A 1931 Mount Isa Hotel fire provoked a battle of the sexes

The Mount Isa Hotel circa 1925 - five years before the fire in question.
The Mount Isa Hotel circa 1925 - five years before the fire in question.

The vexed question of whether it was men or women who put out a fire was one of the big controversies of Mount Isa’s early days.

When the town was founded in 1924, it didn’t take long for watering holes to follow.

In 1926 the hostelry now known as the Isa Hotel was built by Samuel Allens on the corner of Miles and Marian Streets.

In 1930 there was a beer strike when a drinkers’ committee demanded publicans to reduce the price of beer by 25 per cent in the towns’ pubs.

That strike ended in June that year so there was probably no connection with a fire that took place in the Isa Hotel’s woodpile six months later on December 29, 1930.

But there was controversy over who put the fire out as two letters to the Cloncurry Advocate, January 10, 1931 show.

The first letter was from a writer who identified himself as “Tappy” the local fire chief and Tappy was not happy about the fairer sex of Mount Isa.

“It appears as if all the women folk of the hotel are telling all and sundry that a purely feminine squad quelled the flames and that I, head of the Mt. Isa Fire Brigade was conspicuous by my absence,” Tappy wrote.

“They also claim that not one male responded when a woman first gave the alarm.”

With his reputation at stake Tappy said that he was the hero of the hour not the ladies.

“Had it not been for me the hotel would have razed to the ground,” he wrote.

“I was on the spot less than three minutes after the alarm and soon had the boarders organised as a bucket brigade, the women contenting themselves by looking on and screaming spasmodically when I occasionally risked my life.”

But a second letter immediately following by another man named A. Deal Crankhurst suggested Tappy (who he identified as Tap Tappenden) may have been telling porkies.

He identified Mrs Cowdery as the women who raised the alarm at 2.10am shouting out “fire! fire!”

Mr Crankhurst was not present but was led to believe only the womenfolk of the hotel responded to her poignant appeal.

He said Mr Tappenden and all the other men were “unavoidably absent” but did not elaborate why.

He said the firefighting team was “Misses Mona Daly, Liz Stewart, Hazel Cowdery, Clara Russell, Mary Haden and Mesdames Cowdery and Hunter”.

“All feminists are asked to note no males are included in the brigade – another victory for the equalisation of the sexes,” Mr Crankhurst told the Advocate.

He said the women formed a bucket brigade and a heated tussle ensued with the blaze.

“It will be admitted that at one stage Tap was called for urgently but Tap was not on tap and so the brave girls carried on to successfully subdue the flames,” he wrote.

Mr Crankhurst hailed the event as “Woman the Conqueror” though sadly Mr Tappenden’s response is not recorded.

Mount Isa historian Kim-Maree Burton said she heard of the fire story which she said was typical of the era.

Ms Burton suspected Crankhurst and the women’s version of events was probably the correct one.

“If the fire chief was unavoidably detained, he was probably inside the pub under the weather,” Ms Burton said.

This story The great 1931 fire furore of Mount Isa explained first appeared on Beaudesert Times.