By Kyra Gillespie
The future of Officer’s historic James Hicks Pottery is up in the air after the heritage listed kiln suffered storm damage on Tuesday 20 November.
The tin roof and metal structure surrounding the iconic brick chimney at 335 Princes Highway, Officer, blew right off and blocked traffic for an amount of time during yesterday’s afternoon storm.
Officer Fire Brigade Captain, Justin Van Den Broek, said three units from the Officer, Pakenham and Beaconsfield brigades responded to the incident.
“The roof came right off and blew onto the highway. We had to cut one of the lanes down for ten minutes or so while we dragged it off,” Mr Van Den Broek said.
“The brickwork is still intact but it’s not looking too pretty at the moment.
“If we get a few more windy days I’m not sure how well it would go. It would be a real shame if it had to get knocked down because it’s been around forever in Officer.”
The structure was once part of a bustling terracotta manufacturing complex associated with brick-making, pipe-making and pottery construction from the post-First World War era.
Annette Aldersea’s family owned the kiln for generations; her great great grandfather ran the first brick, clay and tile operations in the early 1900s.
Developer giant Parklea now has ownership of it.
“The tin is not part of the heritage listing, but the kiln and chimney must be protected,” Ms Aldersea said.
“The current owner needs to put something in place to protect it, and the council should take steps to make sure that happens.
“It’s a significant landmark; it’s not just part of my own family’s history but many families in the area had relatives employed there when it was in operation – particularly during the Depression. It’s got cultural as well as industrial history.
“There’s really nothing left of old Officer, which is why it’s vitally important that this site is retained.”
In 2017 council issued a permit for the use of the land for a restaurant and access to the Princess Highway.
As of their meeting in June this year no works permit has been sought.
“I’d be very happy to see it incorporated into a restaurant or café – that would be really beautiful. Commercially you couldn’t ask for anything better; money can’t buy that sort of thing,” Ms Aldersea said.
“My biggest fear is that they will let it go to ruin and claim demolition by neglect; if something is ignored for long enough it can be demolished, even if it is heritage listed.
“The council has a duty to the community to make sure they look after it. It tells a story about our past.”
Cardinia Shire Mayor Cr Graeme Moore vowed council will do everything they can to secure the site.
“It’s very disappointing to see; we’re looking at where to go from here and how we can assist to get the site secured,” Cr Moore said.
Parklea Sales and Marketing Manager Jarod Mills is confident that the brickwork can be retained.
“The damage onsite appears to be limited to the shed; the brick work and the chimney are at this stage intact,” Mr Mills said.
“We have a development manager on site working with a number of consultants and contractors to make sure that it’s safe, council are abreast on the detail.”
Mr Mills said works on the proposed restaurant are still a long way off.
“A permit was issued by council in September last year to use the land for a restaurant, but limited progress has occurred since then. The proposed restaurant integrates the brick kiln and the chimney, even to the extent the brick kiln becomes a wine room,” he said.
“Civil works will commence on Timbertop East in the coming months however we cannot provide any insight when works will progress around the kiln and associated restaurant proposed. The civil works must be completed prior to any building works on the subject allotment”
“When the restaurant permit is progressed, we need to engage an operator that is equipped with the skills to develop such a unique site, such as the heritage element.”