1939 Bushfires Royal Commission: report and transcript of evidence
Collections at a Click: digital elements of Victoria's history
In January 1939 bushfires swept across the State of Victoria. Seventy-one people were killed on a day later dubbed "Black Friday".
For decades this event was regarded as the greatest natural disaster seen in Victoria.
Three weeks after Black Friday, Judge Leonard Stretton convened a Royal Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Measures Taken to Prevent the Bush Fires of January, 1939, and to Protect Life and Property and the Measures to be Taken to Prevent Bush Fires in Victoria and to Protect Life and Property in the Event of Future Bush Fires.
In 2009, for the first time, the complete transcript of evidence given to the Commission has been published along with the complete report and recommendations. (Previously only the report had been published.)
This online collection contains digitally scanned facsimile copies of the Royal Commission's report and transcripts of 34 days of evidence given before the Commission. There is a searchable index of evidence.
The collection will be of interest to:
- Researchers interested in bushfires, emergency management, land and forest management, primary industry, social and legal history of Victoria
- Families and descendants of those affected by the 1939 bushfires -- did your relatives give evidence?
How to access the documents
The Royal Commission report and transcripts are available from the University Library's web site.
Before proceeding, please note:
- You will need a recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader (click to download this free software)
- Your web browser must be set to allow pop-up windows
To view or download the documents:
- Go to the documents' home page at repository.unimelb.edu.au/10187/3652
- Click the 'document' icon (shown below) at the left side of the page: this will open a pop-up window in your browser
- In the pop-up window, select a document from the left menu and either browse within the pop-up window or download to your desktop
Adobe Acrobat Reader allows you to search for specific keywords, eg a surname or place name, within a PDF document.
Image, above: extract from transcript of evidence given at Marysville in 1939. "[Question:] Could anything be done to make Marysville safe against fire from the west? [Answer:] -- No. On Sunday night we were burning and all day Monday I had a big body of men on the western end of the township cutting and burning breaks. On Monday the fire jumped over everything we had done."
- List of Melbourne University experts in bushfire, climate change and related fields
- Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science at Melbourne University
Other online resources (external web sites):
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) web site about the 1939 bushfires
- Victorian Government Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) web page about the 1939 bushfires
- Victorian Government Department of Primary Industry (DPI) online exhibition of photos