The Coraki hospital as it was in 1910.
The Coraki hospital as it was in 1910.

The day townsfolk saved Coraki hospital from a grass fire

RECENTLY we have heard sad stories of more bush fires in Australia.

Luckily, we now have some high-powered and sophisticated equipment and highly trained personnel to fight these fires.

However, in Coraki in 1951 there was a serious bush fire which could have caused a great deal of damage to the township, including burning down the town's historic Campbell Hospital.

On Thursday, December 14, 1951, a small fire started in the showground. It was extinguished by the fire brigade, but apparently a tree had been left smouldering.

By Friday morning ashes from the tree had reignited the fire, which quickly sped across the showground, through the golf course, and headed straight for the nearby hospital.

It had been a very dry year and there was plenty of grass to feed the fire.

The hospital had 28 patients at the time, including Mrs Margaret Sharp, who had been anaesthetised and was undergoing a major operation, when the fire alarm was given.

It was decided to evacuate all the patients, including Mrs Sharp, who was placed on a mattress in a truck and driven to the senior medical officer, Dr P.W. Leslie's home. She was later transferred to Casino.

Some patients were sent home and the more serious ones were put in cars in the car park.

Coraki Fire Brigade had no tanker unit so had to rely on nearby tanks, including the 1000 gallon tank of the hospital. Most of the hospital staff and many of the townspeople helped with shovels, wet blankets and corn sacks. Most of the men working in the town left their work and joined in the battle.

The hospital board sent for assistance from the Shire Council, asking for the Shire's grader to join the battle. It was at Ellangowan, about 25 miles away, and started off immediately. However, it took some time to arrive.

The board also rang the Casino District Forester to see whether he could help. The Braemar State Forest had just taken delivery of a modern American fire engine, with a huge water tank and pressure pumps. It too was sent to help.

Men, women, and a team of schoolboys fought the fire, which was also threatening to engulf the golf clubhouse. Hospital nurses, doctors, and other staff were there in their white attire which soon became blackened with heat and smoke.

Some had to carry water and later, when help arrived, they thankfully brought cold drinks and refreshments.

When the grader arrived it did a wonderful job digging fire-breaks which held back the fire.

It came just in time, as the fire had been rapidly advancing on the nurses' quarters. It also allowed the gallant firemen and volunteers to stand back and take a short rest.

The forethought in calling for the grader actually saved the day, not only for the hospital and nurses quarters, but also for the golf club building.

When the Forestry fire engine arrived it quickly went around putting out the remaining fires, especially those in burning stumps and trees. Its pressure hoses did a magnificent job. It did not complete its task, however, until about 9pm.

It had been a long, hard day for everyone, especially the hospital staff. Many of their patients suffered from the heat and smoke, and had to be attended.

Hopefully, Mrs Sharp survived the ordeal - possibly she was oblivious to the activities.

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