Members of the NSW Fire Brigade tackle a blaze at a paper mill until the fire is brought under control. The smoking wreckage and the building’s shell is all that remains. As orchestral music builds over the soundtrack, the firefighters pull out their hoses and head back to base in their engines after a long day’s work. Meanwhile, a firefighter’s family eagerly awaits his safe return home. Tomlinson (played by Inspector BL Barber) enters the house and sits down with his wife (Agnes Kent) and son (Jack Clark) and explains that it was a big job, but that everyone is all right. Summary by Poppy de Souza.
This clip shows a re-staging for camera of an actual fire which occurred at the Cumberland Paper Mills in 1928. This was not unusual for Hurley, who often re-created scenes after the event to convey the drama of real life. According to Hurley’s biographer, Alasdair McGregor, he re-burned the derelict building by lacing it with nitrate film (which is extremely flammable) and dousing it in petrol. Although filmed under fire brigade supervision, this sort of stunt would be unlikely to meet today’s strict safety regulations. For a similarly dangerous staged inferno (and another example of nitrate put to unconventional use), see The Squatters Daughter (1933), also filmed by the ever adventurous Hurley.
This is a dramatised documentary which highlights the history and heroics of firefighters and culminates in the 're-burning’ of the Cumberland Paper Mills which were destroyed by fire in 1928. It includes an opening sequence of fire and smoke to the music of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries; a dramatised sequence of firefighting through the ages, acted out by members of the NSW Fire Brigade; a brigade band sequence; firefighters performing callisthenics; and the final fire fight. The film is bookended with family scenes between firefighter Tomlinson (played by Inspector BL Barber) and his family (played by Agnes Kent and Jack Clark). Filmmaker Frank Hurley makes a cameo appearance as a radio announcer and narrates the film with Chief Officer Swift (played by 3rd Officer C Richardson).
This is one of Hurley’s more eccentric films, alongside the musical travelogue Treasures of Katoomba (1936), made four years later. The attention-catching opening, with its billowing smoke and Wagnerian score, is just the first in a series of dramatically staged sequences which today appear more as curiosities than anything else. Hurley used members of the NSW Fire Brigade to act in the film and dressed them in costumes ranging from Egyptian-style headpieces to tight-fitting gym clothes, equipping them with brass musical instruments and various items of firefighting equipment.
The film premiered in Wagga Wagga to coincide with a fire brigade jamboree, so would have been met with an enthusiastic response. The final firefighting scene was a re-staging of an actual fire which took place four years earlier, gutting the Cumberland Paper Mills. To achieve authenticity, Hurley laced the dilapidated building with highly flammable nitrate film stock and doused it in petrol. Although under fire brigade supervision, the sequence was no doubt dangerous to film – the element of risk involved probably attracted the adventurous Hurley like a moth to a flame.
Notes by Poppy de Souza
This black-and-white clip from 1932 shows a re-creation of the New South Wales Fire Brigade fighting a large fire and then returning home. The firefighters train their hoses high. They are filmed from different vantage points within the burning shell of the building. Music swells as the firemen, seemingly unaffected by the smoke, leave the fire site. The fire trucks drive through the streets to the sound of sirens. One fireman gets a hero’s welcome from his wife and son.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia
This clip starts approximately 30 minutes into the documentary.
Fire fighters tackle a blaze at a paper mill until the fire is brought under control. They pull out their hoses and head back to base in their engines.
A mother and son stand in the living room.
Son Mummy, they’re coming.
Fire siren sounds. Wife and son look out the window.
Wife Look, there’s Daddy. There’s Daddy! He’s safe.
Fire siren sounds.
The firefighter enters the house and sits down with his wife and son.
Tomlinson Hi, laddy.
Wife Was it a big fire?
Tomlinson Yes, my dear, it was a big job.
Wife Anyone hurt?
Tomlinson Everybody alright now.