All words, no funding, for the Fletcher Jones story

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fletcher jones picnic
Just like old times: the Fletcher Jones gardens came to life at the recent spring picnic, under the watchful eye of the silver ball. The next challenge is to preserve the Fletcher Jones stories.

OPINION – Carol Altmann

If there was any doubt as to how much the Fletcher Jones Pleasant Hill site in Warrnambool means to locals, the recent spring picnic has laid it to rest.

Around 1500 people flocked to the gardens last weekend to wander among the market stalls, listen to the music, stretch out on the grass and – like so many thousands of children and adults before them – take pleasure in the many garden delights that Sir Fletcher Jones created in his factory grounds.

Cr Jacinta Ermacora has leapt on this huge wave of support to announce today in the local newspaper that she thought it was “time to tell the Fletcher Jones story”, and a meeting would be held shortly between all of the interested parties to work out how this could be done.

What Cr Ermacora failed to mention, or was not reported, was that the council was first asked to collect these stories way back in 2002, when it was a key recommendation in a report it commissioned into the future of the Fletcher Jones site.

What has been done by anyone on the council since then?

Absolutely nothing.

Thousands of stories make up the fabric of the Fletcher Jones story, which is still yet to be documented from a social history perspective. Image: Save the Silver Ball and Fletcher Jones Gardens Facebook page.
Thousands of stories make up the fabric of the Fletcher Jones story, which is still yet to be documented from a social history perspective. Image: Save the Silver Ball and Fletcher Jones Gardens Facebook page.


There is also a vast amount of precious Fletcher Jones memorabilia cast about Warrnambool, with some in History House, some at The Artery, and some in people’s private homes, that needs to be collated, assessed and preserved for future installations.

What has any council member done about that so far?

Absolutely nothing.

In the interim, as people age, and pass away, the stories are being lost and the memorabilia is getting harder to trace (and let’s not forget that many items ended up in a skip bin when the site was first sold by the council in 2005, only to be retrieved by artists).

This is why a small group of people, led by Julie Eagles from the Warrnambool Planning and Heritage Group, has been asking the council for months whether there is any funding set aside in this year’s budget to at least start the process of gathering these stories.

It was hard to get a clear reply.

Bluestone got a reply on Thursday and this is it in full:

“We have no funding specifically allocated to telling the story of Fletcher Jones in this year’s budget.

However, the history of Fletcher Jones and other elements that tell the story of Warrnambool will be on the table when the time comes to look at public art as part of the city centre renewal.

Once we have the foundation stage of the renewal plan completed – which addresses issues including accessibility and mobility – we’ll be engaging the community in a discussion on public art.” – Nick Higgins, Manager Communications.

So how much funding is there for the Fletcher Jones story project?

Absolutely nothing.

The stories behind working for Fletcher Jones are yet to be captured.

By contrast, Melbourne University has already started work on collating and recording the business story behind Fletcher Jones and Melinda Barrie, from this project, has shown a willingness to work with local groups to capture the local stories.

It is embarrassing, to say the least, that a Melbourne institution has been more motivated and excited by our local, contemporary history than our own council.

And by contrast to the council’s inertia on what we might call the whole Fletcher Jones package – the stories, the site, the potential – last Sunday’s picnic was a triumph of what can be done through hard work, passion and belief.

Not only did it showcase the magnificent efforts of resident gardener Lex Caldwell and his team of volunteers who have kept the gardens alive, but it was a celebration for all those other volunteers who believed that the best parts of this iconic site were worth saving.

Those who pressed hardest to keep Pleasant Hill on the public radar – Julie Eagles, The F Project arts collective, us here at Bluestone Magazine, and the consequent Save the Silver Ball and Fletchers Gardens Facebook page started by Tonia Wilcox – all did so without any official backing.


The annual Fletcher Jones Christmas parties were legendary in the 1960s and 70s. A little of that feeling will be revived next month. Image: Courtesy of Lost Warrnambool.
The annual Christmas party picnic was a highlight of the Fletcher Jones calendar. Plans are afoot to bring them back again, albeit in a revised version. Image: Courtesy of Lost Warrnambool.


Similarly, the spring picnic was organised within weeks by The F Project/The Artery without a cent of funding and relied heavily on volunteers who pulled it all together – people like Dr Emma Charlton, Megan Nicolson, Des and Helen Bunyon, Ruby Richardson, Danielle O’Brien, the Factory Arts crew, Julie Eagles – the same names that keep coming up time after time and who continue to make exciting things happen around the city.

They don’t sit around waiting for others to do something: they just get on with it.

The F Project, for its efforts, made less than $400 on the day from a raffle, but it was never about raising money. It was all about bringing life back to the gardens through the arts, but you can’t keep expecting volunteers to do all the heavy lifting.

And so it is with the capturing of the Fletcher Jones stories.

The funding is there: it’s just how the council chooses to spend it. 

It recently found $10,000 on short notice for the Oddball movie, and another $3 million of state and council funds are about to be plunged into sound and light shows at Flagstaff Hill.

So unless Cr Ermacora can come to the meeting armed with a firm proposal for council funding, it is nothing more than hollow words on the back of very successful picnic and that – unlike a pair of Fletcher Jones’ scissors on the factory floor – just won’t cut it.


12 thoughts on “All words, no funding, for the Fletcher Jones story”

  1. (edited) What this project needs is a Councillor(s) who believe in the project, are not afraid to make a commitment and will follow through to achieve some assistance/funding.

  2. Dad worked there for 51 years and its sad that he has now gone and can’t share the stories he experienced while working there as a young lad at 14 through to retirement at 65… It would be great if the history of this place can be gathered for the years to come and the generations who won’t have had someone in their family work at Fletcher Jones.

  3. You want the story told, then when someone on council is prepared to sit down and discuss it and potentially fight for funding, you cut them down.

    Perhaps once it’s figured out how the story is to be told, with a clear plan and costings, council will find money.

    I’m not expecting this post to be approved, because it doesn’t fit into the circlejerk of ego stroking this “magazine” seems to be all about.

    1. Bluestone reports facts. That is why many comments are positive. Bluestone is giving us information that should be available to us in the pages of our local newspaper. Sadly, all I ever learn from the Standard is political spin.

  4. The most important aspect here is to DOCUMENT THE STORIES BEFORE IT REALLY IS TOO LATE.

    I understand searching for and compiling the stories will take dedication and time.
    Has anyone started to do it?
    Perhaps it could be a group effort.
    Waiting for funding might be a lengthy process. If, and when it does come, the funding could be used for production etc.

  5. Perhaps a Fletcher Jones’. Recording booth. to be set up where people could go and sit and record their memory or story?
    ( there was someone in ‘Bool that made a Tardis??? perhaps a Fletcher Jones equivalent with a small ball on top could be created?) Perhaps one of the banks or pubs might come on board for some funding? Another public place library, SWTAFE or one of the galleries could host the booth. It could be rotated over two years around to Bowling clubs, aged care, shopping centres …. I would be really happy to take it around ( in my ute 🙂 There is probably simpler ways but I just like the idea of accessibility and some momentum perhaps could come from groups actually requesting the FJBooth to come to their location. Maybe even venues like Archie Graham may capture names and book the booth? Gosh it was great to see so many people there. Really lovely.

  6. Just another thought…If the FJ venue became a regular Spring/ Summer ‘picnic day’ perhaps other potential volunteers could be invited so it doesn’t burden the same people doing everything Eg A sausage sizzle and/ or ice- cream stand perhaps could be run by the Brownies/ Girl Guides, Scouts, Red Cross and any other service groups or business groups and in the spirit of FJ they could raise and share some profit towards the FJ project. Or the picnics could be themed……Teddy Bear picnic could work as well!
    $1:00 entry for each Bear but children & adults free! Obviously a plan needs to happen. I think FJ spirit is alive and well and there are so many people that would probably loved to be involved but are just not sure what they can do……but many did ‘turn up’ which was a marvellous start!!!!! Thankyou to the organisers!

  7. Sorry!

    Final thought…..
    FJ created fair employment and cared about the wellbeing of staff.
    The garden is a place of beauty and inspiration. Welcoming, relaxing …walking through provides a sense of calm. He very much admired Toyohiko Kagawa and his “Brotherhood economics” – which is gaining some renewed interest and perhaps some explanation of that model of business could be of interest and benefit. Toyohiko also wrote prolifically on many topics including poetry.

    “Slum Evening”
    By Toyohiko Kagawa

    I walk the bright, hot streets,
    And suddenly the sunshine shows
    How soiled my sleeve is.

    When the evening comes,
    Tired, oh, so tired,
    I wander home
    To an empty home
    To an empty house;
    No one to greet me here.

    An so,
    I drop down
    On the sill
    To watch the sunset.

    My sick neighbor there,
    The one shoes head is stiff upon his neck,
    Boils me some gruel,
    And come bringing it.

    I watch men thronging home,
    No work to do,
    They idle all day long,
    Day after day.
    Slowly the sun goes down.
    Rice gruel and dried plums,
    The gruel is thin and white,
    The plums blood-red.

    I eat;
    Night falls
    I throw myself
    Down on my bed….

    Magnificent poem – encompasses all senses.
    Perhaps an evening honouring
    Toyohiko Kagawa

    Japanese banquet
    Poetry readings
    Examples of Brotherhood economics and how to apply them to emerging or current organisations????

    1. Peta, I like the way you are thinking. I hope you have made your ideas available to all our councillors who in turn advise those in the town hall how we would like our city to evolve.

  8. Great article Carol. Cr Ermacora was just after some easy publicity but will she follow up on the matter? I remember the article when Cr Ermacora first announced she was standing for parliament. It was full of spin but no substance. We need a completely new council to address the issues that are important to Warrnambool.

    1. I could not agree with you more, Jan. I have heard Councillor Ermacora at council meetings. If only more people would find the time to attend open council meetings, people would soon be in a position to know how shallow most of our councillors really are. (Edited by moderator).

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