STATION 42: NEWPORT
Colonial settlement began in Newport, then known as Williamstown Junction, around 1862. But it was not until the Newport Railway Workshops were established in 1882 that the area really began to grow and develop. Before the Railway Workshops were established, fires were attended by the Williamstown Volunteer Fire Brigade, which was established in 1851.
The Newport Railway Workshops had their own fire brigade which attended to fires at the workshops and in the local community from 1887. There are references to volunteer brigades in Newport but it is unclear if these were part of the Victorian Railways Volunteer Brigade, the Newport Workshops Brigade or another civil brigade. What is known, is that by 1891, the community recognised the need for the suburb of Newport to have its own fire brigade. It could no longer afford to rely on assistance from the Railway Workshops and Williamstown.
On Friday 13 February 1891 at five o’clock in the morning, a fire broke out at Mr S. Vagg’s boot shop, in Melbourne Road, Newport. The fire burned quickly. The Williamstown Advertiser reported that:
… the loss occasioned would not have been so great had there been a brigade close at hand. It could hardly be expected that the Williamstown brigade could always be up to time when it was such a long way off.
Shortly after this fire, a meeting was called at Strickland’s Junction Hotel for the purpose of forming a fire brigade at Newport. All agreed that something needed to be done. In March, a letter to the editor appeared in The Williamstown Chronicle. It was from the honorary secretary of the Newport and Spottiswoode Volunteer Fire Brigade and expressed thanks to the community and the newspaper for supporting the formation of a fire brigade in Newport. The secretary wrote: ‘in order that Newport may be recognised as an important centre by the new Fire Brigades Board, it is desirable that an efficient brigade should be established’. He concluded his letter by asking for subscriptions from the local community ‘to help in this praiseworthy object’.
Perhaps it was because of the administrative challenges that faced the newly established Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board in formalising all the existing metropolitan and suburban volunteer brigades, but the suburb of Newport did not get an official station as part of MFB until 1906. Until then, the Newport and Spottiswoode Volunteer Fire Brigade and the brigades from the Williamstown and Newport Workshops served the firefighting needs of the Newport community for the next 16 years.
By August 1906, tenders were being sought to build a new fire station at Newport for the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board. The new station was to be built on the corner of Park Street and Melbourne Road, constructed of brick and two storeys high and include ‘a watch-room, men’s rooms and stabling on the ground floor with accommodation for two married men on the top floor’.
When it opened in June 1907, the Newport Fire Station was the third largest fire station in Victoria. It was home to the second largest steam engine in Victoria and had a hose cart, reel and three horses. The station, known then as number 36, was operated by District Superintendent Lindsey – who moved from Williamstown Station – and five other men. The official opening was celebrated with a demonstration and a ‘sumptuous champagne dinner’ attended by local dignitaries and representatives from MFB.
Newport Station provided 24-hour fire support and coverage. In the beginning of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, firefighters worked a staggering 168 hours per week. Stations had between two and four firefighters on call all the time who lived in or next to the station. Each firefighter was allocated one day off per fortnight. When not actively fighting fires, but still on duty, firefighters were required to maintain the station, checking equipment, testing alarms and inspecting the premises to ensure everything was in good working order.
When Newport opened, the District Officer (D.O.) – Superintendent Lindsey – moved to the new Newport Station. The D.O. was in charge of Newport, Williamstown, Yarraville and Footscray. This remained the case until 1942, when the D.O. moved from Newport to Footscray Station.
The 1960s saw the first modifications to Newport Station since its opening in 1907. The original brick building was altered and in the process, modernised. The upper storey, which housed officers and their families, was removed. Firefighters and their families no longer lived on station. Instead, they lived in nearby houses that MFB had purchased along Melbourne Road. Another engine bay was built on the north side to accommodate the size of the modern trucks. The old engine bay was converted into a mess room, recreation room and locker room. The old watchroom and District Officer’s office was converted into an officers flat. In 1994, the whole of Newport Fire Station was demolished and rebuilt into the modern station it is today.