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Bluestone blocks reveal

Last week we explored the controversy and "blame games" when the Ballan Shire Hall was in such disrepair that it required a re-build. 

Plans were drawn up and tenders were submitted. Rigorous debate surrounded the most suitable location for the new hall. Once the dust had settled and the new building opened, the materials for the original building we dumped and forgotten about until a most unfortunate incident brought the bluestone back to life!

Lunchtime, Saturday 26 January 1901. A devastating fire destroyed John Foley’s Plough Inn Hotel at Myrniong, along with the out-houses and 12-stall stables, which is where the fire was alleged to have started.

Reports indicate that an “unhinged tramp” was seen loitering about the stables and possibly knocked over an oil lamp which quickly ignited, resulting in the enormous blaze. Two valuable horses belonging to Mr Tracey, and the pigs in the sty, were all roasted.

The weatherboard hotel was connected to these outbuildings. Strong winds, compounded by the lack of water, prevented any chance of extinguishing the blaze. The Myrniong store and post-office, located directly opposite the Hotel, was threatened with ignition due to the flames licking halfway across the road.

The property was razed to the ground within half an hour. A few prized possessions were bravely saved, namely Mrs Foley’s piano, some furniture and £5 of liquor. The community rallied, offering John the Mechanics’ Insitute to store what possessions he had managed to rescue. The irony of nature was not lost on the day with a heaving downpour later in the afternoon extinguishing any expectation of fire spreading to the surrounding paddocks.

The loss was devastating for the Foleys as they had no insurance. However, John Foley was not going down easily. Within 6 weeks he was lobbying the Shire President to purchase the old Shire Hall building materials for £50. The high regard that John enjoyed in his community encouraged the Shire to accept his offer, even though it was £30 shy of their valuation. (Also, John’s offer was the highest bid they had received, so their kindness was also motivated by fiscal returns! Three months earlier, the offer for the materials was a miserly £20.) The conditions of sale were drawn up, with payment required in cash.

Council’s philanthropic arm did not extend far! Within 4 months, John was begging with Council to waive his stone-weighing charge of 2 shillings per load due to it being a “serious drawback” financially for him. He argued that since the stone had been purchased from the Council, a rebate should be allowed (similar to the recent re-launch of the “cash for cans” program). The Council Engineer indicated that there were a “good many tons” of stone, to which a Councillor responded that this was a matter of “private business” (between Foley and the Council). Foley was instructed to pay the usual charge and to apply for a rebate afterwards.

By early September of the same year, John had made such good progress on the rebuild of his Plough Inn Hotel that he anticipated it to be completed within weeks. The new hotel, with its bluestone walls, was glowingly admired as presenting “a most handsome building, and will greatly improve the appearance of the township”.

And, 123 years on, The Plough maintains her beauty!


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