Arson in Nouméa: An Anse Vata icon burned and broken
“The faré (hut) is burning!”
“No! They were just re-roofing it yesterday. It was almost done. It looked great!”
“Why would it be on fire? Is it the sun, with the fresh straw? Did someone use a magnifying glass? Was it just too hot?”
Such went our first 3-way conversation about the burning hut, an icon on Anse Vata here in Nouméa, last Saturday. The roads were closed off, smoke was billowing out of the top of the faré and none of us could understand what was happening.
It is said to have started at approximately 5am Saturday (19 April) morning. It burned all day and took a full team of firefighters to work through the day to put it out. The hut houses a newly opened water sports activity centre (MD Plaisirs) and is just above the yellow taxi boat service to Ile aux Canards and Ilot Maitre. Luckily no one was injured, though the inventory inside the hut was destroyed, along with refrigerators and freezers in the lower level.
When we spoke with locals along Anse Vata on Saturday, they fell on a continuum between disappointed and disgusted. The hut was a symbol, somehow, for many of us. You couldn’t walk along Anse Vata and not know where the faré was. We used it as a meeting spot, we remembered when it was a tourist office, and others take kite-surfing classes there. It was just a part of anyone who spent time running, walking, windsurfing, swimming, doing stand-up paddle or picnicking at Anse Vata. How could it be alight?
Locals told us a group of youth were spotted around the faré early that morning, after the clubs had let out. Police are apparently following up a number of leads, including some camera footage. An employee told me he and his colleagues had smelled gasoline in and around the faré in the few days leading up to the fire, and they had wondered what was up. They don’t know if there was a link, or if the fire had been premeditated. Some say it must have been – it was carried out in the early hours of the morning, the fire was lit from behind the street (on the side overlooking the lagoon), where the perpetrators could not be seen. Apparently they would have had to climb the faré to set it afire, etc. But we all await the police findings.
This wasn’t the first time someone had tried to burn down the faré. It happened in 1999 and 2003. With the end of school holidays and a general rise in vandalism and car theft, I suppose we should not be surprised by this act of disrespect for the community, for the work of the roofers, and for what the faré means to many.
But did the persons who did this think about the longer term consequences? It’s meant that 1 or possibly 2 employees will lose their jobs, with the loss of the stock, less work for them to do, and a significant financial hit (2-3 million francs CFP in inventory) to the centre. Speaking with 1 such employee, he said, “It would be one thing if I were being let go because I wasn’t good at my job, but this … This forces me to go and it’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong. I understand if they have to let me go, I really do. But it’s not fair, somehow. Someone had a good time playing a trick, and I have to try to find another job.”
And as for the workers who spent a week re-roofing in the hot sun, their work was for nothing. A local said it cost in the neighbourhood of 3-4 million Pacific francs to restore the faré’s roof that week, between the labour and the materials. Half insured by the town hall and half by the centre, no one knows when it will be repaired.
A number of my friends who now live abroad wrote to say it was sad to see this happen. I agree. It’s sad and disappointing. My question is, as always, what are we going to do about it?