One of Western Australia’s Volunteer Fire Brigade’s greatest and most consistent athletes
Kalgoorlie born Ray Willis was an active member of the South Kalgoorlie (SKVFB) and
Kambalda (KVFB) Volunteer Fire Brigades for some 16 years. He joined SKVFB in 1962 at the age of 18 and began competing in the Volunteer Fire Brigade championships in 1963.
During the summer months, this sport formed a large part of the brigade activities and Ray quickly earned a reputation as an accomplished athlete. He competed in both state and interstate championships winning numerous events and a total of 13 individual Champion Fireman awards including two Rex Mitchell gold medals for the title “Western Australian Champion Fireman”.
A champion ladder man, Ray won the blue ribbon “Ladder Race for One Man” competing against 137 brigades in 1968 at the Victorian State Championships in Echuca. He is the second only West Australian fireman (previously 1948) to achieve this feat since WA teams first began travelling to Victorian championships in 1899. The WA Fire Brigades Board Chief Officer F.E. Harding acknowledged this magnificent achievement in a letter congratulating Ray on his “meritorious” win that “reflects credit to the whole of the Fire Service of Western Australia”.
Ray was Goldfields Dry-Work Champion Fireman from 1967-71 & 1973-74, Goldfields Zone Champion Fireman from 1968-69, 1971 & 1973, WA Champion Fireman in 1969 & 1973 runner up in 1970, 1971 & 1974. He did not compete in the 1965-66 WA State Championships as he was living interstate and in 1972 illness limited his participation.
Ray was also an exceptionally fast runner. He won the 100 yards sprint event at the 1965 Victorian Championship in Ballarat, the 1967 & 1968 (dead heat) WA State Championships and again in 1970 at the Tasmanian Championship in Burnie. In 1967, wearing long pants and sandshoes on a bitumen track, he ran the fastest time (10.00 sec.) ever recorded at a WA Championship.
Ray was a SKVFB member from 1962 to early 1965 and again from 1967-70 followed by the Kambalda Brigade from 1971-78. Whilst a member of these brigades he competed at the Victorian Urban Fire Brigades Championships in 1965, 1968, 1970, 1975, 1977 and the Tasmanian Championship in 1970. He enjoyed many team successes with SKVFB winning the WA “A” Class Championship in 1968 and 1969 and runner-up in 1964, 1967 and 1970.
In the 1970 WA Championship, Ray pulled a hamstring muscle in the final heat of the last event which set his team back from winning a third consecutive WA ‘A” Class Championship. He was also forced to forfeit a run-off for WA Champion Fireman, a title he won in 1969. After this injury, Ray often suffered with recurring hamstring problems.
In 1971 Ray transferred to the Kambalda Brigade which subsequently won the WA “C” Class Championship. It was the first State Championship the brigade had attended and the team set record times in four of the seven wet-work events. The following year the brigade won the “B” Class Championship and set a record of 19.68 seconds for the Hose & Ladder Five Men event also beating the “A” Class record. Three of these records still stand today; Hose & Ladder 5 Men in 1971 & 1972 and the Blue Ribbon Hose Practice 8 Men in 1971. Ray was the ladder man for the two Hose & Ladder 5 events and hydrant man for the Blue Ribbon Hose Practice 8 men.
Ray was brigade secretary from 1973–75 and elected captain/coach from late 1975 to 1978.
Under his leadership the brigade won its first W.A. ‘A’ Class Championship in 1977 and 1978. The Brigade also won the April 1977 Goldfields Sports Star award. On leaving Kambalda in late 1978, Ray was awarded Life Membership of the Kambalda Brigade. He later transferred to the Mandurah Volunteer Fire Brigade in 1979 but resigned shortly after due to other commitments.
Ray then undertook judging duties at WA State Championships for a few years and from 1984-6 was elected President of the WA League of Champion Firemen. During his tenure, funds were raised to purchase gold for future “Rex Mitchell” champion fireman medals. The league membership badge was also designed and issued.
As well as contributing to Kalgoorlie’s reputation as a top sporting centre, Ray was unknowingly continuing a family tradition of volunteer firemen and athleticism. Back in 1889 and 1896, his great uncle W.H. Johnson was a member of the Ballarat brigade and was awarded two medals for winning in team events at the Victorian Championships. The Johnson family in Ballarat has handed down these medals to Ray for keeping.
Compiled by Vanessa Evangelista in 2016 and verified by Rod McNally (past General Secretary – WAVFRS Association) as a true and fair record of the achievements of Champion Fireman and Ex Captain Ray Willis.