A LONG, HOT SUMMER.
It has been such a dry winter here in the Blue Mountains. We have already had one total fire ban day and it’s only September. I notice my husband quietly clearing undergrowth, and testing the petrol fueled water pump. I’m glad he does it, but it’s a bit unnerving.
THE FURY OF FIRE
The summer of 1952 was one of record temperatures in New South Wales. Fires broke out all over the Blue Mountains. One of the worst villages affected was Blackheath, where numerous houses were destroyed and many others threatened. Residents dragged their possessions into the street only to have flying cinders start fires in piles of bedding and furniture. It was said that almost every man, woman and child fought the fires.
Medlow Bath also came under serious attack. The Hydro Majestic lost six buildings. One was the boiler room , with its upstairs staff quarters. Another was a huge storeroom attached to an art gallery and museum. The owner, Mr Mel Ward, lost a substantial proportion of his collection, including a Cobb & Co. coach. Thankfully, many Aboriginal artifacts had been moved to safety. The previous summer had been very hot too. This had prompted the hotel to make firebreaks in the spring of ’52, but it was still not enough.
It has never been determined whether the ladies in the photograph below are townsfolk or staff from the Hydro Majestic. I don’t think they were guests, judging by the luggage.
At Newnes, north of Lithgow, a 2,000 acre pine forest burst into flames with a roar that sounded like an ammunition dump exploding. The entire plantation was destroyed, as 90 fireman fled for their lives.
The temperatures at Lithgow’s Small Arms Factory rose to over 100 degrees day after day. For weeks the dam in the factory’s grounds was packed with residents and workers.
Some locals even risked fire and thick smoke to travel down to Blackheath, where the pool was open until late at night.
And then, another problem began to emerge. People in Lithgow began falling ill.
Chemists and doctors were besieged with patients. They were complaining of acute, influenza type symptoms, dermatitis and painful swelling of the glands. Some presented with a lump in the groin or under the arm and were given penecillin injections. Many were ordered to bed for at least two days. On Friday, February 8 , the Lithgow Mercury published an article on the crisis;
MYSTERY HEAT DISEASE ATTACKS LITHGOW RESIDENTS
DOCTORS AND CHEMISTS HAVE BEEN DELUGED BY ENQUIRIES CONCERNING THE INFECTION, WHICH IS BELIEVED TO BE ATTACKING THE VICTIMS THROUGH THE PORES OF THE SKIN.
This was the 1950’s, not the 1850’s. It seems odd that no-one could accurately identify the complaint. Public health official Dr Graham Drew of Sydney said that symptoms appeared to indicate a seasonal complaint in an extreme form, with some type of skin inflammation aggravated by extreme heat and humidity. He suggested that smoke from the bushfires carried dirt particles which would become clogged in open pores of the skin. Tepid baths and antiseptic ointments were suggested as relief (Lithgow Mercury Feb. 8). It would become known simply as Summer Disease.
As cooler weather arrived the incidence of the infection reduced. However, it was estimated that damage caused by fire that summer in New South Wales cost £6,500,000, the highest in forty years.
I do hope we get through this summer unscathed.
Don’t forget the birds, they will need their baths.
FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE MEMORIES OF THAT HOT, HOT SUMMER.