Blackall bravery awarded posthumously

Bob Pickersgill's 1940 homestead fire rescue acknowledged with Bravery Medal

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Bravery honoured: Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey AC presenting Robert Pickersgill's Bravery Medal to his son Doug Pickersgill at Government House in Brisbane last Friday. Picture: supplied.

Bravery honoured: Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey AC presenting Robert Pickersgill's Bravery Medal to his son Doug Pickersgill at Government House in Brisbane last Friday. Picture: supplied.

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It's been 80 years since the warm November day that Bob Pickersgill rushed into a burning homestead at Bonnie Doon, south of Blackall, to save a four-year-old girl, but his bravery was formally acknowledged in Brisbane last Friday.

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It's been 80 years since the warm November day that Bob Pickersgill rushed into a burning homestead at Bonnie Doon, south of Blackall, to save a four-year-old girl, but his bravery was formally acknowledged in Brisbane last Friday.

Announced last year by Governor-General David Hurley, Mr Pickersgill's posthumous Bravery Medal was accepted by his son, Doug Pickersgill at Government House, in an investiture ceremony postponed from May.

"It was an honour to go there and receive the award on my father's behalf after all this time," he said.

"It's not something he ever talked about much but I can understand why.

"In those days he would have been living with the family - they would have been like family."

According to a report in the local Barcoo Independent newspaper, the alarm was raised by the station owner's wife Mrs McWilliams at around 12.15pm on November 26, 1940.

Mr Pickersgill and others were building a meat house nearby and they rushed to extinguish the fire with a garden hose.

Thanks to the intense heat, only a few of the home's contents were able to be retrieved.

"At this time, it was noticed that the four-year-old daughter of the homestead's owners was missing," the Government House citation read.

"Without regard for his own safety, Mr Pickersgill immediately entered the burning building and began to search for the child.

"He eventually located her in the bathroom of the house where the ceiling had caught fire.

"He immediately picked up the child and removed her from the house.

"Soon after the homestead was completely engulfed in flames and destroyed."

The newspaper report said the amount of time that elapsed between the time the fire was noticed and when it was completely gutted was a mere 15 minutes.

"By his actions, Mr Robert Fawcett Pickersgill displayed considerable bravery," the citation concluded.

Mr Pickersgill was a World War One survivor and went to serve in the second world conflict, in Papua New Guinea, in the years immediately after his heroic actions.

According to his son Doug, the Yorkshire farmer had caught a tetanus infection in WWI and was recuperating in hospital with a bunch of Australian soldiers, which may have been the reason he emigrated in his late teens.

After spending his early years in Australia in the Snowy Mountains region he moved north and became an accomplished shearer.

"He would have been a station hand at Bonnie Doon," Doug Pickersgill said.

"After a medical discharge (from the army) in 1942, he came back to Blackall before moving to St George, where he married Nancy Withers.

"He kept on with the shearing contracting for a number of years, moving on to classing, until the 1950s.

"He passed away in 1975."

In a choice not related to his father's rescue, Mr Pickersgill became a fire protection engineer after he left school, a job which took him all over the world for 50-plus years.

"I can relate to his experience all right," he said. "I'm just glad this recognition has happened - it's part of our country history."

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