, rather than Facebook and digital scanners:

Men were despatched in every direction as call kept the exchange girls working at a furious speed.

The tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of Marie, 14, and Jennifer, 14, Otton and their neighbour Rudolph Ogilvie, 64, as fire devastated their land at Upper Brogo is also recounted in full and makes for harrowing reading.

Also noted are the deaths of John Taylor, 58, of Quaama, and Jim Preo of Bega, who both succumbed to the extreme heat and exertion.

There is also coverage of the calm and strong leadership demonstrated by Bega Mayor Alderman Chas Ayres, and the Bega Police Sub-District Inspector Browne, and the vital service provided by John Kerr at radio station 2BE.

With a mayoral appeal reaching well over 6000 pounds at the time of going to print, the paper included a page-long list of everyone who donated, and the amount!

Also worth noting is an editorial column "A test of fibre" that says, in part:

Possibly, recriminations will follow, when the fires have at last subsided, for it is usual to take someone to task after a major disaster.

Fires during a drought season might, at this stage, appear to be some divine scolding for our lack of an efficient and regular fire-fighting formula, which man has not yet been able to develop.

Click here to view the paper in full. There are also some additional pages from follow up editions relating to the fires included for interest's sake