Chinchilla Museum gets fire tower treasure

Chinchilla Historical Society president Cath Brandon with Charlie Hazard and Forest Industries' Albert Kello.
Chinchilla Historical Society president Cath Brandon with Charlie Hazard and Forest Industries' Albert Kello. Brooke Duncan

THE Chinchilla Museum has a new claim to fame after acquiring a second, incredibly unique, fire tower as part of it's exhibition.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has partnered with the museum to preserve fire towers from the region, which remain an important part of Queensland's forestry history.

Fire towers have been used in state forests all over Queensland for decades to spot potential bush fires long before they become a problem.

Fire towers consisted of a small cabin, usually made of timber with an iron roof and short wave radio communication abilities. The cabin was either perched atop a mountain, or atop spindly legs reaching dozens of metres high, and could only be reached by flight after flight of stairs.

Forest Industries senior project officer Albert Kello said watchpeople would climb the dizzying heights alone every day during fire season, and spend up to eight hours peering across the forest with binoculars at the ready.

"It was an interesting job because it had solitude,” Mr Kello said.

The towers afforded a 360 degree view, and used the 360 degree system (due north being zero) to locate fires.

"All it was about was getting to a fire quickly,” Mr Kello said.

Fire towers became redundant with the advent of technology like drones, satellites, and mobile phones, but they still attracted thrill seekers eager to climb the enormous heights and had to be removed.

But they could not be forgotten, and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Chinchilla Museum have worked to preserve them.

"This project is about historic preservation,” Mr Kello said.

For Forest Industries' Albert Kello it's all about preservation.
For Forest Industries' Albert Kello it's all about preservation. Brooke Duncan

So far the museum has acquired two towers, both from the Barakula forest.

The new arrival is the Coondarra Tower which once reached 45 metres high. It is particularly unusual because it is one of the few instances of a fire tower with three legs instead of four.

Queensland was the only place in the world that used three-legged towers, and the Chinchilla Museum is the only place in Australia where people can see and explore a fire tower.

Chinchilla Historical Society president Cath Brandon says it's an incredible opportunity for the museum.

"It's just amazing. It's going to give the museum a whole new direction as far as tourism goes because they're so unique,” she said.

Chinchilla resident Charlie Hazard was at the museum as Coondarra Tower was being installed. He used to be one of it's watchpeople.

"It brings back memories but its a hell of a lot lower than it used to be,” Mr Hazard said.

"Sometimes you'd pick up two or three fires in the one day.”

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