|The old and the new: Scotland Island fire station, showing the previous and the current names of the brigade.
This edition of the PON looks at Scotland Island Rural Fire Brigade: past, present and future. With June marking the 30th anniversary of the opening of the fire shed, we look back at the brigade’s early years. August’s AGM saw the departure of some familiar faces, plus some new arrivals. And with the start of the fire season only weeks away, we need to think about how best to support the brigade during the summer ahead.
All in all, it’s time for a PON firies special. This edition is dedicated to all those selfless individuals who devote, and have devoted, their time and energy to Pittwater’s offshore brigades. You, ladies and gentlemen, are the backbone of our community.
|Immediately prior to the AGM, crews were conducting hazard reduction burns at Pathilda Reserve and on the east side of Elizabeth Park
Never was there an AGM like it! Normally held in the fire shed in June, the meeting had been postponed due to the COVID lockdown. But postponement meant pushing the AGM into HRB season. ‘HRB’ refers to hazard reduction burning, the practice of conducting controlled burns so as to reduce bushland fuel load. There are very few days in the year when weather conditions permit HR burns. And with the fire season only weeks away, it became clear that neither the AGM nor the island’s much-needed burns could be delayed much longer.
With limited time, the solution was to hold the two on the same day. On the morning of 22 August, teams from Scotland Island Rural Fire Service conducted two separate burns. The first was on the upper part of Pathilda Reserve and an adjoining vacant block. The second was along the eastern periphery of Elizabeth Park. Then, with the burns well under control, it was time for the AGM which, due to COVID, had to be held entirely online.
Despite the challenging circumstances, all formalities were properly observed, thanks to Graeme Crayford’s adept chairing. These are the main points that arose:
|A boat similar to the one Scotland Island
expects to acquire within the next 6-12 months
- Out of the Northern Beaches’ 14 brigades, Scotland Island’s was confirmed as the second busiest in terms of number of incidents dealt with.
- Scotland Island brigade is called out more than once a week. Bush fires account for only a small proportion of the calls. Because the brigade has a boat, it is frequently asked to help with boat fires, as well as fires on the mainland’s foreshores which require boat access.
- The most common type of call is to help with storm damage, typically fallen trees and branches.
- The brigade serves the community in many other ways. For instance, it assisted in the supply of drinking water to the top of the island when there was inadequate pressure in the water line. It also provided the water needed to mix concrete for island road maintenance.
- On average the brigade’s CFRs (community first responders) are called out once every 10 days to deal with medical emergencies. Last year there was an unusually large number of calls relating to fractures or mental health issues.
- Even though the pandemic has hindered the brigade’s training and community engagement activities, normal life went on as much as possible. For instance, a highly successful dinner was held in May during a lull in COVID restrictions.
- The brigade should receive its new boat within the next 6-12 months.
- At around the same time the brigade is due to receive an all-terrain vehicle which should assist with navigating the island’s narrow roads.
- the fire shed now has a new kitchen and the interior has been repainted.
|Alan Gaines: 2021’s CFU Member of the Year
|Maria Burke: Community First Responder of the Year
Three awards were announced:
- Firefighter of the Year award goes to Tom Laslett. Besides being active in the island brigade, Tom (pictured below) contributes to the RFS at district level. His particular interests are in training and recruitment.
- CFU Member of the Year is Alan Gaines. The CFU (Community Fire Unit) is a vital component in the island’s fire defences and Alan is among its most committed members.
- Community First Responder of the year is Maria Burke. Maria, a qualified paramedic, has been part of the CFR team for over two years.
Towards the end of the meeting a fresh management team was elected, as detailed below.
The brigade needs new members. In particular, the following positions remain vacant:
- training officer
- station officer
If you feel able to become an operational member then please let the brigade know. Membership of the CFU only requires a few hours’ training. To find out more or to join the brigade visit the brigade website (www.sirfb.org.au) or contact the captain (Peter Lalor) on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The new management team
|Peter joined the Scotland Island brigade in 2012, first serving as deputy captain. He has been captain since 2017.
As captain, Peter is in charge of the brigade’s operations. These include not only fire fighting but also dealing with storm damage, medical emergencies, and assisting other agencies and members of the public as appropriate.
|| Senior Deputy Captain &
|Better known within the community as ‘Whitey’, Ian has been a member of the brigade for 25 years. He served as captain from 2011-14 and again in 2016.
As well as brigade senior deputy captain, Whitey will lead the island’s 11 Community First Responders (CFRs), who assist with medical emergencies. He is a retired teacher and local councillor.
|| Deputy Captain 1
|Church Point resident Craig Laslett has been a member of the brigade since 2014.
Besides his contributions to brigade activities around Pittwater, Craig is involved in the RFS at a district level, where his work focuses on community preparedness for bush fire.
|| Deputy Captain 2
|Craig’s son, Tom is also involved in the RFS at a district level, his particular interest being the Service’s training program.
Indeed Tom was, until recently, the island brigade’s training officer, and will continue to act in that capacity until a replacement can be found.
|Roy has lived at the top of the island since 2006 and qualified as a bush firefighter in 2014. Within the brigade he is, to date, probably best known as a barman at fire shed dinners. Roy also edits the PON.
Before retiring, Roy taught law at Macquarie University.
|As secretary, Michelle will be responsible for minuting the brigade’s monthly meetings (which all members are welcome to attend) and helping with the considerable paperwork generated by a busy brigade.
Michelle is mother to musician Jeremy, one of the brigade’s operational and active firefighters.
|Lara has kindly agreed to continue as brigade treasurer, a role she has splendidly fulfilled over the last seven years. Lara will keep an eye on the brigade’s much-needed revenue from fundraising activities. Lara is also a qualified bush firefighter.
Sadly, Lara no longer lives on the island, having moved to Newport two years ago.
|| Social Secretary
|Lizzie moved onto Scotland Island in 2006. A popular island socialite, it’s hard to imagine anyone better equipped to throw a good party. If you want to organise a fire shed dinner, Lizzie is the person to talk to.
A mother of two, Lizzie works as a landscape architect.
|| Equipment Officer
|John’s contributions to the brigade stretch back over 20 years. He has been president, treasurer and secretary. An accomplished guitarist, John often performs at shed dinners alongside his group The Stickmen.
Now he has undertaken to keep the brigade’s vital equipment in working order.
||First Aid Officer
|Besides being a Community First Responder, Kylie is responsible for ensuring adequate first aid provisions for operational firefighters.
Kylie, herself a qualified bush firefighter, also looks after medical provisions for the CFR team.
Departing committee members
With sadness we bid farewell to two committed RFS members who are leaving the island as well as the brigade.
It was characteristic of Graeme’s devotion to the brigade that he ran its 2021 AGM, despite it being his last day on the island, having recently sold his house near Bells.
Graeme joined the brigade in 2011 and has been an active member throughout the last decade. Serving first as secretary, Graeme became vice president in 2013. Then for the last six years he has been its president.
Graeme’s commitment to the brigade went well beyond the standard obligations of president. Graeme was an active firefighter, regularly attending brigade operations. He was also a diligent member of the brigade’s CFR (Community First Responders) team, and was often the first on the scene of medical emergencies.
Besides the RFS, Graeme engaged in community life in other ways. He was instrumental in managing the community vehicle, which he regularly drove. He was also a member of SIRA’s Roads, Drainage and Environment Sub-Committee, where he provided effective liaison between SIRA and the fire brigade.
Graeme, the island is indebted to you. We hope you enjoy your new home on McMahons Point.
Annette completed her service to the island brigade in the capacity of both social secretary and station officer. These positions she fulfilled with energy. Annette was also an active member of the CFU (Community Fire Unit), regularly attending training.
As station officer, Annette oversaw extensive improvements to the fireshed: the painting of its internal walls and the installation of a new kitchen. As social secretary, Annette helped organise a number of dinners and other functions. But she helped in less conspicuous ways, for instance often being first at the shed to open up the doors in the event of an emergency.
Annette’s contributions to the island community extended beyond the RFS. She regularly helped out at Island Players performances. What’s more, she administered TUG (Tennis Users Group), the collective of residents who tie up at Tennis Court Wharf. Besides managing the group’s affairs, Annette was an invaluable guardian of residents’ boats, often acting as a lookout for any succumbing to heavy rain.
Annette is moving to Elanora Heights after over 30 years as a stalwart of the island community. We wish her well.
Geoff is not leaving the island, but he is stepping down from the brigade’s management team, having served as brigade secretary for the last four years.
Outside the brigade, Geoff is best known for his contribution to the offshore music scene. A singer, songwriter and pianist, Geoff has recorded over 20 albums and written two books. Known to some of the island’s younger inhabitants as the White Wiggle, he was a popular performer at the kindy, while older audiences will have seen him with partner Tina Harrod and his group The Stickmen performing at fire shed dinners.
Stuart Laughton is stepping down as equipment officer, the person responsible for ensuring that the brigade’s firefighting gear is kept is good order. Stuart served in that position on and off over the last few years. Stuart remains living on top of Scotland Island and promises to remain involved in brigade activities as an active firefighter.
Stuart served in the Australian military for many years. Since 1994 he has devoted much of his time to hunting and culling feral wild pigs and hogs. He runs a YouTube channel ‘Hunting with Stu’, which has over 200,000 subscribers and has attracted international media attention. From time to time Stu also organises kayaking trips around Pittwater.
Part I: the early years (1955 – 1965)
|Scotland Island’s original fire shed, which stood at Tennis Court Wharf.
This photo was probably taken during the 1980s. By then the shed had been considerably extended.
From the very beginning bush fire fighting in New South Wales was rooted in community. And that’s still the case today. The Rural Fire Service, a government agency, oversees fire operations. But it has always been groups of unpaid locals who actually douse the flames. What’s more, the RFS was not established until 1997, while volunteer brigades, often woefully ill-equipped, had started to form over a century earlier.
|Brigade captains, 1955-1970
as recorded on the honours board in the current shed’s kitchen
In the case of Scotland Island, its brigade was founded in 1955. Its origins could hardly have been humbler. Initially set up in someone’s living room, the brigade began as an offshoot of the Scotland Island Progress Association, as SIRA was then known. Indeed it was at SIPA’s second meeting that the motion was passed to form a brigade, with SIPA office holders intended to oversee its affairs.
Today’s western foreshore and island brigades have a combined total of two boats and five (soon to be six) land vehicles at their disposal. Scotland Island began with nothing. In those days it was left to local authorities to supply brigades. And so a SIPA delegation was sent to Warringah Council, who ‘reluctantly’ assented to £490 worth of supplies: basically a pump, some hose and 20 knapsack sprays. £490 approximates to $17,000 in today’s money. The collective value of the fire fighting equipment on the island today runs well into six figures.
Bear in mind too that in the early years the island brigade was expected to look after Elvina and Lovett Bays: West Pittwater brigade came later. But a request for funding for a pump to be based on the western foreshores was rejected by Warringah on the basis that those areas fell under the domain of Kuring-gai Chase Trust.
Included in the £490 grant from Warringah was £75 for building material. Adjusted for inflation, that’s less than $3,000 today. With this the brigade was expected to build a fire shed using voluntary labour. But the community mustered its forces and within months a shed was erected close to the shore at Tennis Court Wharf, near where the playground swings stand today.
||The old fire shed as it stood in 1976
The shed then grew by a number of extensions, finding uses as de facto community centre and playschool. (The present hall wasn’t finished until 1982 and the kindy building followed in 1989.)
Unfortunately the location of the shed, below a steep bank, meant that it was subject to land slippage. Older residents might remember being called upon to attend the shed with bucket and mop to clean up the mess.
Today you will find five fire boxes dotted around the island, each equipped with a pump, hoses and other supplies. Each cost over $10,000 to install and equip.
Sixty years ago things were a little different. The brigade’s early firefighting strategy was to locate a dozen knapsack sprays (each costing $160 in today’s money) at homes around the island: approximately one spray for every 10 houses. The owners of these homes were expected to ensure that the sprays were easily accessible to their neighbours, should they be absent at the time of need.
|The original shed next to Tennis Court Wharf, photographed in 1979
We must remember that at the time of the brigade’s foundation the island had less than 100 houses, with very few permanent residents. Obviously today’s RFS is far better equipped because it serves a much larger island population.
But some things never change, most of all the need for strong community support for local brigades. What’s most noticeable from island archives is that back in the 1950s every able-bodied man was expected to play a role in the brigade.
Today women also play an essential part in the RFS: the Service is committed to principles of equality and there is no gender requirement for fire fighting. But in the 1950s women had very specific roles to fulfill. Back then women weren’t even permitted to join SIPA, let alone the brigade.
Women were, at least, invited to attend early SIPA and brigade meetings. Provided, of course, they feed the men. Interestingly, the ‘ladies’ were expected to ‘bring a plate’, while the ‘gentlemen’ were invited to ‘bring a bottle of their choice’. In terms of broader society, one wonders how much has changed.
This brief history of the brigade draws principally on SI News archives and will be continued in future editions of the PON.
There’s no prize this time, but this quiz is a chance to test your fire knowledge. How much do you know about fire behaviour, the island brigade, and your responsibilities when it comes to such things as pile burns in your garden?
To access this anonymous, multiple-choice quiz of ten questions, click here.
Sunday 5 September
Scotland Island receives two garden vegetation collections per year.
Please present your vegetation in tied bundles and/or hard sided containers. Place out a maximum of 2 cubic metres per collection per household.
Material presented in plastic, nylon or hessian bags, cardboard or foam boxes and untied bundles will not be collected.
Leaf litter, prunings and cuttings placed in hard sided containers
Branches no longer than 1.2m and no thicker than 75mm, tied into manageable bundles with twine
Cut-up palm fronds, tied and bundled
Large tree stumps
Painted / treated timber
This is not the same as the fine fuel collection.
MATERIAL PLACED OUT IN BULKA BAGS WILL NOT BE COLLECTED
A private contractor should be engaged to remove such bags. Please decant your material into hard-sided containers or tied bundles.
It has not yet been confirmed whether Northern Beaches Council will organise a fine fuels collection this spring.
Place materials on the roadside no later than 6am, Sunday 5 September.
Deadline for submissions: 17 September
The Pasadena at Church Point has applied to Liquor & Gaming NSW for an extension of their alcohol sales licence. The purpose of the application is to permit the Pasadena to sell alcohol in the shop adjoining Thomas Stephens Reserve.
Details of the application can be found here
. If you download the plan (under ‘supporting documents’) then the blue line encompasses the area where alcohol may currently be sold and the red line indicates the area which is the subject of the application.
Submissions to Liquor & Gaming NSW supporting or opposing the application may be sent via the same site. The deadline for submission is 17 September.
The inaugural Scotland Island Swim, a circumnavigation of the island, is postponed due to COVID. The swim had been due to take place on 12 September.
A new date will be announced as soon as possible, perhaps in the late spring or summer.
Join our WhatsApp Swimming Group if a summer swim is more your thing.
For sale: a pair of bunk beds, which can also be used as two single beds.
Great condition: very sturdy frame.
Text Nicole: 0426 162 843
Wanted: a landline phone handset – maybe you don’t use yours anymore?
Jenny Cullen: 0406 806 648
WANTED: small cottage or boat shed near water to rent for 6 – 12 months from October or end of lockdown.
Reasonable rent offered.
Wanted by a retired, active couple who have lived on Scotland Island before and are keen to return as soon as possible after lockdown lifts. We are willing to wait until the end of the year if necessary.
Robyn and Phil
0435 758776 or 0414 604748.
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Updated June 2021
Festival of Making, April 2021
The views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily the views of the Scotland Island Residents Association (SIRA), or the Western Pittwater Community Association (WPCA)