St John’s orphanage neighbours Ron and Christine McLaughlin are used to cars pulling up near their home, the smashed windows and break-ins opposite.
“It’s been a real nuisance,” Mrs McLaughlin said.
“We believe in conserving heritage so we’ve been absolutely appalled at what has happened...It is not just the fire risk; we have said someone would get killed if they got in there.”
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The McLaughlins counted themselves lucky the wind was blowing in the opposite direction. But for residents in Glebe St it would have been “terrifying,” Mrs McLaughlin said.
Youth With a Mission occupied the building until 2007 but since then the structure had deteriorated, the couple said. Owner John Ferrara should have been made to erect a large mesh fence and warning signs, the couple believed.
Firies had told the McLaughlins they’d devoted 100 hours fighting various blazes at St John’s.
“He (Mr Ferrara) should pay the bill. It’s appalling all that money has gone into firefighting,” she said.
“How many thousands of dollars has it cost to...fight a fire that could have been avoided? It’s obvious to us it is demolition by neglect.”
Many others echoed the same theme. Regardless, Goulburn man Matt Brennan argued the building should be retained.
“Don’t knock it down because it’s a lovely old heritage-listed building. Yes, it has good and bad history...but if the building could talk it would tell you many stories,” he said.
But Mr Brennan believed two fires in two nights was “just ridiculous.”
Glebe Street resident Phil Phelps’ home backs onto the orphanage land. He feared the worst after Thursday night’s blaze.
“I was worried all the time about a second fire,” he said.
“It was so scary; I thought it could spread to my house.”
Mr Phelps has lived in Glebe St for 11 years and said the old orphanage was “intact” when he moved there.
He was an unofficial caretaker, hunting away the ‘constant stream’ of people breaking into the vacant former boys home.
“It’s a shame to see the building go the way it did. It’s Goulburn’s heritage,” he said.
Mundy Street homeowner Christine Hughes first saw the flames erupting at 9.30pm.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening again,” she told The Post.
“...It’s sad to think that such an old building could be vandalised so much. Something should have been done before this.
“It’s (also) sad for the people who lived there. Now they just have the memories.”
Thursday’s fire was a bitter irony for Canberra-based photojournalist Michelle Doherty.
She recently launched her first solo exhibition ‘Old Boys Home’ at the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery. It is a photographic essay about St John’s, a story of “pride, survival and resilience.”
On Thursday, driving home from an artist’s floor talk at the gallery, she knew at once the smoke plumes were coming from the old orphanage.
“I was torn; as a recent photojournalism graduate I was really engaged with the fire and the action around it, but as an artist I have worked hard to move away from the fire story,” Ms Doherty said.
“For me, it has always been about the light, the shadows, the angles and the grace - a home to 2500 boys over 66 years.
“In a somewhat cruel twist, the light that fell on the burning ecclesiastical giant was spectacular. Standing there filming and taking photos, in the place where I fell in love with photography and Goulburn Boys Home, my feelings were somewhere between devastated and mesmerised.
“I watched firefighters racing into the building that gave so many boys a chance to move forward in life.
“As the roof disintegrated and the facade for the first time began to waiver, I was pretty choked up.”