Related: Police investigate arson attack
Police are appealing for information – particularly photographs and videos – after a popular piece of play equipment in Golden Square was “completely destroyed” in a suspected arson attack during the early hours of Sunday morning.
Bendigo Police Acting Sergeant Ian Randall said locals rushed to Cooinda Park shortly after the incident took place at 1.25am.
“There was a loud explosion and witnesses then headed to the scene, where flames were seen coming from the park,” Acting Sergeant Randall said.
Three Country Fire Authority firefighting trucks were called in to contain the blaze.
Police believe it is likely some witnesses may have used their smartphones to capture images and footage of the event, and say it may contain information vital to their investigations.
Bendigonians have taken to social media to vent their anger at the destruction of the popular rainbow slide and City of Greater Bendigo CEO Craig Niemann said he too was “extremely frustrated” by the incident.
But Mr Niemann called for the community to be patient while council replaced the play equipment – which he said could take several months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I’ve been advised that to replace the current equipment and all the soft fall around it and to remove the damaged equipment could cost up to $200,000,” Mr Niemann
“It is a custom made piece of play equipment, it’s not off-the-shelf, it has been made to scale on that site, so we’ll have to go back to where we acquired it from in the first place and see how quickly it can be replaced.
“Clearly we will try to do that as quickly as we can.”
Mr Niemann said the equipment was covered by insurance but council would still need to cover excess and administrative fees.
“There’s a number of costs to the community, there is the cost in terms of the time which they will not be able to use the equipment and the community misses out on enjoy it and there is the financial cost as well,” he said.
“So it’s really frustrating and we understand why the community is so upset about this – they love this playground,” he said.
“From our perspective, one of best things we do as a council is provide great play equipment and the staff really pride themselves on building it, on maintaining it and on watching it being utilised by the community.
“So it is incredibly frustrating, and we’ll do our best to replace it as soon as possible.
Council considers CCTV, beefing up security
Mr Niemann said council would consider beefing up security around the park following the weekend fire – including possibly installing CCTV cameras.
“We hope we won’t have to go down that path, but we’ll have to look at security in general and we’ll be looking to the community, in terms of neighbourhood watch efforts, to keep their eyes and ears open about types of behaviour that shouldn’t happen in public places,” he said.
“We do have CCTV in the CBD where that type of behaviour is more common and it is something we will need to consider in future.
“But [CCTV] comes at a huge cost to set up and to monitor and maintain, so it comes down to a balance in terms of how often incidents are happening and is it a worthwhile investment for the community.”
Community in shock
More than 24 hours after the slide went up in flames, Cooinda Park still reeked of burnt plastic and the community was still in shock over its senseless destruction.
Michael Cason brought his young daughter Charlotte to play in her favourite park at lunchtime on Monday.
“She just bawled her eyes out when she first saw it,” Mr Cason said.
“She’s five now and she’s been coming to this park since day dot – this was supposed to be her big day out.”
Another regular to the park, nine-year-old Lachlan Hulls, has played in the park roughly once a week since moving to Kangaroo Flat with his family five years ago. He was left with different emotions.
“I’m angry,” he said. “It just stinks.”
His mother, Michele, said the the family struggled to believe the news.
“We had to come down here to see it for ourselves,” she said.
“It is just one less thing to do with the kids, one less place to go out and have some fun without having to pay money.”
“It’s such a tragedy,” she said, before muttering the sentiments of many in the community. “Those bastards.”
Police are calling on people who have images or footage of the incident to take it down to the Bendigo Police Station. Anyone can also provide anonymous information via Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.