On January 19, 1944, Victorians were counting the cost of disastrous bushfires that burned out of control just days earlier. In Hamilton, the losses were particularly heavy in what would have to be the worst fires the town has seen in its history.
Fifty homes were lost in Hamilton and included those of my family members. Lives were lost and many were hospitalised.
On a trip to Hamilton, I visited my cousin and mentioned this fire to her husband, as his family, the Lovell’s lost their home. He disappeared from the room and returned with a clump of fused pennies, all he had left after the fire, a “memento” he had kept for over 60 years. His house would have been around three kilometres from the main street, Gray Street. “The Argus” reported the closest the fire got to Gray Street was just 500-800 metres from the Post Office. Having lived in Hamilton, I find this unimaginable, particularly the thought of roofing iron been blown into the main street.
Another resident to lose a home was Mrs E.Diwell. This was Louisa Spender, wife of Ernest Diwell, a son of Richard and Elizabeth Diwell. Ernest had passed away in 1939 and Louisa remained at their home, described as “off ” Penshurst Road” on the 1942 Australian Electoral Roll. Earlier Electoral rolls had listed Ernest at Rippon Road. The southern end of Rippon Road could be described as “off” Penshurst road. Penshurst Road is to the east of Hamilton and not far from where I used to live.
Something that must be considered was that this was wartime, with many men away either fighting or POW’s. With limited manpower, it was not surprising that women were fighting side by side with men. I mentioned this fire to Nana and while she did recall it, she had no other knowledge of it. She would have been living in Melbourne at the time as she was working at the Munitions factory at Maribyrnong prior to her marriage in 1945. Also her family lived on the northern side of the town which does not seem to have been in the path of the fire. When I mentioned the women firefighting, she gave me a “Of course!” type of reply.
Hamilton was not the only town devastated by the fires of January 1944.
Even wealthy beach side suburbs of Melbourne saw fire run through the ti-tree, forcing hundreds on to the beaches.