Royal Commission into the Bush Fires of January, 1939

It has all happened before:

In the State of Victoria, the month of January of the year 1939 came towards the end of a long drought which had been aggravated by a severe hot, dry summer season.

For more than twenty years the State of Victoria had not seen its countryside and forests in such travail.

Creeks and springs ceased to run. Water storages were depleted. Provincial towns were facing the probability of cessation of water supply. In Melbourne, more than a million inhabitants were subjected to restrictions upon the use of water. Throughout the countryside, the farmers were carting water, if such was available, for their stock and themselves. The rich plains, denied their beneficent rains, lay bare and baking ; and the forests, from the foothills to the alpine heights, were tinder. The soft carpet of the forest floor was gone ; the bone-dry litter crackled underfoot ; dry heat and hot dry winds worked upon a land already dry, to suck from it the last, least drop of moisture. Men who had lived their lives in the bush went their ways in the shadow of dread expectancy. But though they felt the imminence of danger they could not tell that it was to be far greater than they could imagine. They had not lived long enough. The experience of the past could not guide them to an understanding of what might, and did, happen. And so it was that, when millions of acres of the forest were invaded by bushfires which were almost State-wide, there happened, because of great loss of life and property – the most disastrous forest calamity the State of Victoria has known.

These fires were lit by the hand of man.

The above words are the opening comments from the report of the ROYAL COMMISSION into the terrible Victorian Bushfires of January, 1939. Note that it says that things were as bad 20 years earlier (1919).

For the full Royal Commission report see: [PDF, 5.4 MB]

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