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An Interview with Barbara Wallace

Posted: 9am 02 Oct 2019

The Old Redcliffe Fire Station sits proudly midway on Oxley Avenue Redcliffe between Woody Point and Scarborough. You all know this landmark. This heritage-listed building celebrates 70 glorious years on Friday 1 November 2019, from 3-8pm. In my role as Publicity Manager for Redcliffe Art Society, [who NOW dwell within these red brick walls], I have enjoyed researching the history of this iconic former fire station, and seeking the story of the family who once lived upstairs. Who better to interview than the delightful 79 years young Barbara Wallace who spent seventeen years of her early life here? Throughout the interview, Barbara’s nineteen-year-old rescue dog, Riley, sat devotedly at her feet. It appears longevity is a commonality.

Barbara is the only daughter of Brian and Mrs E Wallace. She was born in the UK in 1940 and emigrated with her parents to Australia in 1948. The Wallace family launched their Australian story in Southport, Queensland where Brian’s expertise as a fireman from UK was required. The following year, [‘49] the family moved north of Brisbane, across the long Hornibrook Bridge to the Redcliffe Peninsula. Mr Wallace took up his new position as the Chief Fire Officer of the newly completed and very modern Redcliffe Fire Station and gloriously served there until he retired at the age of 66.

What was it like living upstairs from the Fire Station?

As young as nine years, it was indeed very exciting to live upstairs at the fire station. Barbara occupied one of the three bedrooms in the living quarters. All the rooms were upstairs, kitchen, loungeroom, bathroom and loungeroom, but the laundry was down the steep stairs. From the front window, there was a clear view of the beach at Redcliffe. Barbara used to swim at Suttons Beach.

Initially, Brian was the only fireman stationed at the Fire Station, and in times of need he would call one of his two firemen colleagues from the community to assist. The Fire Engine was stationed downstairs and checking and maintenance of the fire engine was carried out in the downstairs back yard area. There was a poolroom downstairs where the firemen could relax in their down time.

Barbara states that she was quite a shy girl, and hardly spoke to the firemen, but says they were always very nice to her. Brian would teach Barbara to play pool. There was a tennis court behind the fire station, and Barbara’s mother overcame her introversion by joining a tennis group that played there every week. Barbara, too, learned to play tennis. This school girl looked forward to Thursday tennis’ afternoon teas where her mum saved her the leftover baked treats for her.

Attending Humpybong State School, Margate, Barbara would walk or ride her bike down Oxley Avenue to and from her school in Duffield Road. She recalls the “big hill” near Macdonnell Road. After school, Barbara and her long-term friend Joy would often play princesses in the tower portion [that Brian designed] of the larger structure built by Alex Smith.

What was Redcliffe like, as a girl growing up?

It was slowly growing and developing. “Initially, behind the fire station, we had the standard chook farm, and behind that there were a couple of houses – then just bush. The Fire Station was the biggest building on the Peninsula. “My mother was a housewife and in her spare time she loved to sing and to perform. She used to be the lead in pantomimes when we lived in the UK. She was very keen to join the Redcliffe Chorale. I have inherited the choir DNA from her”.

What was special about your father’s Fire Station responsibilities and did he introduce new innovative ideas?

“My father used to frequently read and research latest trends. He introduced the first fiberglass helmet to the Fire Brigade, long before Brisbane MFB used them. Before then, helmets were made of heavier materials such as brass or leather. He oversaw the introduction of a second fire engine and newer more modern vehicles with effective firefighting equipment. My father was responsible for looking after fire risks on the Peninsula and the safety of the Bush Children’s Home was an organization he oversaw, and he remained involved with this organization for a further 31 years. He was awarded an honour in the Queen’s New Year List in 1971 for his work with Bush Children’s Health”, Barbara said.

What was your life like as a young woman?

“It was wonderful. We were a very happy family”. Barbara attended Brisbane High School in the 1950’s. “There were no high schools on the Peninsula at that time” she said. “I used to catch a bus across the old bridge to Sandgate, then a train to Brisbane Central, and a tram to Brisbane High. It was the first co-ed high school in Brisbane. We used to win Head of the River every year” she continued. After school life concluded, Barbara attended business college and from here she went a year later to study nursing. Her early nursing days saw her care for patients with leprosy, and she completed her general nursing training in Brisbane. From here she decided to study Midwifery in the UK, at Manchester. The boat journey there took 8 weeks. Think BBC’s “Call the Midwife” – this was what Barbara’s working life was like in England. Her nursing career took her all over the world, working as a RAAF nurse in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Okinawa, Japan. She worked further in Australia [Queensland and Victoria] and also nursed in Northern Canada with the indigenous families.

“Every time I returned to Redcliffe Peninsula, I witnessed progressive growth of the area” she noted. Barbara returned to Redcliffe Hospital and worked in preferred areas such as A+E and Operating Theatre. Like her father, she enjoyed being in the thick of action. She was invited to apply for Director of Nursing at Redcliffe Hospital, when she finally decided to retire to care for her aging parents. Her mother lived until she was in her 80’s and her father passed away aged 96.

Redcliffe Fire Station over time, until now

From an initial workforce of three, and one Fire Engine, the Fire Station grew to have a team of 18 men over Brian’s 28 years as Chief Fire Officer in Redcliffe. The Fire Station was heritage listed in 2005. It has seen a lot of changes and re-development. Following decommissioning as a Fire Station, it was established as an Arts and volunteer Hub, and in 2015 The Redcliffe Arts Society and the Redcliffe Pottery Group took residence and continue to thrive creatively today. Barbara and Riley continue to live a healthy and active life in and around their Rothwell home.

Looking for more things to do and see? Pop into one of the region's Accredited Visitor Information Centres. The volunteers have a wealth of local knowledge.

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