Looking back at the spirit of the FBEU Centenary
FBEU Centenary 2010 was a proud day for every FBEU member – but what made the event what it was? Obviously there was the massive preparation by FBEU staff, State Committee, and FBEU members. There was also the fact that over 1000 FBEU members, past and present, 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. But as the march at Town Hall got under way I realised there was something else happening, something you can’t plan for – the event took on a special 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 just 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 her eyes lit up. 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 rally. I asked a firefighter to look after her for me, and he did. As she left with the him she turned to me and said, “I’m still getting the old scheme firefighters’ pension you know, it’s great!”.
As I marched with my 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, who should I come across, but Flo. She had made her way up the stairs, into the function room, not knowing what was next. I chatted to her some more, and she was in her element. Thinking it was over, 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”. So she did. I sat her with the retired members alongside Ministers and Commissioners, like she was royalty – and so she should, because she is royalty to us. 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 ‘till the finish. She ventured out to see the start of a march, no doubt in memory of her husband. She ended up royalty, leading one of the largest firefighters parades in Australia’s history and became an invited guest at a 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 those kids faces, and ‘Flo’ leading one thousand firefighters through the blocked streets of Sydney – that was the spirit of the FBEU Centenary.
Darin Sullivan, President, Fire Brigade Employees’ Union
[Originally published in the annual FBEU NSW Firefighter in 2010]