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    CURIOUS DISCOVERY: Wimmera Association for Genealogy and Horsham Historical Society member Ken Flack with documentation he found in a Horsham newspaper from 1898 about a national heatwave and bushfires. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

History buff Ken Flack links past and present during bushfire crisis

A Wimmera history buff has discovered a connection between a report in an 1898 edition of a Horsham newspaper and the country’s current bushfire crisis.

Horsham Historical Society member and former Wimmera Association for Genealogy president Ken Flack was investigating the activity of the municipality’s long-gone relatives, when he found an article describing ‘devastating’ heat waves in Australia.

Mr Flack said it was an interesting but common example of history repeating itself. 

“In relation to what’s happening nowadays, not much seems to have changed,” he said.

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“And it’s not the first time. When we had the bush fires down the side of the Black Range, almost exactly the same thing happened over 100 years ago.

“It repeats itself to a certain extent, and you would think it’s just coincidence, but it’s surprising how often the fires can take out certain areas.”

This is the article Mr Flack found – 

Horsham Times, Friday, January 14, 1898, page 3



The second heat wave of the year burst with all its fury upon Victoria on Tuesday last, the Wimmera, as usual suffering more severely than any other part of the colony. 

The approach of the heat was gradual and, as will be seen from the recorded shade registrations, somewhat errative. 

On Friday the glass registered 106 in the shade, on Saturday 90, on Sunday 95, on Monday 104 and on Tuesday, when the grand climax was reached, 114, or a half point below the highest registration, that of Wednesday, 29th December, of Christmas week. 

Tuesday night was terribly close, but about three o’clock on Wednesday morning there was something of a change. 

The benefit of this was not very appreciable during the earlier part of Wednesday, though at no time in that day did the glass reach a higher shade registration than 98. 

About half-past one there was a delightful alteration in the atmosphere, brought about by a strong south-westerly wind that had sprung up, and in an hour or so the glass had fallen to below 80. 

It has since, under the influence of the same wind, been reasonably cool, though there are not wanting indications that more heat is on the way. 

At Dimboola the shade registrations were as follows:- Monday, 103; Tuesday, 110; Wednesday, 98; yesterday much cooler. 


In Melbourne on Tuesday the heat was terrific, the maximum shade registration for the season, 109.5 degrees, being effected. 

There were a large number of cases of sunstroke and heat apoplexy. 

The record heat for Melbourne, so far as is known, is 111.2 degrees, which was experienced on the 14th January, 1862. 

This has, of course, frequently been recorded in Horsham, where 116 degrees at least have been more than once registered. 

The change in Melbourne took place about noon on Wednesday, immediately prior to which, the glass registered 105 degrees in the shade. In 15 minutes it fell to 77, and by one o’clock it had fallen to 73.


From all parts of the colony there is news of terrific heat on Tuesday. 

Horsham’s record, however, being beaten only by Boort, where the glass reached 116 in the shade. 

It is remarkable that at such an altitude as Omeo, on the Alps, the register should have been 105 degrees in the shade, the highest registration ever made there. 

On the top of Mount Macedon, even the record was 99 degrees, but on the northern plains of course the readings were very high. 

Bendigo had a register of 110 degrees; Birchip, 112 degrees; Mildura, 111 degrees; while, as has been said, at Boort the maximum for the colony is reported, namely, 116 degrees. By far the most serious aspect, however, is to be seen in the reports of bush fires, which raged from one end of the country to the other. 

In Gippsland particularly the devastation has been very severe. 


It would take columns to even enumerate the fires that have raged, and, in some cases, are still raging throughout the colony – from end to end of it. 

Gippsland has fared worse than any other part. There the fires have not only destroyed many hundred acres of timber and grass, but also demolished many farmers’ houses. 

The most thrilling experiences are reported from Yarram, which was saved from extinction only by a timely change of the wind. 

The residents were in terror for hours lest they should be encompassed by the flames. 

Upon nearly all the Gippsland towns the smoke from the fires fell as a pall, and it was necessary to light lamps as early as three o’clock. 

The sudden eclipsing of the sun deceived the birds and fowls, for they went to roost as if the day had ended.


This is the third January in succession in which parts of Australia have had occasion to understand the theory of Mr. Russell, the Government astronomer of New South Wales, that: “the action of the sun is turning the waterless plains of the interior into the breeding ground of heat waves, which, with the breath of a thousand furnaces, come romping over cities and plains until the whole continent faints and droops under their white-hot ardous.” 


Last January, it will be remembered, for five days the temperature, especially in New South Wales, was abnormally high, which rendered it almost unbearable both for man and beast. 

Many persons were prostrated by the excessive heat, and not a few suffered from heat apoplexy, while a number of horses were temporarily disabled. 

The thermometer readings included 43 records over 100 degrees and in one instance the record went to 120. 

At one station in the interior the readings for a week were 108, 108, 113, 114, 118, 114, 106 and 90. 

In the same month of 1896 Sydney experienced a spell of 105 degrees and upwards in the shade. 

The bank of superheated steam drifted over the city roofs and out to sea, and 150 miles from the coast the ships that ran into it describe the experience as running into ‘a bank of flame’. 


At Bourke the thermometer, for a whole week, oscillated between 113 degrees and 121 degrees. 

At Wilcannia 119 degrees was a familiar record, and the airless heat of the night was, on the whole, more cruel than the scorching glare of the day. 

In Camden, unless thermometers can lie, the heat rose to 123 deg. Perspiring crowds were fleeing from Bourke as the inhabitants of Pompeii fled from that city when Vesuvius was pouring upon in its tempest of burning ashes. 

Not a few pastoral towns in western New South Wales, as a matter of fact, threatened to be abandoned by their scorched inhabitants, and no wonder, for the heat wave was as cruel and as deadly as an average pestilence. 

Twenty-two deaths were registered at Bourke in five days, five deaths at Wilcannia were registered in a single day; in Sydney the heat wave killed 125 persons in one week.

– TROVE, National Library of Australia

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