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Fifty years later, right on time!

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March 14, 2005 - Walhalla didn't quite make it when Melbourne's "Moomba" festival began fifty years ago this month, but with luck, we'll more than make up for it this year!

The story of this effort was first re-told by former on-screen TV personality Dan Webb, a key player in the original saga, in an article that was published in the December 2003 edition of the "Walhalla Chronicle".

In March, 1955, the (then) Walhalla Improvement League was invited to enter the town's historic 1903 Merryweather Fire Appliance, shown right, in the inaugural Moomba procession, and plans were duly put in place for its transport to the city.

It was prepared for the journey and farewelled at Walhalla for its trip to the "big smoke", drawn initially by a pair of draught horses.

The trip was a slow and difficult one, perhaps made a little more tolerable for the driver and passengers by what appears to have been frequent stops at some favoured watering holes along the way, as suggested by this series of photographs taken at the time.

But the horses eventually gave way to a greater (horse)power, in the form of the offer of a Ferguson tractor.

However, the tractor in turn appears to have broken down a little further along the highway. Faced with a looming deadline, the team looked for local help.

Somehow, the tractor was replaced -- temporarily at least -- by a cattle truck provided by C. Wade Livestock Transport, of Drouin.

Eventually, the tractor caught up with the fire appliance, possibly where the photo below shows the group resting, somewhere along the Prince's Highway between Dandenong and Springvale Junction, judging by the palm trees planted along the side of the road, and the vintage Berwick fire truck that was parked in front of it.

   

Further photos from the trip show the appliance, again being towed by the Ferguson tractor, along a road with tram lines that looks as though it might have been High Street or Malvern Road, but which in any case, was certainly within sight of the city.

However, that's as far as it got, because folklore has it that, overcome by a pace that it hadn't needed to accommodate in many years, a wheel fell off the cart, or a shaft was broken by too sharp a turn and wasn't able to be repaired in time for the parade, which our representatives were therefore obliged to miss.

This year, for the fiftieth anniversary of Moomba, we have again been invited to participate, and it seemed only fitting to again enter the valiant old Merryweather, which has in the meantime undergone an extensive (and expensive) refurbishment and overhaul in the wagon workshops at Ballarat's Sovereign Hill theme park, shown below.

Unfortunately, the Merryweather is now far too valuable to tow on the roads, so it will be transported on a tandem trailer float that will be towed behind the Walhalla CFA's current -- and vastly more capable -- fire unit, a 4WD Toyota utility.

The Merryweather will be loaded at Walhalla on the Sunday before the parade and will spend the night garaged in Warragul to ensure that 50 years later, we will have a better chance to finally arrive on time, and Dan Webb will finally get his chance to ride on the Walhalla fire cart in the Moomba Parade!

Look for us in the parade, and on television!

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