Gladys Elizabeth Sanderson was the relieving Post Mistress at Noojee during the devasting Black Friday bushfires on January 13, 1939.
She became famous for her unwavering bravery by continuing to keep the phone lines open and making calls to the Warragul Post Office, which she prefaced by the phrase “Noojee Calling”.
The only person in the town who could operate the telephone switchboard — the sole link with isolated families which were in danger of being cut off in the hills and burned to death by the swiftly-advancing fires — she stayed at her post until the town was ablaze, and after seeing to the evacuation of her sick father and nine-year-old daughter. She refused to leave until pushed out of the post office by a policeman, Constable Earnshaw.
The Herald Newspaper reported on ”The Angel of Noojee”..
The Noojee postmistress, Mrs Gladys Sanderson refused to leave her switchboard until the Post Office caught fire. Half an hour earlier it had started to burn but volunteers extinguished the flames.
Before she joined other residents in the precarious shelter of the creek, Mrs Sanderson locked the money and valuables in the safe and had her brother wire the keys to her wrist.
If the worst comes to the worst, she told the postmaster at Warragul in her last call from Noojee, they‘ll find the keys on my wrist.
“It was close on 2 o‘clock when I left the post office. I got into a pool behind the hotel. There were about 60 people there. We just crouched in the river. It was about 20 feet wide and the edges were burning. Burning leaves and debris were falling in the water. We stayed in the water until about seven o‘clock.”
She was taken to Warragul to sleep that night. But the next morning she was back on the job at Noojee, operating a temporary switchboard mechanics had rigged up in a tin shed which escaped the blaze. Noojee, or what was left of it, was in touch with the outside world again.
After the new Post Office was rebuilt in 1940, she was inundated with phone calls from The Age, The Argus and The Sun newspapers because King George had awarded her The Medal of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – the British Empire Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty.
Gladys later wrote a book on her experiences.
Posted on Facebook – 13 January 2022. https://www.facebook.com/groups/forestcommisionheritage/posts/6887411607951797/