Looking back at the spirit of the FBEU Centenary
The FBEU Centenary in 2010 was a proud day for every FBEU member. It took a massive amount of preparation by FBEU staff, State Committee, and FBEU members. There was over 1000 FBEU members (serving and retired) who turned up to make the event so special. The logistics and assistance from various services and organisations went well and even the weather turned on a flawless Sydney spring day for us. As the march at Town Hall got under way the event took on a magical feel that could only be seen from the parade itself.
One example of this was the elderly widow of a retired FBEU member, ‘Flo’, who turned up unannounced to see the parade from the footpath. Shoulder height, blue grey hair, handbag over her knitted cardigan arm – a classically dignified lady. As I chatted to her just before we set off to march I realised that this is what the day was all about. I gave her a flag and when I asked her if she wanted to take part, she said, “oh no, I couldn’t”, but her face told me otherwise. She finally agreed, and we put her on the back of the vintage fire truck that led the parade. I asked a firefighter to look after her for me and he did. As she left with the firie she turned to me and said with a wink, “I’m still getting the old scheme firefighters’ pension you know, it’s great!”.
As I marched with 1000 comrades down George St Sydney, I could see her on the back of the ‘Mack’ fire truck with a smile from ear to ear, waving the FBEU flag and loving every minute of it. When I got into the centenary venue I saw Flo again. She had made her way up the stairs and into the function room but didn’t know what to do next. I chatted to her some more and thinking it was over she started to say goodbye. I invited her to stay for the ceremony and speeches, “oh no, I couldn’t”, she said – again her face telling a different story. “Come and sit down at the front”, I said, “I have a special seat for you”. I sat her with the retired members she had been chatting with back up at the start of the parade (including Stan Grunsell pictured above) and alongside Ministers and Commissioners. To us there was no more special guest than her. With the fast pace of the ceremony and celebrations afterwards I lost track of her, but I have no doubt she was looked after, and I bet she was there until the finish.
She ventured out to see the start of a firies parade on a sunny day, no doubt in memory of her husband and a life she lived long ago. She ended up as our royalty, leading one of the largest firefighter parades in Australia’s history and became an invited guest at the formal ceremony overlooking the Opera House.
I’ll never forget seeing moments like firefighters in the march breaking from the procession to hand flags over to kids they didn’t know, people lining George St clapping, and FBEU members and their families marching with pride.
The day wasn’t about the speeches we gave or the Ministers and Commissioners. The day was about the looks on kids faces, the comradery apparent amongst the members, and ‘Flo’ leading one thousand firefighters through the blocked streets of Sydney – that was the spirit of the FBEU Centenary.
Written by Darin Sullivan, President of Fire Brigade Employees’ Union 2009-2018
[Originally published in the annual FBEU NSW Firefighter in 2010]