AFTER 15 years at the bottom of a Mount Gambier sinkhole, the statue of a ram has been brought to the surface by cave divers to be reunited with its rightful owner.
The ram had been the only one missing among a flock of 10 identical statues perched high on individual columns of the historic Woollen Mills building on Harrald Street.
The building was erected in the early 1920s and has been a feature of the Blue Lake city ever since.
Limestone Coast Pantry is now based at the premises and co-owner and local identity Jim Galpin was flabbergasted when he received a call from Victoria-based cave diver Gary Barclay last Saturday telling him “we’ve found your sheep”.
“I really couldn’t believe my ears and immediately phoned the co-owners to let them know,” Mr Galpin, 83, told The Border Watch.
“I can’t thank the Cave Divers Association of Australia enough for their generosity and for surprising me with the good news.
“I wanted to pay them for their trouble, but they refused.”
Mr Barclay said he and fellow CDAA instructor Linda Claridge have been pointing out the ram to cave diving students for around 15 years.
“It has always been an underwater feature at a depth of around 10 metres,” he said.
“It is normally covered in silt with only one side of its face visible.”
However, recently Ms Claridge showed the ram to one of her students – David Foster from Naracoorte – who told her he knew were it belonged.
“We decided to recover the ram on our next training trip to Mount Gambier and return it to its rightful owner,” Ms Claridge said.
The underwater recovery process was undertaken by Ms Claridge and Warrnambool-based cave diver Andrew Ottanelli.
It involved bringing the ram to the surface in a special cradle attached to a lift bag.
The bag is filled with air and drags the cradle and its contents to the surface.
“We had no idea how heavy the statue would be, but figured it would have been made from limestone or cement,” Mr Barclay said.
“It turned out to be cement-cast and weighs around 40kg.”
The ram was taken from one of the two lowest columns of the pantry building – probably because of easier access.
Two steel pipes which attached its legs to the building were sawn off to remove it.
Mr Galpin said since the Woollen Mills were constructed before he was born, the ram is without doubt his senior.
“We’ll clean him up, paint him and return him to his rightful place,” he said.