by Kristen Booth
A SUSPICIOUS fire destroyed the main store in the town of Bluff on Sunday morning, taking some of the town's precious history with it.
Emergency services were called to the Bluff Family Store on Main St at 2.47am following reports of a fire.
On arrival, the structure was well alight. Fire crews fought the blaze for several hours to prevent it spreading to neighbouring buildings.
They extinguished the blaze at about 5am and the extent of the destruction was revealed, with major damage to the interior and exterior of the business.
Current owner of the store, John Parker, said its loss would definitely be felt by the locals.
"It's going to hurt a bit convenience-wise; the closest shops here are Blackwater,” he said.
He and his wife Adelle bought the shop about five years ago when they moved to Bluff for work.
Mr Parker, who now lives near Rockhampton, originally bought the store to give his wife a job while he worked in the mines.
The store was the main stop in the town.
"People from Blackwater used to come out here just to buy a burger for lunch,” he said.
"The town is very fortunate that the fire was confined to where it was.
"I am surprised that the neighbours are still there and the house next door. It's unbelievable.”
Liz McGrath has lived in Bluff for 34 years, and has been an integral part of the Bluff Family Store.
Mrs McGrath was employed by the store owners for at least 12 years and said, throughout that time, she really saw how the store was the cornerstone of the town.
"It was where people met and where you got parcels delivered,” she said.
"It was a drop-off point, it was a meeting point, it was where the kids would come after school to get their 20 cents worth of lollies.
"That will be sadly missed from all the generations that used to visit it - grandfathers down to their children.
"A lot of the newer people in town probably wouldn't have had a lot of the benefit of the shop like the older ones here.
"It used to be a video store, it's a restaurant, it sold fuel, groceries - there were some older people here that used to buy all their groceries from the store.
"You really didn't need to leave town at all.”
Becoming as close as family, Mrs McGrath said it barely felt like going to work, but rather going to a social outing with a group of friends.
"We had awesome customers in general and the people that used to come in were more like friends than customers. It was almost a social outing going to work,” she said.
"The atmosphere there, it was like an old-fashioned family store, it really was, and those of us that ran it were like family. The atmosphere was just awesome.”
Mrs McGrath said the impact of the loss would be huge for the whole community.
"It will be more than people realise.
"For bread and milk, residents now have to do a 42km round trip to Blackwater,” she said.
"Obviously we'll find ways around it, but you'll just have to shop a little differently and, when you run out of Gravox or something like that, there's no racing to the store.
"The town will adapt, but there's a lot of history that will never be seen again, it is gone forever now.”
In recent years, the store undertook major renovations.
Owners found old records, photographs and receipts in the roof, which Mrs McGrath said were then displayed in the shop.
"There was a lot of memorabilia from the old mining days, and there is nowhere else that has that,” she said.
"How fortunate that those surrounding it were saved. It was an incredible fire, and the fact that they saved those surrounding it is a credit to those who were fighting the fire at the time.
"This community is amazing.
"When push comes to shove, they really come together and help each other out.
"I'm very proud of this town. It is a lovely community, and the store really is going to be sorely missed.”
The entire town is feeling the loss of the iconic store, including the teachers from Bluff State School who said when they wanted to have a lunch together, they would usually grab it from the store. This week, they had to drive out to Blackwater to get lunch for everybody.
Police investigations to date suggest that the fire is suspicious and are urging anyone with information to contact them.