Don’t drop the ball on FJ’s silver icon

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julie eagles
And up it goes…the Fletcher Jones silver ball (which is not looking quite so silver) is carefully placed onto its tripod. The ball has watched over Warrnambool for more than 45 years. Image supplied by: Julie Eagles.


OPINION – Carol Altmann

[box] The campaign to restore the Fletcher Jones silver ball is gathering pace, amid questions of whether it is still structurally safe. The group working to save the ball held its first think-tank last week to map out a strategy.[/box]


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] I [/dropcap] want to offer some words of reassurance about Warrnambool’s iconic Fletcher Jones silver ball: it will not suddenly topple off its perch and roll down Lava St.

Ralph Jones, an engineer and the son of Sir Fletcher, was much smarter than that. He made sure that the water tower not only looked fabulous, but was engineered to withstand Warrnambool’s excoriating weather.

According to those who worked on the ball, it sways a few centimetres in the wind and this is not a bad thing, as it means it bends to weather, rather than chests it like a brick wall.

The ball also has legs that extend into the silver ball itself (see photo above), and this means it can’t roll away unless all three pylons were rusted through and, as of its last thorough inspection in 2010, there was no suggestion of this being even remotely close.

Now that we have cleared that up, the question remains as to why this magnificent, retro, visionary and unique piece of industrial art that has watched over Warrnambool and welcomed its visitors since 1967, is being left to rust.


fj ball kate maree
The campaign to preserve the silver ball has prompted some wonderful images of the structure, including this one by Kate-Maree Jackway.


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] D [/dropcap]espite being heritage listed for its local and state significance, the job of caring for the silver ball has fallen into the too-hard basket all because its most recent owner, Ian Ballis, went into receivership in 2012.

The financial misfortune of just one man has been enough to throw the future of an iconic Warrnambool landmark into jeopardy.

There was no plan B.

The ball is not about to topple over, but it does need annual inspections and on-going repairs, as required, to keep it from rusting in Warrnambool’s sea air. It has also not been painted for many, many years.

Given how shabby it looks these days, no wonder some people consider it an eyesore and question whether it is worth saving.

But the Save the Silver Ball and Fletcher Jones Gardens group thinks differently.


gordon baldwin
Another perspective, this time by Gordon Baldwin, shot through the Robert Ulmann sculpture that pays tribute to Sir Fletcher Jones.


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] T [/dropcap]his motivated bunch of people know that if the silver ball is removed, Warrnambool will lose an irreplaceable part of its skyline and its social heart.

The group held a think-tank last Thursday to brainstorm ideas to save the ball and a lot of the discussion was around how much it would cost to maintain each year, where to find a crane for the work, and how to raise funds for all of these things.

In trying to answer these questions, it is worth looking back at recent history.

The Warrnambool City Council owned the Fletcher Jones site from 1992 to 2007 and, I presume, had a maintenance plan in place for the ball during those 15 years. How much did this cost and what work was involved? Could it continue this work if the community helped to off-set some of the expense, as is happening with the $4 million redevelopment of the Reid Oval football park?

There is a precedent with the Fletcher Jones silver ball for such an arrangement.


amy fitzgibbon
This image, supplied by Amy Fitzgibbon, shows workers pulling up the illuminated cross for the festive season. Vertigo? What vertigo?


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] A [/dropcap]fter the site was sold to Ian Ballis in 2007, the council continued to pay for the illuminated cross to be hoisted onto the silver ball each Christmas up until 2010, when the cross was removed completely.

For those three years, Keppel Prince Engineering donated the use of a crane, so perhaps Keppel Prince would consider donating a crane again for annual inspections and maintenance work?

And maybe Hammonds Paints, Ponting Bros or even Bunnings might consider subsidising the cost of the paint and other materials?

If one thing is certain, it is the ball will only be saved through creative – not mainstream – solutions.

The Save the Silver Ball group is already working on ideas for a public fundraising campaign and a spring picnic. I really like the idea of a reviving an annual Christmas picnic in the fabulous Pleasant Hill gardens, with food, musicians, market stalls and a treasure hunt for the kids, with a portion of the proceeds to go toward annual maintenance of the ball.


butter nutz
The silver ball can be seen for miles around Warrnambool, including from above Lyndoch. Image by Butter Nutz.


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] A [/dropcap]nd then there is crowd-sourcing through online fundraising sites like Pozible, where author Regina Lane recently raised $15,000 in a matter of months to write the story of Saving St Brigid’s at Crossley.

If we can find $4 million for an upgrade of a football oval, and $2 million for steeplechase horse racing in Warrnambool, surely we can’t give up on the silver ball because it might cost 10, 20 or even 30 thousand dollars a year to maintain?

The greatest travesty would be to see the ball pulled down because of a perceived lack of money: what is lacking is not money, but positive, creative thinking and a large dose of motivation.

And the Save the Silver Ball group has this in spades.

Far from giving up, as our local newspaper appears to suggest we do, the fight has only just begun because the silver ball does not belong to Ian Ballis, or the council, or the State Government or Heritage Victoria – it belongs to all of us and we each need to do what we can, however small, to help keep the ball in the air.


The iconic silver ball is far from a write off, but needs an ongoing commitment by the community to keep it in the air.

[box] Bluestone Magazine is committed to the campaign to save the best of the Fletcher Jones site. Please join the 500-plus people at the Save the Silver Ball and Fletcher’s Gardens Facebook page to be part of this effort. [/box]


 newsletter Eat And Drink Stones You might also enjoy ….

Mini FJ’s silver ball to shine again for festival

Fletcher Jones site taken off the market 

The Save Fletcher Jones campaign

Close Flagstaff Hill; save Fletcher Jones

Fabrication: Flaunting Fletcher


11 thoughts on “Don’t drop the ball on FJ’s silver icon”

  1. I’m not really sure how you draw from
    that editorial The Standard is giving up. It says exactly the same thing as you do here. The site is tangled in a mess of red tape, and unless someone stands up and buys the site, there is nothing that can be done. It’s the truth.

    A Facebook page is all well and good, but clicking the like button and the forgetting about it, which lets be honest- most people do and have done, 500+ likes and only a handful of regular la contribute to that page. It’s not going to solve anything.

    Bluestone Magazine is a great place for informative pieces about south-west people and thought provoking opinion pieces. But I’m afraid it’s fast becoming a vehicle to bash the opposition, through said opinion pieces and the comments forum.

    The Standard did three well brilliantly and well presented articles about the situation recently, but there is absolutely no mention of them here.

    All the best with the campaign, and I really hope that something can be done when the time comes.

    1. Hi Joseph, thanks for being part of an important debate and your positive feedback on what we do.
      Just in response to your last comments, however, when we refer to the local paper, we always give it full credit (via hyperlinks) to their stories, even though this is not done in return.
      An example is when we broke the story about Fletcher Jones being taken off the market and this was followed up by the paper the next day, with no mention of us.
      This is how the industry can work sometimes.
      But more importantly, the local paper did not start to write about the future of the site and the silver ball until very recently and well after we had already written several pieces on the issue.
      Indeed, I wrote a comment piece (Feb 2) that asked why they had not done so, given its significance to Warrnambool and the paper’s ability to take this on as a campaign.
      Far from bashing the opposition (or bashing anyone for that matter!) we are about generating debate, offering an alternative point of view and, where we can, holding others to account: just as we expect others will hold us to account.
      I am sure that after 140 years of existence, the paper can withstand a bit of Bluestone nipping at its heels when necessary.

      1. Oh of course, I just feel as though there is a lot of negativity around this.

        I’m just wondering have you approached the paper to see if it’s possible to work on something together? A cross-media campaign, with the radio included could be very effective.

        I see The Standard and Bluestone as having two very different, yet complimentary roles. Roles they both fufuil to the best of their ability in my opinion.

        I agree they have been slow when it comes to reporting on the problems with the silver ball, but then is there anything new to report? At the moment I don’t think there is, they are, after all, a Newspaper, and the key to news is it being new. The articles I mentioned in my previous post did a great job of outlining the situation as it stands.

        Bluestone has the opportunity to look at things a little bit differently, and are doing that role beautifully.

        The Standard have a strong history of supporting the community, take a look at Peter’s Project, the 4bryn appeal and even as far back as the push to get a rescue helicopter based in the region. I’m sure once the ball is deemed to be under immediate threat, they will act. At the moment though this is an idle situation, with the same information going around in circles.

        I really hope this doesn’t sound like I’m defending The Standard, that wasn’t my intention, like all media organisations, including Bluestone, they have their faults. But don’t we all, we are human after all.

        What I’m trying to say is fair and constructive critisism is healthy, I just hope it doesn’t become an “us and them” type situation, because that won’t solve anything.

        1. Also a quick search of The Standard website shows they a have been reporting on the issue from as far back 2012 and even further. councillor Kylie Gaston was reported as saying in 2012 it needs to be saved. But even back then it was a case of who is responsible, very similar to now.

          1. Hi Joseph,
            We could chat all day about the role of the media and how it all works, but at the end of the day, a daily newspaper does much more than just report news: the campaigns you mention are fine examples of just that.
            My point has been not that the paper has not reported on it at all – of course it has – but that it has not taken it up as a campaign, when it has all the resources to do so. (And the editorial I mention in this piece is an example of that: waiting for a ‘white knight’ is not the answer, in my opinion. We need to get behind this as a community and support grassroots action, just as has happened with Peter’s Project.)
            The really great thing, however, is that we are now talking about it, we are debating it, we are throwing ideas around…..fantastic!!

        2. see my response above/below, Joseph…but waiting until the ball is under immediate threat before taking any action is not, in my view, how to approach a community based campaign. Usually, when it gets to that point, the only action is pulling it down! I think we all agree that we can do better than that.

  2. Great article Carol, with the facts laid out simply and precisely for all to access. Thank-you

  3. Hi Carol, looking to get in contact with you and Amy Fitzgibbon, our grandfather used to put the cross up on the silver ball every Easter. It would be great to have some more information about the photo you featured? Thanks.

    1. Hi Jess – Are you on Facebook by any chance? If so, click on the links in this story to the Facebook page for Save the Silver Ball and Fletcher Jones Gardens, join the group, and you will be able to connect with Amy and see other shots of the cross being put up on to the ball: plus an array of amazing FJs images. Let me know if you have any trouble and I will try another way of putting you two in touch. Cheers!

  4. Good to see that the site has now been sold and that restoration work will be undertaken after engineering reports.

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