The aftermath of the fire that destroyed Reids Department Store (formerly Cribb & Foote Department Store), on the corner of Brisbane and Bell streets, which occurred on August 17, 1985.
The aftermath of the fire that destroyed Reids Department Store (formerly Cribb & Foote Department Store), on the corner of Brisbane and Bell streets, which occurred on August 17, 1985. Lyle Radford

Meet the tradie who rescued city landmark from infamous fire

IN OCTOBER 1985, three glaziers nicknamed Tomo, Zarb and Gonzo scaled 44 concrete steps in a tight spiral staircase carrying fragile pieces of glass and perspex for a repair at the top of the Ipswich Post Office clock tower.

Two months earlier a massive fire destroyed the Reids Department store across the road, an event forever etched in the memories of locals, many of whom witnessed the blaze first-hand.

The fire was so intense it melted the clock face on the northern side of the tower.

The material folded from the top as if it was a Salvador Dali artwork, warping around the hands of the clock and rendering it frozen in time at 2.44am.

 

PROUD: Steve Jones was one of the glaziers from G. James who replaced the glass in the Ipswich post office clock tower after the heat from the Reids fire melted the clockface in 1985.
PROUD: Steve Jones was one of the glaziers from G. James who replaced the glass in the Ipswich post office clock tower after the heat from the Reids fire melted the clockface in 1985. Rob Williams

The glaziers tasked with the repair were from Ipswich business G. James including 19-year-old Steve "Gonzo" Jones who still works for the company.

"The job required us to do the repair internally, which was not an easy thing to do. We had to carry multiple pieces of glass and a single piece of Perspex that was 1.2m in diameter up a spiral staircase that was very, very tight. I have memories of being the guy who had to walk backwards," Mr Jones said.

When they removed the damaged glass from the clockface it gave Mr Jones a unique view of the charred site and it brought back memories of his time spent at the store.

"We used to go into town on a Saturday morning down the steps into the record bar and check out the LPs and singles. They had a good range of everything, hardware downstairs and a cafe upstairs," he said.

Mr Jones is quick to point out his proud work to his wife.

"I drive past saying to my wife 'I remember working on this. Or I did work there' and she'll jokingly say, 'Yes, you've told me, I'm sick of hearing it'," he said.

Mr Jones has worked on many projects over the course of 30 years in the field, and gets great satisfaction knowing he has seen places not everyone has experienced.

"I felt privileged to be able to do that work.

"To experience being inside the clock tower was something special," he said.

So special the three lads from G. James decided to leave more than just the new clockface.

"We saw some of the older scribing on a piece of timber up there written in pencil, so Tomo decided he was going to write our names on it in black Nikko.

"I thought nobody is ever going to give a rat's that we were up here," he said.

 

The signatures left by the G. James crew in the clock tower after they replaced the clockface perspex in 1985.
The signatures left by the G. James crew in the clock tower after they replaced the clockface perspex in 1985. Rob Williams

Although the fire has been described as the moment Ipswich lost its heart, the forthcoming development meant there was plenty of work on for Steve and his crew.

"The fire was a bittersweet moment for our company as we had the contract with Kern so we got a lot of work out of the development afterwards, but it was definitely a sad moment," he said.

"It was a meeting hub for Ipswich, and a huge part of Ipswich history was gone."



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