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The Great Walhalla Fire Cart Trip of 1955







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Early in 1955 arrangements were made for Melbourne's first Moomba Festival. The Sun News Pictorial announced that, if a horse-drawn firecart could be found, US entertainers Spike Jones & his City Slickers would ride on it to lead the Moomba Parade.

Dan Webb, presenter of radio 3DB-3LK's Breakfast Session asked listeners if they knew of such a vehicle? People 'phoned to say "try Walhalla .... try Terang".

Walhalla residents graciously agreed to their museum piece being driven from their historic gold-mining town in Gippsland to Melbourne. Footscray horse dealer, Norm Cakebreak, provided draft-horses, harness and a groom, Pat Balmer, to look after the nags. Griffith's Racehorse Transport carried the horses and crew to Walhalla where the epic journey began.

Webb and his fellow announcer Mike Dyer had promised to record daily position reports as they travelled using 3DB's brand new EMI portable audio tape-recorder. Management insisted on radio technician Ted Gray recording the reports - he was the only one who knew how to work the new-fangled machine. Passing cars were stopped and drivers asked to deliver the audio-tapes to 3DB in Flinders Street for broadcast every morning.

On departure day locals from Walhalla gathered on the hill out of the old gold town making bets on whether the horses would make it. As they struggled to the top there were cheers to send the firecart on its way. The policeman at Erica, who had recently been issued with a pushbike, generously offered hay for the horses.

Mike sounded a hunting horn to alert country school kids who rode on their ponies to see the unusual sight. The publican at Gould, (a town now submerged) stabled the draught-horses, but having no spare beds, advised the crew to sleep at a Moe motel.

Trafalgar, Yarragon, Darnum, Warragul! Everyone welcomed Walhalla's firecart, which was decorated with Moomba signs and reminders of the Children's Hospital Good Friday Appeal.

After the long Darnum Hill the horses were unhitched and the crew were enjoying a beer when 'locals' hid the cart. They said they'd rolled it into Moe Creek! That 'joke' had us really worried, but the venerable vehicle was found in a wood heap behind the pub.

The horses were exhausted after 3 days travel from Walhalla to Berwick.. The crew too was 'flat' after so much hospitality. It was agreed to truck the firecart, horses and all, to St Kilda Road where members of The Rough-Riders Association greeted it with firecrackers and streamers.

Unfortunately, one shaft of the firecart was broken when a tractor towing it turned too sharply. After repairs, the cart went back to Walhalla without ever appearing in the Moomba Procession.

According to locals, the imported firecart had never had a horse between the shafts before. When called to a fire, Walhalla Brigade pushed the pump to the scene of the blaze... it was quicker!

Our groom, Pat Balmer, passed away in the 1970's. Canadian-born Mike Dyer drowned at Coffs Harbour in 1978. Radio/TV engineer Ted Gray died in 2001. 3DB is no more on your dial, and Dan Webb says

"Thanks for the memory".

Ollie Dobratz was heavily involved in the restoration of the firecart

Thanks to Rhonda Aquilina for passing on this article she received from Dan Webb.

Dan was in town on a bus trip recently and happened to mention his recollection of the firecart trip. Rhonda was very happy when Dan sent her the story as printed above.

Fifty years later, we received a second chance. Read about it here if you haven't already.

There must many other people around with stories from the last fifty or so years. It doesn't have to be 100 years old to be part of our history.

Please contact us if you can help with information on our immediate past.




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