The Land Rover Channel 7 Bush Fire Brigade Awards

01 Jan 1981 7:47 AM | Anonymous member

The Land Rover Channel 7 Bush Fire Brigade Awards



“Some day the whole bloody Island could burn down…”


A submission by the Scotland Island Volunteer Bushfire Brigade


Captain Bruce Lane

Deputy Captain Bob Green


Sometimes when even the four power driven wheels of the Brigade’s 11 year old Land Rover are spinning in a slippery amalgam of “bull-dust” and leaves on a precipitous four in one sloped fire trail, there is a gut churning fear that the fire will win.


So far, miraculously it never has.


But for the 560 full and part time residents of Scotland Island the threat of a helpless holocaust hangs persistently over the thickly forested knob of isolated land permanently anchored in Pittwater, some 300 metres from the mainland at Church Point and 30kms from the Sydney’s CBD.


Most of the locals reckon that the threat takes the place of rain clouds. Scotland Island’s record of rainfall is, in a word, woeful. On any day when Sydney gets rain at all, a typical weather bureau report is likely to show Wahroonga 44pts, Punchbowl 36pts, Randwick 27pts and even nearby Avalon 19pts with Scotland Island NIL.


Some Islanders joke that they use their rain gauges as salt shakers, and a new cottage industry has been mooted – canning and selling Scotland Island rain repellent.


So residents have to rely on tank water and little of that, as there’s no mains pressure water available for fighting fires, except a special storage tank on the southern side of the 49-hectare Island.


From the SIVBFB shed on the Island’s north side, it’s a 5 minute run with the 200 gallon tanker trailer, if replenishment is needed, followed by a 15 minute pumping job to fill the tanker and then further time taken to return to wherever the fire is.


Until recent rains miraculously coaxed back the green, Scotland Island was in the grip of the worst drought in living memory. Islanders were forced into buying some imported water, or even tapping the Fire Brigade storage tank to a critical degree. So putting their own properties as well as their neighbours at increased risk.


But Bush Fire Brigade Captain Bruce Lane reckons the situation is still extremely critical and there can be no easing of fire season restrictions till at least March. The 1980/81 Fire Season opened one month early last year and was followed by an abnormally high number of Total Fire Ban days.


The Brigade and its 43 volunteer members have had a number of alerts and several dramatic saves.


One terrified “new chum” who was “just doing a little burning off” in ignorance of a total fire ban, only lost one tree and half his beard before help arrived.


He was lucky.


“Someday” says one grizzled member of the SIVBFB who shudders at the capricious way some picnicking visitors still handle naked flame in the combustible climate of the Island vegetation ‘ “The whole bloody Island could burn down”.


He isn’t kidding.


The island’s conical shape could make it a veritable Vesuvius of horrifying incandescence – like a pile of raked leaves stacked to encourage a fiery updraught. So people on the upper slopes of the 93metre high Island are at greatest risk and also, ironically, least accessible.


Cleared dirt “roads” encircle the Island and part of its heights, but some houses “up in the mulga” are accessible only by primitive fire trails over which the Brigade’s elderly Land Rover cannot tow the water tanker with any degree of certainty.


The unique vulnerability of the Island’s isolation therefore makes the upgrading of the Brigade’s equipment one of alarming urgent priority. Squatting between the wilderness of Kuringai National Park and the exclusive suburbs of the Northern Beaches Peninsular, the Island is suddenly experiencing a population explosion that is both intensifying fire risk and putting added strains the limited fire-fighting resources,


While most Metropolitan Bushfire Brigades, all except far flung rural ones, can depend on a measure of outside assistance in real emergencies, Scotland Island must face the fact, that in the case of any flash fires it must go it alone. The difficulty of transporting sophisticated fire fighting equipment across the moat of Pittwater precludes immediate assistance


Added to the function of protection of the glorious stand of bush and towering gums that are a major attraction of the Island, is the further vital ability to deal with the ever present threat of a house fire.


First sighted and visited by Governor Philip on March 2 1788, Scotland Island was reputedly named because the Island’s appearance on a grey misty day reminded him of a Scottish Loch. Granted to a former convict, Andrew Thompson, on January 10,1810, settlement on the Island was slow. For a time Thompson had a profitable shipbuilding business in the bay now marked by “Tennis Wharf”. Appropriately it was not far from the site where Island volunteers are now building the new Community Hall.


There are stories of buried treasure on the Island and the secret hideaway of a notorious Sydney sly grog queen, but for over a hundred years travel by row boat kept population down to a few hardy souls with broad backs and strong arms.


Even as recently as 5 years ago, growth averaged no more than four or five houses per year.


The Sydney real estate boom changed all that.


In 1976, The Australia Day issue of the Island’s occasional newspaper SINEWS reported 149 dwellings. This years issue has tallied 207 and a further 50 new houses are predicted for this year alone. At this rate with only 365 available building blocks the Island could soon be showing a NO VACANCY sign.


Because the logistics of building on an Island make it easier to build in more inflammable timber, the potential for losses by fire will rise accordingly.


A philosopher once said “no man is an Island” but when you live on one, as lovely yet so vulnerable to the horror of fire, you need, despite the resident’s determined self-reliance, all the help you can get.

Views expressed on this website do not necessarily represent those of the NSW Rural Fire Service. During an emergency, do not rely on information placed on this site, please reference the NSW RFS website at, or call 1800 NSW RFS for emergency information. This site is not monitored 24/7.

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