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Lost and Found: The 1939 “Black Friday” Bushfires Royal Commission Evidence

On Monday 7 December, the University of Melbourne’s Crenswick Campus will hold a seminar detailing the evidence found from the 1939 Black Friday Bushfires.

The 1939 fires devastated Victoria and, until the fires of early this year, were the worst in Victoria’s history. The 1939 Royal Commission witness evidence gives a compelling insight into forest and fire management at the time.

A full transcript of the evidence was recently found at the University of Melbourne’s Creswick campus. This long-hidden document provides a fascinating contrast to the fires of February 2009.

Judge Leonard Stretton’s 1939 Royal Commission heard evidence in many city and country locations. The 2,600 pages of evidence convey the experience and opinions of the community, from graziers and foresters to sawmill owners, timber workers, and police.

This seminar will use the transcript to explore the striking similarities and differences between the past and current Royal Commission. Speakers will include:

Jack Rush via video, QC, Senior Counsel assisting the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

Dr Kevin Tolhurst, Senior Lecturer – Fire Ecology and Management, on the similarities and differences between the 1939 and 2009 fires.

Kate Darian-Smith tbc, Professor of Australian Studies and History, on experiences and opinions in 1939 compared to now.

Dr Leon Bren, Associate Professor – Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science, looking at the site of a major tragedy seventy years on.

Reading of transcripts from the Royal Commission witness evidence will be run prior to the event at 3.30pm.