[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”]T[/dropcap]oday marks the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the former Fletcher Jones factory and iconic silver ball, with confirmation that it has been sold for about $1 million to a man by the name of Dean Montgomery.
I say a new chapter, because Dean – even at face value – appears to be a person who does things very differently to what Warrnambool is used to in that he doesn’t see heritage as an obstacle, but as an asset.
We know this because he is already involved with restoring and renovating the historic Leura Hotel in Camperdown. We also know this because, even more incredibly, Dean joined the grassroots campaign, Save the Silver Ball and Fletcher Jones Gardens which is being driven via Facebook, prior to the announcement of the sale. He even posted a wonderful photograph of the ball that he was given by the volunteer groundsman at Pleasant Hill, Lex Caldwell.
This doesn’t sound like a man who is about to bring in the bulldozers and knock the whole thing down to replace it with apartments or “big box” retail like that which dominates the outskirts of Warrnambool.
Indeed, in 2011, Dean was quoted in the local Camperdown newspaper as saying: “We’re (he and his brother) both passionate about heritage buildings and restoring them, it’s what we do.”
[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”]D[/dropcap]ean, to my mind, represents a generational change for how things can be done in Warrnambool, where a developer with a vision and the funds works with the community to create something special, and enduring, on what is one of the most prominent and important sites in the city.
This doesn’t mean the whole derelict building will be preserved (nobody expected or wanted that), but it does mean that an iconic landmark that is so special to the community will be retained. Word has it that Dean already has cranes organised to start tidying up the ball.
That all of this is happening is testament to how grassroots activism can work when people unite for a common cause, and the Save the Silver Ball campaign has united people.
Living in Tasmania for about six years taught me everything I know about the ability of ordinary people to fight for something they loved, even if they were told that they were being unrealistic, out-of-touch or nostalgic at the expense of progress.
The people who fought, and continue to fight, for Tasmania’s precious native forests have had everything thrown at them, including physical violence, yet they keep going because they know the battle is worth it. Native forests cannot be replaced simply by planting more trees: each forest is unique.
[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] A [/dropcap]mong the bravest of those fighting for Tasmania’s forests was a woman called Allana Beltran who became the potent symbol of the anti-logging movement after dressing as an angel, decorated with cockatoo feathers and a long white curtain, and hoisting herself high among the trees in the Weld Valley, in southern Tasmania, where she sat poised on a tripod in silent protest.
“The Weld Angel”, so beautifully captured by freelance photographer Matthew Newton who’s image went around the world, provided an evocative reminder of what would be lost if the value of everything in the world was measured only by economics.
In Warrnambool, the Fletcher Jones silver ball has proven to be a Weld Angel: a galvanising symbol of what is irreplaceable and worth preserving.
More than 600 people fell in behind the campaign on Facebook to share their memories, photographs and ideas about how to preserve a unique part of the skyline and landscape.
[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] B [/dropcap]ehind the scenes, campaigners Julie Eagles and Tonia Wilcox – among others – met with the powers that be, agitated, asked questions, wrote reports, emailed, filmed, phoned, photographed and held gatherings at the Warrnambool Hotel to thrash out how to keep the ball in the air. (And Bluestone Magazine was right behind them.)
Of course there were the critics and doubters who said it was all too hard (for whom?) and would cost too much (compared to what?) and that it would be so much easier to just knock it all down and start over again, just like in the Tasmanian forests.
But some people think – and act – very differently and Dean Montgomery looks like one of those people.
A new chapter is not only starting for Fletcher Jones, but for the whole city.
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Read more of our stories about FJ’s here…