This clip shows black-and-white, silent footage of the Black Sunday bushfires, which swept through the Dandenong Ranges and much of Gippsland, Victoria, on Sunday 14 February 1926. It opens with a series of intertitles that detail the devastation caused by the fire, including the deaths of 31 people. The clip shows forests engulfed by fire, a car travelling down a smoke-filled road with the bush ablaze on both sides, the smouldering ruins of homesteads and burnt-out cars, and a man riding his motorbike through a smoking forest. There is also a map of Victoria that shows the vast area affected by the fires.
Educational value points
- On Sunday 14 February 1926 bushfires engulfed large areas of Gippsland, the Yarra Valley and the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, affecting the townships of Noojee, Erica, Kinglake, Powelltown, Warburton and Gilderoy. Forest fires had been burning in the region since 26 January, but on 14 February the fire fronts joined, fanned by gusty winds of up to 97 km per h. By the time the last fire was put out 2 weeks later, there had been a huge loss of life and an estimated 390,000 ha had been burnt along with livestock and native animals.
- The Black Sunday bushfires, as they came to be known, killed 31 people and left about 2,000 homeless. The worst casualties occurred in the Powelltown and Warburton areas, where 21 people lost their lives, while at Noojee four people were killed and the township was destroyed. Many remote timber settlements in the forests were burnt out, and the ferocity of the fire and the speed at which it travelled hampered efforts to escape.
- In 1926 there was no coordinated approach to dealing with bushfires, and fire fighters were usually equipped with no more than damp hessian sacks and beaters. As a result of later similarly devastating fires, such as the Black Friday bushfires of 1939, a number of measures were adopted, including the formation of the Country Fire Authority, the establishment of community education, and the introduction of firebreaks in state forests and controlled burning.
- Fires started by graziers, miners and picnickers were blamed for causing the Black Sunday bushfires. It was common practice for graziers, particularly in the high country, to burn off to encourage new growth of grass shoots, or what is called 'pick feed’ for sheep and cattle. In 1939 a Royal Commission into the Black Friday bushfires, which surpassed the Black Sunday bushfires as the worst on record, found that 'Settlers, miners and graziers are the most prolific fire-causing agents … Their firing is generally deliberate. All other firing is, generally, due to carelessness’ (www.abc.net.au).
- Australia’s climate is generally dry and that, combined with hot summers and a high incidence of drought, means that large areas of the country are vulnerable to bushfires. Two of the worst bushfires on record were the Black Friday bushfires in Victoria on 13 January 1939, which claimed 71 lives, and the Ash Wednesday bushfires in Victoria and South Australia on 16 February 1983, in which 72 people died.
- According to the Bureau of Meteorology bushfires usually spread as a thin but long front of flame; however, if the wind changes the long side of the fire can become the fire front. Forest fires travel at about 3 km per h with flames 10 to 20 m high. They will pass a spot in about 60 seconds. However, they can travel up to 12 km per h with flames up to 150 m high, in which case escape is almost impossible, particularly for animals.
- A number of factors combine to create the 'ideal’ conditions for a bushfire, including an extended period of drought, which dries out grass, forests and fuel such as leaf litter; unstable atmospheric conditions; winds of more than 55 km per h; low humidity and temperatures above 36 degrees Celsius. The weather on Sunday 14 February 1926 was extremely hot with strong gusty winds. The Black Sunday bushfire followed successive years of fires, with the worst occurring in 1902, 1904, 1913, 1915 and the summer of 1919–20, when about 50,000 ha of forest burnt in the Otways and Grampians in Victoria.
- While agencies such as the Red Cross provided immediate relief in the form of food, clothing and bedding to people made homeless by the fires, the Victorian Government established a Bushfire Relief Fund to provide assistance to victims and to help rebuild devastated communities. By the time the film from which this clip was taken was released the fund had raised £100,000. Herschells, a film production company, made this film as a contribution to the fundraising effort and hoped that the dramatic scenes of the fire and the destruction it caused would encourage the public to contribute to the fund.
This clip starts approximately 1 minute into the documentary.
This clip is silent.
'Black Sunday' – Sunday Feb 14th will remain more than a memory for thousands of Australian bush folk’.
‘This film specially prepared, free of charge, for use in connection with the Bush Fire Relief Fund by Herschells Pty Ltd. Pathé Cinema Stores’.
‘A day of terrific heat, a changing wind that blew at aeroplane speed, smouldering fires that had been lit by selfish graziers, thoughtless timbermen and unthinking picnickers’.
‘These were the factors that combined to bring death to 31 souls, the destruction of hundreds of homes, and ruin to our glorious forests’.
We see footage of the devastation of the fire. Fire and smoke attacking the forest.
‘From the Dandenongs near Melbourne to Mallacoota in the far east of Victoria, almost every timbered area has been affected’.
We see a map of Victoria and the shaded area where the fire is. More pictures of the fire. A map of Victoria with the blacked out area signaling the position of the fire.
‘By the irony of Fate the Minister of Forests (Hon HF Richardson) and party were almost trapped on a Gippsland Road’.
We see a car attempting to drive down a road through the smoke and fire.
‘These cars did not fare so well’.
Pictures of burnt cars and a man assessing the damage to a fire affected motorbike.
‘Taking his life in his hands in order to assist his neighbours’.
We see a man on a motorbike riding up a road as the fire rages on.
‘Every home in the forests has been in danger. Some have gone up in smoke’.
More pictures of the fire and smoke in the forest.