John Cleary Fraser
(1895 - 1956)
Fraser Street, East Fremantle was named after John Cleary Fraser (1895- 1956)
By the height of the gold rush in the late 1890’s, the population of Western Australia had grown from 48,500 to over 180,000. This created a huge demand for services such as a public water supply, and, finally, the formation of organised fire brigades. A formal Western Australian fire service commenced with the first Fire Brigades Act of 1898 and the establishment of a Fire Brigades Board.
Originally from NSW John ‘Jack’ Fraser worked in the Phoenix Foundry in Ballarat and with the local fire brigade there before becoming Superintendent of the Yarraville Brigade (Melbourne). Arriving in Western Australia- he was appointed in August 1892, as one of the first three superintendents of fire brigades in Western Australia responsible for the Fremantle (and then East Fremantle) Brigade.
He was interviewed about a fire in Fremantle in 1894 and the role of the Fire Brigade. (reference)
During his 8 and a half years as Superintendent of the Fremantle Brigade he designed and built the first hose reels and hose cart, purchased the first horse used in a Brigade and employed the first permanent fireman in WA. Fraser was the first man to ever drive a steam fire engine in WA. He also created the first out stations and installed the first fire alarms in WA. In conjunction with Superintendent Cameron, he founded the West Australian Fire Brigade Association at a time when there were only four brigades in the State— in Perth, Fremantle, Geraldton and the Goldfields. Simultaneously with his Fremantle position he was advisory superintendent for the Public Works Department and superintendent of the Railway Department fire brigades, organising all brigades at the different stations.
Firemen at this time were paid by honorariums and fees collected from businesses and Fraser threatened to resign from Fremantle in 1897, but upon being given an honorarium of 50 pounds a year by the Fremantle Council, he rescinded his resignation and stayed on until 1899. In 1901 he was granted permission to build a shop in Norfolk Street, Fremantle. Fraser married Elizabeth Hayward (b 1882) in Albany in 1904.
Before the advent of the Goldfields Water Scheme the lack of water, especially in the Goldfields, continued to be a problem in the effectiveness of fire brigades. Fraser worked in Boulder and as superintendent, supervised the construction of the 'salt water main' around the principal business block of Boulder- for the Boulder City Fire Brigade, and established the Perseverance Fire Brigade at the Great Boulder Perseverance Mill. In 1905 the members of the Boulder Fire Brigade made a presentation to Fraser, who owing to business responsibilities had been obliged to relinquish his office.
From 1907-1910 Fraser was given a permanent appointment (first time paid a salary) as Superintendent of the Eastern Goldfields. Fraser gave a full account of the Kalgoorlie Fire Brigade’s efforts to contain a big fire that destroyed the Griffin Mill in 1909. (reference)
Fraser was Superintendent of Kalgoorlie Municipal Fire Brigade until relieved from duty through the decision of the District Fire Brigade Board after a damning report on the state of the Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie Fire stations by James McFarlane Lapsley (1856-1931), Superintendent of the Perth Fire Brigade from 1897 to 1910. This report was hotly disputed by Fraser who argued how unfair it was- and perhaps he was correct because the report was politically advantageous for Lapsely who was consequently appointed the first Chief Officer of WA Fire Brigades from 1910 to 1922. (reference)
Fraser stayed in Kalgoorlie and worked there as Baths Manager, Rate Collector and Valuator from 1910 until his retirement in 1921. In a valedictory speech given by the Kalgoorlie Council Town Clerk, Mr. C. E. Eccles hinted at why Fraser had returned to work with the Kalgoorlie Municipal Council after his role in Fremantle: “He regretted that Mr Fraser had not got the one position — the highest — to which he was entitled when the new fire brigade administration of the State was brought about”. This referred to the position of the first Superintendent and First Chief Officer of the WA Fire Brigades Board, which Fraser had narrowly missed out on and been given to James Lapsely. (reference)
Fraser complained about dogs on the streets of Fremantle: (reference)
It wasn’t until 1909 that the second Fremantle Fire Station, in Phillimore Street, was built for the Fremantle Fire Brigade (opened by James Lapsley). The new fire station was designed to house four horse-drawn vehicles, including the district's ambulance, which was also operated by the fire brigade.
Photographs are from a series of photos given to Fremantle Municipal Council by the Fremantle Fire Brigade in 1894: (portrait 1893E and station 1893P.)