Located at the highest point in Melbourne sits the former Eastern Hill Fire Station No. 1, whose distinctive red and yellow 150 foot high Lookout Tower used to be manned by men looking out for smoke and flames across the city.
Today it’s home to a museum about the history of urban and rural firefighting in the state and throughout Australia. And the Tower is still used for training—though the creepy elevator is off-limits.
Inside the museum, among the uniforms, badges, gladiatorial steel helmets and impressive Victorian and Edwardian vehicles (including one donated by famous Aussie opera singer Dame Nellie Melba and later restored), is a can’t-miss attraction: the Watch Room.
The center of all communications, this room’s red fire alarm rang out loud whenever a street-side, city or building alarm was activated or a call came in. Using a system of wires, switches, ticker tape and radio, directions and a location were given for the firefighters to race to once they’d retrieved the skeleton key from the cupboard.
A computer room for the steampunk generation, it’s amazing to think this converted hayloft helped keep the city safe for decades, let alone that workers lived here alongside stables, rode horse-drawn emergency vehicles, and ran into burning buildings wearing clothes and equipment that seem hopelessly inadequate today.
An all-silver fire suit with the memorable gold faceplate is on display at the museum, and the volunteer museum guides—all of whom are ex-fire service—recall how you’d emerge from it covered in what was like a fine dusting of snow. It was in fact asbestos.
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade are based here today, and if you are lucky enough to get a quick look at their tech-heavy vehicles, you’ll be thankful the Great Melbourne Fire of 1897 is long in the past.