Thank you, arsonist

We all need a Big Fear in our lives: fear of going to Hell, fear of nuclear armageddon, fear of fundamentalists with backpack bombs. Fear is a great motivating force.

As a young lad in Seventies Britain the Big Fear was the nuclear clock, ticking away at three minutes to midnight, ably supported by another fear that started with the Irish Republican Army’s mainland bombing campaign around 1973. Those bombs were terrible things but (and this is a contentious argument) they were a contributing factor in bringing the British Government to the negotiating table. While PMs of all shades publicly stated that they’d never deal with terrorists there was behind-the-scenes movement; and every time these talks stalled or faltered, a bomb in a British shopping centre would quickly restart the talks.

I thought of this in the to and fro that followed the arson attack on the old Gas and Coke building.

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Or that should be “arson attacks”. The first one, the one that we all feared had destroyed the beautiful old Thomas Pepper-designed administration building, turned out to be in the rather scummy wash-up building behind it.

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This building has been in the process of falling to pieces for some time, with most of the roof letting in the weather, and the interior generally trashed.

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It’s long been the haunt of squatters and folk in need of a quick shelter.

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The first fire took out the eastern-most two-thirds of the building but left the final third (nearest Clyde Street) intact. This final third had a quite cosy set up by someone, much more so than the usual mess of damp mattress, filthy sleeping bag and the trash of daily living. It was this part of the building that went up in the second fire. Which makes me tend to think that this was perhaps the work of some street beef; someone was cranky with someone else and, after the first attempt failed, went back to finish the job of messing with someone else’s life.

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The response from Jemena (the site’s owners) after the first fire was mainly the stock responses that organisations make when they’re not entirely sure what to do and they haven’t been given any information from head office. (The spokesperson who responded to ABC 1233 Radio was from the Sydney office; the action really happens in Melbourne.) But after the second fire things really started moving.

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The now completely gutted and derelict wash-up building is fenced off. I imagine they’re just waiting to get hold of an asbestos contractor to remove the roof tiles before razing it.

The Pepper building was also the subject of frenzied activity, some of it on the interior but most of it to make the exterior secure.

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In the absence of any actual maintenance work for some time this is in fact a good thing. At least it can’t get trashed any further.

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So for this at least I say, “Thank you, Mister Arsonist”. (Okay, it may have been a female arsonist, but I’m going to take a punt on that.)

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There’s been work on the wider site too, with the fire-hazard grass having been slashed and some repair work to the chain-link fence (again). I’m not entirely optimistic about the Pepper building’s future, but things aren’t going backwards.

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(And I suppose I must note here that, no, I don’t condone arson, the IRA, terrorism etc. etc. etc.)

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