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‘Sad loss for the community’: Icon gone as fire destroys roadhouse

‘Sad loss for the community’: Icon gone as fire destroys roadhouse END OF AN ERA: The Rock Roadhouse being examined by fire inspectors. The steel structure of the shell can be seen after the fire.
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DESTROYED: Contractors put up fencing around the damaged roadhouse.

UP IN FLAMES: Fire engulfed the building on Tuesday night. The structure was believed to be covered in fibreglass.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: A chance to visit the Harbour Bridge and Uluru side by side. As Mike and Mal Leyland bumped their way across the most desolate parts of Australia, an idea germinated. They had beamed images of some of the most desolate parts of the Outback into millions of homes through their television shows, Ask The Leyland Brothers. Off The Beaten Track and Wheels Across the Wilderness. Now it was time for a section of those millions of viewers to visit and experience some of the remote parts of Australia – but just a stone’s throw up the Pacific Highway from Newcastle. That was the birth of Leyland Brothers World. Picture: September 02, 1990 – Fairfax Media

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Mal and Mike Leyland on Rajah the camel at ‘Ayers Rock Roadhouse’. Picture: Fairfax Media

TweetFacebookIT was an icon of the Pacific Highway but on Wednesday morning, the famous Rock Roadhouse at North Arm Cove was just a charred shell.

A massive fire on Tuesday night ripped through the service station, which is best known for the replica Uluru structure built by the Leyland brothers as part of an amusement park in the late 80s.

And the morning after, as contractors installed temporary fencing around the site and emergency service personnel assessed the damage, travellers and locals gathered to view the damage.

DESTROYED: Contractors put up fencing around the damaged roadhouse.

Len Roberts said it was a “sad loss for the community”.

“I think people will drive by and sort of be grieving,” said the Tea Gardens resident and Mid Coast councillor.

“I couldn’t believe the spread of it on Facebook and the amount of people who came out to see it [burn].

“While it was a common reminder for tourists, for the locals it was really about identity. When you see The Rock, people say ‘we’re home’ …it was a real marker and sense of place.”

Cr Roberts was among those who raced to the site after hearing it was on fire, saying it “went up like a cardboard box”.

He recalled the construction ofthe replica structure, which opened in 1990as part of the Leyland Brothers World theme park.

UP IN FLAMES: Fire engulfed the building on Tuesday night. The structure was believed to be covered in fibreglass.

The park stretched across 40 hectares and had amusement rides, a playground, museum and bush camp.

“I remember it being built stage by stage,” Cr Roberts said.“Anyone in the town when this was being built, The Rock and the Leyland brothers werereally part of the ethos of the town.

“Many a child in Tea Gardens grew up with The Rock.”

The service station’s shop, a subway restaurant and a take away shop –all part of the iconic Uluru building – were all gutted.

The site’s fuel pumps and a gas tank were not damaged in the fire, which police say is not suspicious.

Subway franchisee and former service station operator, Puneet Bhalla, said he got a call from staff when the fire took hold and rushed from his home at Tea Gardens.

READ MORE:The Rock Roadhousehas been gutted by fire

END OF AN ERA: The Rock Roadhouse being examined by fire inspectors. The steel structure of the shell can be seen after the fire.

“I got a call from my employee, she said ‘The Rock’s on fire, The Rock’s on fire,” said Mr Bhalla, whoarrived shortlyafter and watched his workplace of more thannine years go up in flames.

“I was more worried about my staff member, because I couldn’t see her.

“I asked her if she was OK, gave her hug and told her to go home –take it easy.

“I stayed here for a couple of hours and looked at it.”

Mr Bhalla said it was a difficult couple of hours spent reflecting on the timeand pondering his future.

“It’s like your house is on fire,” he said. “I cried a bit.

READ MORE:’Fake Uluru’ near Karuah goes up in flames (Editorial)

“There’s lots of memories, the servo was my first business.It’s devastating, it’s my livelihood.”

Mr Bhalla said the Subway company would try to absorb his six staff at other restaurants if possible.

Jeffery Crowe, of Tea Gardens, said he helped pourThe Rock’s slab in 1989.

“I was in there concreting when the Newcastle earthquake hit,” Mr Crowe said.

“We couldn’t get the concrete in from Tea Gardens because they lost power. We sat there waiting for more trucks but they never came.”

More than 300 kids arrived to visit The Great Aussie Bush Camp on Wednesday, but there was no hope of seeing the roadside landmark theirparents mayhave told them of – theywere greeted by a burnt out structure that resembled a tangled web.

A camp official said it was “lucky” the adjacent camp was vacant on Tuesday evening.

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