IT was a delicate operation, but it all went like clockwork when a huge crane lifted two priceless bronze bells out of the belltower of the Saint Michael and Saint John Catholic Cathedral early yesterday morning.
They are now going to be prepared for a journey by ship halfway across the world to either England or Belgium, where they will be restored to their former glory.
Yesterday’s exercise is just one more task in the ongoing restoration of the historic building, which is expected to cost about $3 million and be completed in time for the Cathedral’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2015.
Supervising proceedings was Rylstone-based stonemason Ron Lodewijks, who is in charge of the restoration works.
He was a relieved man when both the bells landed safely on the back of his truck, with the larger of the pair then moved into the foyer of the Cathedral for display before being sent away for repairs next February.
The first thing Mr Lodewijks did was brush the dust off the bells to see just how old they are.
“Well, it looks like the larger one was made in 1858 and the smaller one a few years later in 1861,” he said. “They’re made of bronze and you could say they are priceless. The larger bell has a hairline crack running all the way down it and there’s a chunk off the bottom of the smaller bell.
“And they’re not light. The big one comes in at 2.3 tonne and the smaller one at just under a tonne. There’s 1300 kilograms difference between the two and that’s because the bigger bell is very thick.
“It’s also interesting to see the bells were held on the Australian hardwood headstock only by two steel pins.”
Diocesan financial administrator Patrick Cooper was also on hand yesterday to watch proceedings.
He said they are waiting for two quotes before they decide which foundry will get the job to repair the bells.
“We expect the bells will be gone for about six months and we hope to have them back for the cathedral’s 150th anniversary in 2015,” Mr Cooper said. “One thing we would really love to be able to do with the restoration work is to be able to find money that isn’t in the $3 million budget to purchase another peel of eight smaller bells to go in the belltower under the two big bells.
“However, that would mean we would have to come up with about another $150,000 as part of our restoration appeal. That would give the city three complete, fully working belltowers with us, the Carillon and All Saints’ Cathedral.”
Mr Cooper said they also have a vision to replace the belltower with a spire which was on the original plans for the Cathedral, but this did not eventuate due to lack of funds when the building was first constructed.
He also noted that many people believe the restoration is going very slowly because scaffolding has been up at the Cathedral for the past seven months.
“We actually bought the scaffolding because it worked out cheaper than hiring it,” Mr Cooper said. “It’s there so the builders could check the job out and give us a quote, which was won by Mr Lodewijks.
“Once work starts the scaffolding will be beefed right up by inserting ladder beams. This will enable a winch to be put in so the big lumps of stone can be lifted into place.”