Vintage fire truck with Indigenous history found by chance and returned to Bellbrook for restoration

A rural fire brigade captain was driving through a forest in northern New South Wales when a flash of colour caught his eye.

He was compelled to investigate and was thrilled to discover it was a vintage Bedford fire truck.

The 1960s vehicle had belonged to the remote Bellbrook Rural Fire Brigade, west of Kempsey on the Mid North Coast, and was used by what is believed to be Australia’s first all-Indigenous Rural Fire Service crew.

Bellbrook Brigade captain Adam Hall said it was an exciting find.

“Captain of the Newee Creek Brigade in the Nambucca Shire was driving through the Tamban State Forest,” Mr Hall said.

“Through some trees he noticed a little flash of red and saw an old fire truck and as firefighters tend to do, he got a bit excited, and he went and had a look and as he got closer, he saw Bellbrook was emblazoned on the side.”

The Bellbrook Brigade launched a public fundraiser so it could purchase the vehicle from the collector who had acquired it- the truck has now been moved from that property back to Bellbrook, with big plans for its restoration.

Mr Hall said the truck was supplied to Bellbrook in the 1970s and became the primary truck used by an all-Indigenous branch based at the local Thungutti Aboriginal community in the early 1990s.

“We have a very rich history of Indigenous participation in the brigade here and the truck ended up as the truck that was used by the first all-Indigenous fire crew,” he said.

“We believe it was the first all-Indigenous fire crew in the country … so rebuilding it is very important for the community, for our Thungutti people here as well, and helping to bring some pride into our little village.”

Special memories of Indigenous crew

The truck held special memories for Bellbrook Rural Fire Brigade member Ray Quinlan. His late father Eric was part of the original Indigenous crew.

“It means a lot, my old man used to be out all the time in the fire brigade … I just used to always say, ‘I want to come’,” he said.

“I just want to keep following his footsteps.

“Looking at all the old photos of him back in the day in his fire brigade suit, it just makes me real proud of him and I want to make him proud of me.”

Bellbrook Brigade member Elwyn Toby also remembered seeing the truck in action at the Thungutti community.

“It was great to see our Indigenous leaders step up and have a go,” he said.

“It inspired me as a child, watching our uncles and aunties jump on the truck and become firefighters.”

A different era of firefighting

Bellbrook Rural Fire Brigade deputy captain Gerard ‘Chunk’ Wade recalled serving on the truck in the 1980s.

“I remember standing in the back, and there’s not a lot of creature comforts of safety. You had a bar to hang on to and off you went into the fire,” he said.

“It was just a blast from the past just to see it come back to Bellbrook. It’s just a piece of history, I think that it’s just gold.”

Big restoration plans

Thanks to social media, there have been offers from around the country to help with the truck’s restoration.

“I expect it will take two to three years to get it somewhere near its former glory, at which point we hope to be able to go to schools and to shows and rusty iron rallies, that sort of thing and just show it off and put Bellbrook on the map,” Captain Hall said.

“We are only a very small, fairly isolated village here and it’s nice to be able to show the rest of the world who we are.”

Bringing community together
Bellbrook’s current truck now also has ties to the region’s Indigenous heritage, featuring an artwork created by Mr Toby, who works as a local cultural arts teacher.

“The artwork is recognition for our local Indigenous population in Bellbrook and the wider community,” he said.