Prospect of Plumb's Chambers being destroyed 'heartbreaking'
WIRE netting on the Plumb's Chambers buildings on Warwick's Palmerin St was once used not to keep pigeons out, but an active toddler's toys in.
Raised in the older of the two buildings from his birth to around the age of 19, John Hill can truly call Plumb's Chambers home, at least for the formative years of his life.
Mr Hill's mother Margaret - but known in Warwick during her life as May - owned the site for many years, living with her son in the top storey of 82 Fitzroy St, the older building, and renting out the rest, including number 84 next door to a myriad of residential and commercial tenants.
Mr Hill contacted the Daily News after we revealed last week that the State Government had issued approval for the demolition of his former home at 82 last December, but without making the decision public or informing the Southern Downs Regional Council.
Rose City Shoppingworld owner the McConaghy Group plan to expand the centre and while the sandstone building at 84 Fitzroy St will remain, 82 stands in he way of a new truck loading bay.
While local heritage campaigners maintain a compromise can be found between the centre expansion and the retention of both buildings, Mr Hill said if the worst were to happen and 82 were lost, he would be heartbroken.
"I sold Plumbs Chambers to the McConaghy Group, but if I'd had the money at the time I would have restored them myself," Mr Hill said.
"Mum still lived there up until a few years ago, but she developed dementia and was losing her eyesight and her hearing it just wasn't practical or safe for her to stay.
"She was a wonderful person - she maintained those buildings for many years, and when I used to come home after I left Warwick I helped with it, whether it be painting or roof repairs and the like.
"Those buildings from the outside are in pretty poor shape these days, but they are actually still very solid.
"I believe they could be fully restored, but obviously that would come at a cost.
"For me it would be very sad to see 82 go.
"I was born in Warwick Hospital in 1957 and 82 is where we lived - once I started crawling as a baby netting was put in to stop me throwing my toys over the veranda and onto the cars parked on the street below."
While a childhood spent in a commercial building is not something many can speak of, Mr Hill, who was schooled at Central SS and Warwick High, said Plumbs was a top spot to grow up.
"Back in those days you could see all the way down Fitzroy St from the veranda," he said.
"You were in walking distance of the main street of town and everything you could possibly want.
"It was a lovely view across Leslie Park as well and at night you see all kinds of local hijinks going on, like the hoons going up and down the street and the drunks staggering home or getting arrested by the police.
"They couldn't see you but you could see them.
"Mum used to feed the possums that climbed up onto the veranda and being an amateur astronomer she spent many a night out there looking up at the night sky."
Mr Hill said his father Jack, an older war veteran, lived in Plumbs for a time and it was while lodging there that loved bloom with his mum.
"Dad was 18 years older than Mum and they met around the piano Mum played when the tenants had singalongs," Mr Hill said.
"My father passed away when I was 18 months old and after that Mum ran the place single-handed.
"I left Warwick when I was 19 for work but I would come back periodically and help her."
May passed away a couple of years ago in a nursing home in Toowoomba, where John lives these days after a lifetime spent driving heavy machinery, for the last 17 years with Toowoomba's council.
"I still get back to Warwick now and then and going past Plumbs really brings back a childhood of memories for me," he said.
He said the Plumbs buildings had been the home of countless Warwick businesses over the years, like Theo Cantor and other clothing merchants, James Plumb the bootmaker, law firms, stationers, real estate agents and furniture retailers, along with the old SGIO.
"Woolworths tried a few times to buy the place from mum but her response was always no," Mr Hill said.
"After mum left the police talked about buying or renting 84 for extra offices but it never went anywhere.
"Both of those buildings really are part of Warwick."