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Edward Henry (Ted) Hughes (1955–1997)

by Lindsay Green

This article was published online in 2022

This is a shared entry with Colin Arthur Eather

Colin Arthur Ernest Eather (1953–1997), electrician, coalminer, and farmer, and Edward Henry James Hughes (1955–1997), council-worker, were volunteer firefighters. Eather was born on 3 October 1953 at Lithgow, New South Wales, second child of Arthur Arnold Eather, farmer and grazier, and his wife Melba Maude, née Charlton, both born in New South Wales. Educated at Cooerwull Public and Lithgow High schools, Col finished with the School certificate in year 10. He qualified as an electrician with the Hartley County Council and then worked at Blue Mountains Colliery at Hartley. On 1 June 1985 he married New South Wales-born Deborah Estelle Ford, stud groom, at the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Kangaroo Valley. He joined the Baal Bone Colliery as a coalminer in April 1986.

When first married, Eather lived at Tarana and belonged to the Tarana Bushfire Brigade. A move to Marrangaroo, where there was no bushfire brigade, encouraged him to initiate one in the area; it began with an informal meeting in February 1994. He became the volunteer group captain of the Marrangaroo Rural Fire Brigade. A licensed horse trainer, he had a great love of horses and owned a farmlet.

Hughes was born on 13 April 1955 at Camperdown, son of New South Wales-born parents Edward Henry Hughes, labourer, and his wife Mavis, née Muldoon. Ted attended Blackmans Flat Public School and Lithgow High School. In the late 1970s he began a relationship with Deborah Jean Lane. Joining the Lithgow City Council in August 1980, he worked as a labourer, dog/stock controller, and plant operator and road ganger. He was with the Wallerawang Bushfire Brigade for thirteen years, becoming volunteer captain.

Both Eather and Hughes died fighting a bushfire on 2 December 1997 on Scotsmans Hill at Lithgow. The blaze came at a time of high temperatures and during a very dry period, typical of a dangerous bushfire season. Eather and Hughes were highly experienced firefighters. They were fighting the aftermath of a brush fire, and had gone to the top of a ridge above the local rubbish dump to finish bringing the fire under control. A sudden increase in wind strength caused the fire to flare and they became trapped. The fire developed into one of the worst the district had experienced. It became unpredictable, crossing roads, skipping houses, and burning only part of a street. While there was no loss of civilian lives or houses, fighting the frightening blaze became a major logistical exercise as volunteer brigades arrived from different parts of the State and Victoria.

Eather was survived by his wife and their two daughters, and Hughes by his partner and their two sons. Both men were buried in Pipers Flat lawn cemetery. Funerals were held at St John the Evangelist Church, Wallerawang, for Hughes on 9 December 1997, and at Hoskins Uniting Church on 10 December 1997 for Eather. Community leaders recognised the immense sacrifice the men had made and vice-regal, Federal, State, and local civic representatives were present. At his funeral Eather was remembered as a ‘big man with a big and loving heart’ (Ashworth 11 December 1997, 2). Hughes—who had many similar qualities to Eather—was described at his funeral as ‘a simple man, a loving family man, a good friend, an inspiring leader of men, and a tireless worker for community causes like the bushfire brigade’ (Ashworth 11 December 1997, 2). A friend, Bob Rowlandson, recalled Hughes’s feelings for ‘his family, his mates, the fire service and his Holden Kingswood’ (NSW LA 1998, 3452).

The names of the two men are inscribed on a monument commemorating New South Wales Emergency Service volunteers in the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens and on the national memorial for fire and emergency services in Canberra. The Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park also has a monument to them, while the Rydal show has the Col Eather memorial trophy in the woodchopping section. There is also a memorial to both men in Pioneers’ Heritage Park, Lithgow. A parcel of State-owned land at Marrangaroo was transferred to the Lithgow Rural Fire Service for a new bushfire brigade station known as the Marrangaroo Memorial Bushfire Shed to serve as permanent reminder of local firefighters who lost their lives.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Ashworth, Len. ‘Amazing Escapes as Killer Blaze Swept Through Mountainside Suburbs.’ Lithgow Mercury, 4 December 1997, 2
  • Ashworth, Len. ‘Community Said Farewell to Its Fire Heroes.’ Lithgow Mercury, 11 December 1997, 2
  • Brozek, Juli-Ann. Personal communication
  • Christison, Ray. Personal communication
  • Hughes, Deborah. Personal communication
  • Hughes, Ernie. Personal communication
  • Lithgow Mercury. ‘Governor Shared Community’s Mourning.’ 13 December 1997, 1
  • Mason, Phyllis. Personal communication
  • New South Wales. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates, 31 March 1998, 3452–56

Citation details

Lindsay Green, 'Hughes, Edward Henry (Ted) (1955–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2022, accessed online 21 June 2024.

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