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The week before Christmas in 1939 was not what everyone was expecting to experience. Rolls of motion picture film were regularly carried on the train to be shown in local theatres before being sent on to the next showing or returned to Sydney.
On Saturday, December 23, Robert Keevers, the owner of the touring Keever’s Pictures, took delivery of several cans of film from the Kempsey Parcels Office. One container was incorrectly addressed and when he opened the container he saw smoke and immediately tried to close the canister of film.
He was too late closing the canister and the film burst into a sheet of flame that spread into the whole interior of the Parcels Office. While trying to save some of the cans, Allen Prewett, the projectionist, was badly burned about the arms and chest while members of the railway staff tried to save books and papers from the ticket office. The fire quickly spread to parcels and luggage on the platform.
Fortunately the Fire Brigade, under Capt A Lake, was very prompt and the firemen attacked the blaze which had spread to a wooden structure beside the brick Refreshment Rooms and looked like reaching the Signal Room and the Waiting Rooms.
Apart from the members of the brigade, Police Inspector Dudley, Constable Harrison, Frank Campbell and volunteers gave immediate assistance but were unable to save the telephone and telegraph offices.
A large crowd had gathered and, apart from the gravity of the moment, were amused when the force of the fire hose almost swept Bob Adamson off the roof. A stream also caught Const Harrison’s helmet, driving it 50 feet into the air.
On inspection, the Traffic Inspector from Taree, reported that the Parcels Office was completely gutted while severe damage was done to the booking office, the stationmaster’s office, the ceiling of the waiting room, the signal cabin, and the roof and awning of the platform. The damage to the station including the luggage and Christmas parcels was estimated to be £1000.
At the subsequent inquiry, the Coroner found that the fire which occurred on the date stated, destroyed the parcels office and other portions of the station, but how the fire originated, whether accidentally or otherwise, the evidence did not enable him to state.
- Macleay River Historical Society
This article first appeared on www.macleayargus.com.au
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