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Podcast: Old Bundaberg Fire Station

Welcome to the Hidden Histories Podcast: Old Bundaberg Fire Station, the eleventh episode of series two of the Bundaberg Now Podcast.

There’s nothing quite like the nostalgia of an old fire station.

You can imagine the rush of activity when a call came in, the noise of the sirens, and the bravery of those people who chose to run towards a fire instead of away from it.

The old Bundaberg station is on the corner of Woongarra and Tantitha Streets and was purpose built in 1958 for the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service.

The property was impacted by flood water during the 2013 flood event, and has been vacant since the new Queensland Fire and Emergency Services facility opened in Thabeban in 2018.

Bridges CEO Sharon Sarah at the old training tower

In 2021, the property was purchased by Bridges Health and Community Care who have big ideas for converting it into a space that will once again serve the community.

“The plan is to turn the fire station into an arts, cultural and wellbeing precinct open to the public so that they can actually enjoy, I suppose, the experience of coming into what was a fire station,” Bridges CEO Sharon Sarah said.

Part of that plan is documenting stories of past Fire and Emergency Service personnel in an audio exhibition.

“Our intention is to capture the history of the fire station and so that people can enjoy that as an experience.

“We'll use it, I suppose, down the track once the fire station is open to tell the history and capture the history from their voices and their lived experience of what they did,” she said.

Listen now to hear more about the Bridge’s plans to pay homage to the old fire station, and current and former emergency personnel:

https://bundaberg.buzzsprout.com/1104665/11072832

In this series we shine a spotlight on the heritage buildings and infrastructure in our region.

Listen as we uncover memories, mysterious ghost stories and bizarre facts about some of our most iconic structures.

You can also listen on Google, Apple, Spotify, TuneIn or your favourite podcast app.

Hidden Histories: Old Bundaberg Fire Station transcript:

Gennavieve Lyons [00:00:05 ] Welcome to this special series of the Bundaberg Now podcast where we shine a spotlight on the history of our region.

My name's Gennavieve Lyons and I'll be your host as we uncover hidden histories, mysterious stories and some pretty bizarre facts about our most iconic buildings and structures around the region.

There’s nothing quite like the nostalgia of an old fire station.

You can imagine the rush of activity when a call came in, the noise of the sirens, and the bravery of those people who chose to run towards a fire instead of away from it.

The old Bundaberg station is on the corner of Woongarra and Tantitha Streets and was purpose built in 1958 for the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service.

As well as custom doors for fire truck access, the two-story building has various offices, open storage areas, amenities, kitchen facilities and had an upgrade in 1980.

The property was impacted by flood water during the 2013 flood event, with water rising to 30cm in some areas.

It has sat vacant since the new Queensland Fire and Emergency Services facility opened in Thabeban in 2018.

In 2021, the property was purchase by Bridges Health and Community Care who have big ideas for converting it into a space that will once again serve the community.

Bridges CEO Sharon Sarah sat down with Adele Bennett from Bundaberg Now to detail the exciting plans Bridges has for the building, and their ideas to pay homage to the old fire station, and current and former emergency personnel.

Adele Bennett [00:01:50] Sharon, thank you for joining us on the Bundaberg Now podcast, and thanks for the tour of the fire station, it’s a pretty incredible building. What’s the plan here for Bridges to take over as a community space?

Sharon Sarah [00:02:00] So the plan is to turn the fire station into an arts, cultural and wellbeing precinct open to the public so that they can actually enjoy, I suppose, the experience of coming into what was a fire station. And but, you know, coming to eat food or, you know, attend workshops or come along and look at art installations. Our intention is to capture the history of the fire station and so that people can enjoy that as an experience as well as you would, you know, in any sort of, I suppose, large project you want to talk about the history and capture that, you know, like macadamias or something like that. How do you grow them? How do you do that? We want to capture those sorts of stories as well. So. So it's much more than just coming in for, you know, for a coffee or a feed or to, you know, come to a workshop. There are some quirky features about it as well.

Adele Bennett [00:02:55] The building is pretty impressive on the inside and outside. A lot of people might have seen it from the outside, but could you give us a quick description for anyone that's not been inside?

Sharon Sarah [00:03:06] Well, yeah, you're right. It's on about 2000 square metres and it's on a double block of land and course, you know, obviously right in the CBD we're across the road from Centrelink, two streets back from the river and so, you know, it's, it's part of part of the CBD and part of the CBD history as well. I suppose the building comprises of what were the original bays where the fire trucks would have come in and left obviously to attend to the fire or function. And it was the, the Bundaberg fire station and then the rural fire station was added on in later years I think in the eighties and upstairs of the real fire station was the residence. So, and then upstairs from where all these bays are and the downstairs area, which would have been the comms rooms and all those sorts of things where it would be the offices, where the, the, the personnel would have been stationed, where they would have met and planned. There's, you know, there's lots of white boards. And you could see that there was lots of planning tools. And then, of course, downstairs where the bays are, they were obviously set up for people, for the fireys to attend to fire in a hurry, heavily geared. And these are these, you know, these original little cupboards where they would have stored their hats and their coats and their boots or whatever. You know, as I said, I'm not I'm sure I'm not getting all the details right. But, you know, you can use your imagination. So, we've still got the roller doors all here. We've got roller doors at the back and roller doors at the front and bridges. Intention is to keep as many of those features as we can and also keep, I suppose, how it looks on the outside so that you still can recognise it and go, oh, that must've been a fire station. So, it should be obvious, I suppose.

Adele Bennett [00:04:53] Yeah, for sure. And I mean, one thing that I noticed, and we spoke about on the tour is the lack of a fire pole. And people might expect to see one of those when they come through?

Sharon Sarah [00:05:03] Oh, look, absolutely. Everybody asks about it. I believe there was an original fire pole that, of course, you know, probably would have been removed for workplace health and safety reasons or just in terms of how the offices were structured. And but, you know, I've not seen a photo, but I do have it on good authority now and a few former fire personnel that they used to be. So yeah, we're really keen to grab that piece of history and you know, and make, I guess because people are so curious about it. We are tempted to try and source an old fire pole and, you know, turn it into a bit of a, you know, a bit of a passive, you know, you know, what did that mean? What did they use it for and what was it made out of? And those sorts of things. So far, I can only source them in America and I'm not quite sure things are exactly the same, but who knows? Yeah, it'll be fun. It'll be fun going shopping for a fire pole.

Adele Bennett [00:06:00] And so on that you did mention that you've got a bit of a project going to capture the histories of people that might know more about the building. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Sharon Sarah [00:06:10] So we applied for an arts grant to the Regional Arts Development Fund grant with the Council so that we and then we will appoint a project manager who will then, I guess, find out who the people that used to work here. Anyone that's interested in the history of the fire station is a building. But particularly what sort of things? You know, that, I suppose the fires did over the years, the memories that they've got of whether it was, you know, incidents or personnel, they had their life and their story around the history of the fire station, the Bundaberg Fire Station. What that meant for them and what was it like so. And we've already started the process of identifying those people and we've got Ross Patterson who's going to come on board and as the project manager that will capture those stories for us in audio form. And then we'll use it down the track once the fire station is open to tell the history and capture the history from their voices and their lived experiences of what they did. So yeah, it's a little project, but it's definitely the start of where we're heading with it. You know, we want to, I suppose when we think about renovating it, we want to think about, well, you know, what they thought of it, and you know what it meant to them. And, you know, there could be some original stuff that we think it's a piece of junk, and they'll go, No, no, no. That was really important for us. And so that will really help inform us in how we actually retain some of that original feature and feel.

Adele Bennett [00:07:50] So you did also mention retaining some of the action pieces like the handrails and the stairs and, you know, potentially vital in incorporating those art installations in what will be a community of space. So, can you tell me what you imagine that looking like or not?

Sharon Sarah [00:08:08] I need someone with way more expertise than me. And this is why we want this arts cultural piece. And there are people that do that work all the time. And, you know, I've been working closely for a number of years with Shelley Pisani. In fact, she was working for me at one stage. And I do know some other people, you know, particularly people that were with Creative Regions, for example, that are still around and that's their thing. They are much better at doing those sorts of things and it's exciting. I suppose too though that part of my research is to find if the resource, those people find out who they are and get those ideas and talking to architects, I suppose that a had that experience in renovating old buildings and whatever and I've already got a friend of a friend who's put me in touch and that do that sort of piece of work and have got those ideas. But we're not there yet. As I said, we I suppose we're building that foundation. We've got to, we've put in for a grant with the federal government to renovate the facility. We can't use it as it is. It's been reclassified by the Council, which is great. So, we've got that piece of piece of, you know, work that needs to be done to have it reclassified as a community facility with, you know, things like an eatery and stuff like that. And so that's the first stage of the process. And of course, all the renovations that we've put in, we've got plans with. So, we're working with Tomas O'Malley, who's a well-known local architect who is also committed to maintaining the history of Bundaberg. He knows it really well, he lives and breathes it, so it's great to have a local on board and yeah, so we've got those plans and the plans mean that there has to be some renovations, particularly indoors, to make sure that we're compliant with all sorts of legislation like disability access and so forth, so that, you know, the original building will remain. We need to join the two buildings together, so we'll build a walkway on the outside, we'll have to put a lift in. So, but again, that's that was the intention was to try and maintain some, you know, the area that was sitting at the moment, you know, will take out some of the walls. So, it's much more useful for what we need. So, well, yeah, it's like, well, do I need that wall? That, that wall might be okay just there because then I can do that around there. And so, it's been a lot of work and walking around and thinking, you know, I'm going to do that. So, you know, with a 60-year-old building, but Tomas has been fantastic and helping us with that. And yeah.

Adele Bennett [00:10:55] So how has the building actually been vacant and why was it vacant to start with?

Sharon Sarah [00:11:00] The stories that I've read and been told is that when the floods were in which when we had two floods and it was the second flood that we had here in Bundaberg and the really catastrophic one where the riverbank broke and the bottom area of the fire station, the water started to come into to that area. And so that like a signal for them to put in a request to have the fire station moved. I mean, it's an essential service. It can't be impacted by things like that. And so that's, you know, pretty soon when they got one built, they were able to move. They, I think, moved somewhere temporary for a while until they got the new one.  

Adele Bennett [00:11:47] So in terms of timeline, you have a bit of an idea about the timeline for engaging, first of all, the artists and then renovations and then when can people hope to come and enjoy it?

Sharon Sarah [00:11:59] Well, the caption of the capturing the stories is underway. And so, I'm catching up with Ross tomorrow to, you know, keep that moving forward. And but in terms of the renovations, we're waiting on the outcome of the grant from the government, we're required to put in 50% of what it is will cost for the renovation. Obviously, we purchased the building as well, so it's been a significant outlay for our organisation, but we need that additional support from the Government to renovate it because it will cost a lot to re decided to bring it up to what we need it to be is a usable space in the community and so we're waiting on the outcome from that. But we estimate once we get the project underway, it will take two years. So, we're if we could do it in 18 months, we would, but we would we put in a conservative estimate, you know, because of all the issues around trying to get supplies, workers, all those sorts of things. So, we would hope and in fact, there was sort of conditions in the grant that, you know, we needed to launch it by October 2024. If we can do that, we would. But, you know, it's I don't know, we're still in a pandemic, so who knows what's going to happen. And by then we'd want it to be open to the public. And like I said, the I suppose the main feature, you know, where these big double bays will be where people can come in and have food at this. This just you're sitting in the you're sitting in probably the bakery area close to the oven. Yeah. So, kitchen, cafe, a large eatery. But the eatery, we also want spaces where people can come in and chat and spend time. We also want our clients to come into this space and more of a natural space to come in and meet us. And, you know, I mean, if people are distressed and whatnot, there will be there will be interview rooms and counselling rooms and things like that for people to go off to. But in some instances, to pop in, have a quick chat, to have a coffee, you know, I need you to sign the latest service agreement or, you know, whatever, that's all, or how you're going. Not everything needs to be formal. It depends on the service we provide in the relationship that we have with them. So yeah, we're hoping for that sort of really sort of more of more natural space for people to come in and actually seek help. And, and, but also the other spaces would be set up for all sorts of workshops, including artists workshops. We've got the Department of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander People, they're interested in potentially spaces for emerging artists to be able to store their artwork and be able to come in here. And you've got beautiful natural lighting in these big sorts of areas. And so, there's another bay down there. If there's so much potential to it for me, I don't know where to start. Yeah, I just need to tidy it up. You know, we'll probably have a sprung floor in one area so that we, you know, if we wanted to do pole dancing, we could land safely. But, you know, where there could be exercise, there could be whole things. And it is about, you know, and whether those spaces, at leased to people, whether we set them up, that's part of a business plan that we're still to sort of, you know, decide on and factor in. And it sometimes it depends what money's around that you can, but there's a lot of money being invested in the arts and cultural sector at the moment. And we think this is part of a precinct. I mean, you just go outside, and you look at the wall, forget about the inside. There's that massive brick wall out there that you can have murals. I've got a tower! What am I going to do with a tower? You know, you could project images on it. You know, you can look at you look at, you know, celebrating Pride Day, for example. And you can see if we get to climb to the top, everyone can see the top of the tower across the whole CBD. So, we can do all sorts of a light up, you know, whether it's, you can paint one of the sides, you can have artists in residence that do a piece of work. Just the art stuff is endless.

Adele Bennett [00:16:26] So what was it about the building when you first walked in and thought, yes, we need to buy this?

Sharon Sarah [00:16:32] One of the one of the reasons was that I suppose increasing rent for us and we're right in the CBD we had three, three facilities, we've just closed one facility because we need to make some cost savings on overheads and rent. So, it was about having our own space to reduce that overhead over time. We think it's an ideal position for a serve, a community service that responds to people who are the most disadvantaged, marginalised people in the community, people that are coming out of prison, people that are, you know, really serious mental health problems and drug and alcohol issues. We don't intend to have our drug and alcohol services here. It will remain in our other building. We want this to be a community space. But if people come over the road, you know, and they go, I need some help, they sent me over here, we can respond really quickly and point them in the right direction. So, it's about that access, I suppose, to, to, to essential services. So, so I suppose that was probably part of the vision and then we need to diversify our income.

Adele Bennett [00:17:42] So for people that don't know a bit about the history of bridges, how long have you been helping people in Bundaberg?

Sharon Sarah [00:17:49] So it's 25 years. This year I do another report on our 25th anniversary. I find time to write. They write the history. So yeah, 25 years and we were the first ever community based mental health service in the region. And yeah, we, we established the first psychosocial rehabilitation service for people with moderate to severe mental illness and started out with four or five staff and sitting around about 65 now, something like that. So, one of the things that will be part of this is our Mind Life Academy. We've had a three-year project to, to develop a whole bunch of resources, them on life resources. And that's all it's all about self-leadership, self-advocacy for people to lead their own recovery in their own life and have a say in how services provide. Well, I help people, organisations provide services. So the academy will be a place where a person with a mental health problem could come learn about themselves and how to, you know, how to manage their illness and speak up for themselves and then for other people to learn how to work with people with mental health issues, without, you know, I guess taking over their lives a little bit too much.

Adele Bennett [00:19:05] It sounds like the perfect space and place for people to do just that.

Sharon Sarah [00:19:46] Absolutely. That's the big vision for me, you know, but I get you've got to really read that stuff to understand where we're heading. It is a bit of a bit of a movement, I suppose, because there's so much money poured into mental health now and it's like, you know, keep doing things the same way and expect a different result. So, we're going. We need to do stuff differently. So, this is really about wellbeing, mental wellbeing rather than mental illness. This is about everyone needs a bit of mental wellbeing and will make sure and through the arts and being creative and I'm not talking, sitting back, painting, I'm talking. It could be plays. It could be expressing yourself. It could be just, just the opportunity to do it. And, you know, things like even simple things, you just get out of your head for a while, and you get away from problems when you're trying to create something. There's lots and lots of evidence around that. So, there's been a big groundswell nationally around the benefits of arts and participating in cultural things that align with your culture, whether it's youth culture or whether it's Indigenous culture.

Adele Bennett [00:20:20] Well, thanks so much for your time and for joining us on the podcast. Great to hear about the huge vision that you have for this amazing building.

Sharon Sarah [00:20:27] Hope we can achieve it and I reckon, get on with it!

Gennavieve Lyons [00:20:32] Thanks for listening to that insight into Bridges Health and Community Care’s plans for the old fire station. Join us again next month for another look into Bundaberg's historic buildings and structures.

1 COMMENT

1 COMMENT

  1. On a sad note, today I recieved notice of the death of a former South School pupil, Mal Hess who was one of the best opening bowlers in Bundaberg Primary School inter school cricket during the years 1957/1958 . We, at East Bundaberg State School, looked forward to our stoushes with South’s and in particular, Mal’ s fearsome bowling. We all grew up friends and us East Enders persuaded Mal to join up with our Saturday morning cricket team and we played for 2 seasons undefeated until we were banned because no one wanted to play us. Fond memories of a great bloke. RIP Mal

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