Manningham at 60 looks to the future

Manningham at 60 looks to the future

23/02/2023, 11:30 AM

An anniversary celebration was held on Wednesday evening for the Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) Manningham Unit, to celebrate 60 years of continuous operation.

To mark the occasion, VICSES Manningham Unit volunteers created a display of historical photos and items from the unit’s past. They opened the mezzanine level for guests to view the newly-installed indoor roof training facility; created an audio-visual presentation of a large-scale emergency response scenario; and set up truck, boat, and equipment displays.

Among the invited guests were Mayor Deirdre Diamante; VICSES Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Griffin, Emergency Management Commissioner, Andrew Crisp; Cllr Carli Lange; Cllr Anna Chen; Cllr Stephen Mayne, and the Federal Member for Menzies, Keith Wolahan MP.

VICSES Manningham Unit volunteers were also joined by local emergency service partners, (CFA) Country Fire Authority and Ambulance Victoria, as well as Salvation Army volunteers who provided catering for the event.

The Unit’s volunteers responded to over 500 calls for help from the community in the last financial year (2021/22), and nearly 750 the year before (2020/21).

The Unit - formerly VICSES Doncaster Unit - was formed in March 1962 following a series of devastating bushfires. The Shire Council - as it was then - realised that there was a need for a corps of volunteers who could work with Council, assist disaster victims, clear debris, and keep vital roads open.

Though it had the support of council the Unit had no headquarters, uniforms, or equipment. However, the volunteers were ready to assist and, in 1965, when another bushfire struck the area the Unit swung into action in support of local firefighters.

Then, as now, the VICSES volunteers worked tirelessly to supply resources and logistics to the firefighters, to clear roads, and evacuate residents.

Though Civil Defence units had been active since 1957 along the River Murray to respond in times of flooding, VICSES Manningham Unit was one of the first to be established in a metropolitan area.

The Unit’s response boundary contains a mix of bushland and built environment; fringed to the north and west by the Yarra, and Koonung Creek to the south. Manningham has six main creeks, which flow into the Yarra and cascade around the gently rolling hills where water is quick to collect, but slow to drain away. In the city blocks protruding to the west, towards Melbourne, overland flows cause flash flooding during heavy downpours; prompting calls for help, to which Unit volunteers have responded for generations.

The early Unit was based in a prefabricated wooden building brought to Zerbes Reserve, in 1965, which was cramped but functional. 10 years later, the slowly expanding Unit became the State Emergency Service with the Controller of the day, Neil Gryst, having helped to design the State Emergency Service emblem which is still in use today. 

In 1974, Unit volunteers dedicated nearly 500 hours of their time to Victoria Police at the Russell Street Police Complex by assisting with tracing, and registering the victims of Cyclone Tracey. 

The first deployment undertaken by the Unit as the State Emergency Service was in 1975 for the Swan Hill floods. The Unit has since been called upon to perform this sort of role many times, right up to the present day.

VICSES volunteer, Pat Woolmer, triages calls during an operation, circa 1975.

During the Ash Wednesday bushfires, the Unit sent its volunteers to Cockatoo, and Bright, for five days and nights in support of local communities devastated by the fires. Similarly, during the 2006 Gippsland fires, the Unit sent crews to provide operational and logistical support to the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

The volunteers even assisted with aircraft accidents over the years, including a passenger plane that crashed into five Essendon homes in 1993. Miraculously, there were no fatalities.

As the control agency for flood and storm events, the volunteers were deployed many times throughout the state, for the Central Victorian floods in 1993; the evacuation of Pakenham residents in 1984; Craigieburn in 1986; and Maribyrnong, during floods in 1991, 1992, and 1996. They were deployed interstate to the Broken River floods in 1993 and, of course, to many major floods in the Manningham area, including the 2003 floods; where three citations were awarded to Unit members for their bravery. The VICSES volunteers had rescued a man within minutes of his car sinking under two metres of floodwater. 

As its members reflect on an illustrious past, VICSES Manningham Unit is looking to the future, inaugurating its new indoor roof-training facility last night at an event marking the 60th anniversary of its founding. With this new facility, the Unit hopes to expand its volunteer workforce by providing a training environment to beat any in the country. A new purpose-built training room will complement the SWAHS (Safe Working at Heights System) facility, and provide neighbouring units with an invaluable local asset.

If Manningham had family jewels, the VICSES unit on Blackburn Road would surely be among its brightest gems.

If you would like to contribute to your local VICSES Unit, as s volunteer or with financial support, please visit: or

VICSES Manningham Unit volunteers at the Blackburn Road facility in Manningham.


VICSES funded the SWAHS upgrade with additional monies received in the last State Government Budget, which allowed the Unit to invest money saved for the project into replacing its fleet of two four-wheel drive vehicles.