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Brigade in Focus: Lakesland

2015 is a big year for Lakesland Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade as it marks 75 years since the brigade was formed.  Located in Division 4 in the Wollondilly District, the first meeting of Lakesland Brigade was held on 8 January 1940 at what is now the Mowbray Park Farmstay.

A number of local residents attended and the brigade was formed with Mowbray Park Manager, Captain Rees, appointed as the first Captain.  It is serendipitous that 75 years later the brigade’s ninth Captain, Blair Briggs, is the current Manager at Mowbray Park.

As with all brigades formed around that time, there was no central body issuing equipment so members used their own vehicles and equipment until sufficient funds had been raised to purchase equipment.  Lakesland’s first purchase was some leather beaters in 1941 however these were only in service for 3 or 4 years as they were more likely to spread the fire than to put it out.

Knapsacks were a very important tool from the early days with every member having one.  In 1962 the brigade received a delivery of six knapsacks that were all designed to be operated left-handed.  Given the brigade had only one left-handed member, John Fergusson, there was much discussion about what to do with these, including the possibility of dismantling them and engineering them into right-handed units. Eventually it was decided to keep one for John and send the rest back. One of the deputies commented that, as he had been using a right-handed unit for so long, John would have difficulty getting used to the left-handed unit and, with all those knapsacks on the truck, how would the crew know which one to leave for John?  John agreed that the deputy was right on both counts!

On 8 January 2015, the brigade held its General Meeting at Mowbray Park in, as near as can be confirmed, the same room and commenced the meeting at the same time (8pm) as the first meeting 75 years earlier. Historic film of fires involving Lakesland Brigade was playing during the meeting and met with a great deal of interest.

The anniversary was celebrated with a gathering at Wooglemai on 17 January 2015 that was attended by members past and present and their families as well as invited guests who have had significant involvement with the brigade.

Member for Wollondilly, Jai Rowell, and Wollondilly Mayor, Col Mitchell, addressed the gathering as did NSW RFS Assistant Commissioner Stuart Midgley. During the ceremony, John Fergusson was presented with a National Medal and Long Service Medal by the dignitaries.  In addition, the brigade awarded John a Life Membership in recognition of more than 60 years of commitment.  Assistant Commissioner Stuart Midgley presented the brigade with a shield in recognition of its 75 years of commitment to the community.

Lakesland Brigade’s history has been recorded in a book by current brigade secretary, Lorna Sparkowski, and longest serving member, John Fergusson. The book, From Farmers to Firefighters; 75 years of Lakesland Brigade was launched at the anniversary celebration by Chair of the State Emergency Management Committee and former NSW RFS Commissioner Phil Koperberg and co-authors Lorna Sparkowski and John Fergusson.

The book is a collection of stories about the brigade, its formation and growth over the years and members’ recollections.  Anyone wishing to purchase a copy can contact Secretary Lorna Sparkowski on 4680 9280.

“Lakesland has only a small population but we have such great support from our local community” said Captain Blair Briggs, “Our membership has grown consistently and we now have around 70 active members, including 2 Community Fire Unit teams (Nangarin and Nolans Road) and 6 Junior members. Without the support of the community we would not have become the cohesive unit we are today.”

Brigade Snapshot

Brigade: Lakesland
Founded: 1940
District/Team/Zone: Wollondilly District