Scars remain for campaign veterans

February 16, 2023 BY

Mr Bubb was a leader of the local response to the 1983 fire, and recently notched 60 years' service with the CFA.

IN his six decades of service as an Anglesea firefighter, local CFA legend Bill Bubb says nothing he experienced on the Surf Coast approached the scale of Ash Wednesday.

Mr Bubb was captain of the Anglesea Fire Brigade on February 16, 1983 and marshalled much of the local response to the blaze that started at Deans Marsh and burnt to Lorne and past Anglesea.

He has recently shifted to what he calls a “backseat” role with the fire service after ticking over 60 years of service.

Like much of Anglesea’s long-term population, Mr Bubb has strong and recurrent memories of fire from throughout his life.

For the former fire captain, that association started at four weeks old during a fire in January 1947.

His late mother had shared a memory of running through a caravan park with her three sisters with a baby Bill in a clothes basket towards refuge at Anglesea River.

“I often laugh. My kids will say oh, that’s when we must have got the fire bug Dad, at four weeks old,” he said.

Such was the impact of the fire, Mr Bubb’s mother vividly recalled details of the event in the aftermath of Black Saturday in 2009, despite by then suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

“She couldn’t remember Ash Wednesday, but she could remember that and that’s stuck with me,” Mr Bubb said.

But even the local experience would count for little in 1983, as the searing temperatures, tinder-dry climate and cyclone-strength gusts blew the fire far beyond control.

“We thought we’ve seen all this before, which was 1964 – this for fire will turn, run for an hour and then we’ll get some dozers and start working on it,” Mr Bubb said.

“We didn’t know it was going to run all the way to bloody Bells Beach.”

Mr Bubb said scars from the fire 40 years ago were still felt in the community today – including keenly from his fellow Anglesea brigade members that battled on the front line.

“Probably the hardest part for a lot of them is that they don’t talk about it,” he said.

“And you’ll find that not only here… people that don’t talk about it. They can’t.

“Three of my mates don’t, unless we’ve had a few beers and we’re on our own.”

Despite the difficulty in reliving such a traumatic event, Mr Bubb said he recognised the importance of sharing his experience for future generations.

“I’ve got grandkids, and I just got a new great-grandson.

“It’s time that I put it down, and they’ll know.

“I might not be here for the 50 years [anniversary]. It’ll be history and they’ll be able to say, well that’s what you’ve seen.”