Sometimes the mission of this blog feels like capturing a snapshot of places before they inevitably succumb to the march of change in one form or another, and occasionally this resembles a race against time. When I read that demolition of the iconic Marine Rescue tower in Ballina was due start in two weeks, it was a case of heading there at the next available opportunity.
Looking like a cross between a mushroom and a 1970s-era aircraft control centre, this white concrete structure was built in 1983 on the northern breakwall of the Richmond River. Its mission was to guide boats through the Ballina Bar, a navigational hazard due to the changing configurations of sandbanks.
Unfortunately the top-heavy design was the building’s undoing. By the late 1990s, a lean had appeared, and over the years this became more evident. Eventually the tower was considered structurally unstable. A few of the volunteers were injured on the steep steps going up to the top level, with the risks exacerbated by the angle of tilt. It was shut in 2015 for reasons of safety.
When the building is viewed from close-up, the lean is easy to miss unless you are looking at it from the right angle. With its Marine Rescue NSW notice and a VMR250 sign leaching rust onto the white concrete, the tower is too modern to exude the romance associated with abandoned places, but there is a hint of a hurried departure. Visible through a locked steel grille door, the floor has two discarded pens, and an abandoned clipboard who hinge has gone rusty due to rain exposure. A hose descends down from the upper level, for an unknown purpose, its bare end exposed on the floor.
Close by, surrounded by fencing, a replacement building is under construction, and is nearly complete. Unlike the old tower’s futuristic design, it looks highly conventional and also structurally sound. In contrast to the white of the tower, shades of grey feature heavily in the new building’s colour scheme.
If the region isn’t careful, it might incrementally lose its quirkiness and uniqueness in favour of a dull homogeneity, eventually noticing that something important has gone missing.