Freotopia > books and papers > Edmonds et al., 1973.

Changing Fremantle

M.J. Edmonds, K.G. Bott, J.E.V. Birch, E.S. Morris, R.McK. Campbell

Edmonds, M.J. & K.G. Bott, J.E.V. Birch, E.S. Morris, R.McK. Campbell 1973, Changing Fremantle, Fremantle City Council.

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Fremantle: Preservation and Change broke new ground for a civic authority in this State - and perhaps in Australia - when it was adopted in May 1971.

It spelled out the Council's interest in, and its intention to secure, preservation of those historic buildings and places that are especially important to Fremantle, and to Fremantle people.

Preservation and Change has made a sizeable contribution to the very real change in general public interest in environmental aesthetics that has taken place in the past year or two.

This wider sense of community awareness now prompts us to suggest that the Council itself ought to take a fresh look at the question.

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The face of Fremantle is changing.

Such a statement has come today to be quite unremarkable. This would not have been so just a few years ago.

We know that for very many years, nothing changed in Fremantle.

In most people’s minds the city stagnated, or even declined.

Due in large part to the initiatives of the Council of the day, the pattern and process of change that is commonplace in Fremantle today began in the early 1960s, with the Westgate redevelopment project.

Since then the process of change and development has gathered its own momentum and clearly is likely to continue, at an accelerating pace.

The process is of course changing the appearance of the city. This leads us to suggest that Council could profitably consider whether the changes taking place - and those likely to come - are seen by Council to be changes for the better; whether they are leading in the direction Council wants.

* What do you want Fremantle to be, and to look like, from here on in?

We suggest that the real issues may be better identified through a questioning process. For example -

(a) it is often said that Fremantle has a character of its own that makes it different from Perth and the rest of the metropolitan area; do you think it is true?

(b) if Fremantle does enjoy a special "sense of place", is it important to Fremantle people?

(c) what contribution to any suth special character does the visual picture of the city's buildings make, and how important a part are they of any such special "sense of place"?

(d) do you believe that a city is a living thing and must change and develop anew, or die, and that Fremantle is no exception?

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(e) do Fremantle people want new development in their city, and if so what kind of change in terms of function, appearance, location?

(f) is the end aim of all new development to be that Fremantle will look identifiably different to other city centres, like Perth, or to look the same?

Of course there are no "right" or "wrong" answers to these sorts of questions - there are opinions and value judgements.

The members of the Preservation Group find they hold a wide divergence of views, and in the hope that our thoughts may be helpful, we have attached individual comments.

It is stressed that they are our personal and individual thoughts, and are intended to place before Councillors as wide a range of options as possible.

While our views differ, we agree on the value to the City of Council making its collective will known on these vitally important basic issues.

M. J. EDMONDS, Deputy City Manager K. G. BOTT, City Engineer and Planner J. E. V. BIRCH, Director of Cultural Activities E. S. MORRISS, City Building Surveyor R. McK. CAMPBELL, Consultant Architect

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"There is much in our cities that needs to be changed, and there is no reason why preservation should prevent desirable change.

But changes which destroy something good are only desirable if they produce something which is clearly better.

The surest way to avoid a conflict between the old and the new is to plan preservation and change together, keeping what ought to be kept, and ensuring that what new development there is goes well with it.

It would be folly, whilst seeking to create a better urban environment to cast away valuable assets we already possess."

Remember that? The opening words of Fremantle: Preservation and Change. They were well received when submitted two years ago, as indeed was the whole report.

The Council's adoption of the report's principles, and its initiative in this whole field, have been widely commended. And properly so.

But what has been done to make these adopted principles operative in Fremantle? If the report had never been written, if Council had not accepted its findings, would Fremantle look one bit different today? I say no.

We've been told by informed and impressively qualified people from outside Fremantle that our city is unique, that it has a remarkable and intensely valuable character and atmosphere that give it a "special sense of place". We readily agree, because we who live and work here already know all these things.

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Yet we do nothing to safeguard it. We make no effort to even define the elements that give Fremantle its special character; no efforts to protect it, and none to positively enhance it.

As a result, we are sitting back and presiding over the certain destruction of this unique and special place.

And the cruellest absurdity of all is that we are doing it in the name of that great sacred cow - "PROGRESS".

This particular sacred cow carries the image of Anything New, or Change - no matter what its form, its effect, its social costs, by whom or for whom.

"Progress" is mindlessly, aimlessly "good" for Fremantle.

Learning nothing from the bitter experiences of other cities, we plunge blindly along the same path they followed before us - and will inexorably reach the same dismal destination, a dehumanised collection of concrete anonymities.

We worship two more sacred cows as well. One is called "The Almighty Dollar", and the other "Motor Car".

The basic credo in the worship of Dollar i§ "dollars make you happy -an extra dollar brings an extra happy-unit". It's a simple creed, which helps make it so popular. We don't have to think. It allows us to welcome, with gratitude from a kneeling position, the proposals of any and every "developer" who condescends to bestow his favours upon Fremantle. How could we possibly say no? There's a Dollar involved! Too bad if the particular "development" mongrelises the Fremantle environment - there's a Dollar involved! And - here's the clincher - it's "Progress".

Last, our own special love - Motor Car, The creed here is even simpler - "make way for it". No matter what stands in its path, no matter what effect on environment, on character, on sense of place or proportion - the car comes first. If the car wants one whole side of Henry Street, it shall have it. Too bad that the character of a city, that took thousands of people over a century to create, will be crucified - the car comes first. It doesn't even seem to matter that the original reasons for the street-widening scheme are quite probably no longer even valid. Car has spoken - discussion shall cease.

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Not true, you think? Then I challenge you to tell me - and all those who love Fremantle for what it is - with our present policies, values and attitudes, what will stop Fremantle from turning into a characterless imitation of St George’s Terrace? How long before St John's Church and the Town Hall are cringing, like the Cloisters, in the shadows (literally) of our version of Mount Newman House? How long before Fremantle people are saying "I remember when Fremantle used to have a character of its own - now I can't even tell where it starts and finishes, it looks just like the rest of Perth"?

My plea to Council is simple - to implement the principles of Preservation and Change that have already been adopted. We already have "a conflict between the old and the new" in Fremantle, and it will worsen from here on in.

If we want to see Fremantle continue as a separate and special city, then we must "plan preservation and change together" - and do it now. It can be done; it has been done in other places.

It is already late. Damaging intrusions have already appeared.

The city's special character has already been diminished.

If we fail, or simply care too little, then we can sit back and wait - it won't be a long wait - for that once identifiable, once proudly different place called Fremantle to be re-named what it will inevitably become - Port Perth.

M. J. EDMONDS, Deputy City Manager.

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Principles which should be applied in the determination of ways and means of achieving a degree of preservation :

1.  Progress should be tempered with preservation.

2.  Every effort should be made to preserve as many as possible of those features which provide so much of interest in Fremantle without, however, adversely affecting the business and commercial success of the City as a sub regional centre second only to Perth.

3.  Preservation should not be applied to the extent that it stultifies healthy progress.

4.  The City must remain in a position to compete successfully with newer more modern centres which are being established in the vicinity.

5.  There is no merit in the conversion of the whole city centre to a modern counterpart of Pompeii.

K. G. BOTT, City Engineer and Planner

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The things which we are talking about, whilst appearing to be concerned with bricks and mortar, plot ratios, and such matters of fact, are really deep and fundamental human attitudes and needs.

For the most part these attitudes and needs are below the level of consciousness, and so are difficult to articulate even for a group of educated men who have thought hard about them for a space of three years.

Hence the absurdity of any suggestion that one should ask "the man in the street” how he feels about them. He doesn’t know, because he has never consciously thought about them. And he never will until he feels they are threatened or it is too late.

The leader, in religion, politics, or any great cause, is the man who can articulate the deep, fundamental aspirations of his fellows and enshrine them in slogans, such as "Love thy neighbour" or "To each according to his need” or "England expects ..."

So community leadership is expressed in articulating the fundamental, and largely unconscious, aspirations and needs of "the man in the street". Neither Councillors nor Council officers can abnegate their responsibility to provide this sort of leadership.

Evidence from medical, psychiatric, and sociological experts is increasingly demonstrating that our society and the individuals composing it are breaking down under the pace of accelerating change and stress. In the words of the writer of an article in The Australian (11. 12. 72) "... man's perennial search is for the continuing rhythm of life, for permanence, and for a sense of tradition. It is within such a framework that man, woman and child are able to develop a rhythmic sense of values toward other people and the world."

If anyone feels inclined to dispute this, I would ask him to consider such things as the popularity of our Museum, the vogue for antiques, the plugging of tradition in T. V. ads ("Yesterday’s Australians," etc), the pathetic appeal of such pseudo-historicism as London Court, Chelsea Village, instant coats-of-arms, etc. If we tear up people’s roots, sooner or later we have to provide plastic ones!

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It is significant, and in my opinion inevitable, that many (perhaps, even, the majority) of people who are articulate about the special character of Fremantle are "outsiders". In most cases one finds that they have, or have had, some family connection with the City; but (and I can speak from personal experience) Fremantle, whatever the nature of one's association with it, has an uncanny way of claiming one's affection and loyalty. One gets "hooked" on Fremantle.

Such "outsiders" can naturally articulate their feeling about Fremantle more successfully than the native, because they think consciously about it.

The obvious retort to all this is to ask why Fremantle should resist the march of "progress" in order to provide an oasis of "permanence and sense of tradition" for rootless, disoriented outsiders.

My answer to this would be

(a) that what we do will be for the Fremantle community not for outsiders. In the nature of things it will be the outsider who articulates the need. He is on the outside looking in; and the disadvantaged are always more vocal than the privileged.

When we first flew our City flag, the outsiders were delighted, and we wrapped our feelings up in a lot of high-falutin' expressions like "proud assertion of its identity" etc. The unconscious reaction of the native was exemplified by the citizen who pointed to the National flag flying above the Town Hall and said "why are we flying that bloody thing. We've got one of our own, haven't we?" He would probably have been embarrassed to be told that he was "proudly asserting his sense of identity"; but if one wished to say politely what he was doing, how else could one say it? The feeling was the same. Only the expression of it differed.

(b) "Progress" is one of those big, cloudy words. We are all for it, but often don't know what we mean by it. It is easier to say what it isn’t than to say what it is.

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In this context it usually implies the establishment in Fremantle of a new business or industry, or the "modernization" of an existing business or industry. It also usually implies the redevelopment of a site - the destruction of what exists on it and its replacement by something more "modern".

(c) The primary aim of the businessman or the industrialist is to make use of the Fremantle setting and the Fremantle community to enrich himself or his shareholders. He owes us something for giving him this opportunity. We owe him nothing unless his business or industry contributes something to the welfare of our citizens. And the question is what does he contribute (more rate-revenue, increased job opportunities, etc?), and how much is it worth to us. To provide jobs during a depression might be worth some sacrifice; to duplicate a facility already adequately provided would not.

(d)    The retention of the external appearance of buildings is not incompatible with the redevelopment of the rest of the building, and could eventually increase the attractiveness of the site for business purposes. In any case, as evidence of the businessman’s respect for the community in which he operates (but probably rarely lives) it could create nothing but goodwill.

(e) As in a number of historic towns in Britain new development can harmonize with the old, or, in the words of the Civic Amenities Act, 1967, "maintain or enhance" the character of an area. Such harmonization is a great challenge to the architect, but there is abundant evidence that this challenge can be successfully met.

In short, as an outsider I can appreciate the special character of Fremantle, which makes it a delightful place in which to work, and a delightful place with which to identify oneself.

To walk the streets of Fremantle is to feel like a person, not like an ant; it is to be conscious of human values other than the cynical exploitation of one’s fellows for the sake of making money.

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We in Fremantle, if I may speak as a '’committed" outsider, are a living community with a strong sense of identity. We welcome anyone who enriches our lives in any way, and if he enriches himself at the same time we are glad. But, we have inherited an environment and a way of life, rooted in tradition, which is precious to us; and we don't want to see them destroyed just to give someone the opportunity to exploit us.

If this is social and economic suicide, then "come, easeful Death"!


Director of Cultural Activities

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For the City to be a living thing, I believe it must change and develop.

I don't dislike what I see in Perth, but on the other hand I am not sure I would care to see it in Fremantle.

I believe there is a happy medium whereby the new development can harmonise with and complement existing buildings not individually but collectively.

We talk of Fremantle having some special character. I am not sure that this is true and would be extremely interested to hear from the people in any event I suppose the city's buildings do contribute in some way to the feeling of a city, hut perhaps because it does have a history and. it is the main port to the State, these two factors alone would contribute more to the character of the City.

I don't think the people are any different to anywhere else. This may have been valid some years ago but with transport and immigration, the old "Fremantle" feeling is gradually disappearing or in fact may have disappeared.

I am of the opinion that we must determine just how the City should develop, it is no use asking the people if they want to see the buildings left as they are or not, or we may finish up with a series of "Barrack Arches".

E. S. MORRISS, City Building Surveyor

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While I am in general agreement with the thoughts expressed in the paper "Changing Fremantle", I welcome the opportunity to be to present a supplementary - and unashamedly one-eyed - view.

In the two years since the publication of "Preservation and Change" I have become more than ever convinced of the necessity for the preservation of the individual buildings in the City that have great architectural and historic significance. I am delighted to find that more and more people are thinking along similar lines. In that report the concept of the preservation of an entire area of historic importance was introduced. The West End - which was to be excised from the rest of the City anyway - seemed worth preserving as a whole, not only as a setting for the many historic buildings within it, but also because it identified in physical form what we saw as the special sense of place that is so uniquely Fremantle. Since that time my thinking has developed around this concept to the point where I am sure that what we should be talking about is not just a building or a place but a total environment.

We should be talking about the City of Fremantle.

Fremantle is a City, historically, geographically and culturally, as opposed to suburban centres such as Melville or Stirling. As such it most certainly has a character and identity of its own which has developed over the past 140 years. "Perth" starts at Cottesloe and Applecross.

The development of the City has been slow and uneven, but it is now on the brink of quick and consistent redevelopment, which could swamp - or at least seriously weaken - its present character and identity.

I believe that this would be a tragic loss, but no doubt there are some who consider that being swallowed by the megalopolis would be "Progress".

As an Architect I am perhaps over-conscious of the effect of the built environment on the comfort and well-being of the people who use it, but without labouring the point it is important to remember that our total environment impinges on all our senses all the time, and the resultant balance or imbalance produces comfort or discomfort. Physical and psychological.

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The visual component in this process is most influenced by harmony and scale. We feel far more comfortable in surroundings to which we can relate our own size and shape, and an occasional discord serves to remind us of the general harmony of the rest of the scene.

Add to this acceptable colour, noise and smell and we begin to perceive an environment with which we can identify. Further, add good architecture and historical continuity and we begin to have those hard-to-define things like "character" and "sense of place", which many people believe we have in Fremantle.

Question -

Does the environment mould the people, or do the people mould the environment?

Obviously comfort or discomfort is the result of a whole range of subjective judgements and prejudices, and I would like to sell you a few of mine.


1. Walk west down High Street, wait for the green light looking right and left at Market Street. Note that the ends of Market Street and High Street are comfortably closed, so that the space does not simply dissipate into infinity as it does in most new city blocks. Notice also that the buildings are not uncomfortably over-bearing, and that this is not simply a function of height. The National Hotel is the equivalent of a modern five-storey building.

Press on westwards, hiccup as you pass T. A. B. and notice the confetti of signs, wires and decorations (which Robin Boyd called urban dandruff). A lot of it is uncomfortably ugly but does not worry me half as much as the thought of what might replace some of the buildings in this comfortably homogeneous street scene.

Question -

Do you have any idea?

Mentally remove a couple of the more unkempt old buildings from the High Street facade and replace them with two individually well designed buildings - say Myers and Crane House.

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Question -

Are you more or less comfortable?

N.B. The Architect or Developer's first responsibility is to his client - not you!

Westward ho! Whoa! You have just reached the new Henry Street which is as wide as Ord Street and carrying as much traffic.

Question -

Where from and where to?

Head for refreshment at the Chelsea End, but if you have any puff left turn north into Mouatt (guess how many floors in no. 5, which is underscaled to almost doll's-house proportions) and have a look in Phillimore Place at some dignified, slightly monumental but still essentially well scaled and harmonious buildings ranged around a square which doesn't even seem to have much dandruff! Remove Associated Steamships and replace it with six storey steel and glass box. Left into Cliff Street gets you back to refreshments.

Question -

Are you more or less comfortable?

For me this is a comfortable walk, and with half the western world looking for the path back to serenity, I believe we have the makings of it right here.

2. You are a tourist off a ship for a few hours sightseeing. You have successfully negotiated the bridge and the Australia Hotel. On the Princess May corner you are faced with the decision to catch a bus into Perth or walk down Cantonment Street into Fremantle.

All tickets please !

3. Looking at the west facade of Myers from almost any angle, do you find that your eye is irresistably drawn to the entrance? Good! You are normal, that's what you are meant to do. This is the only part of it that has any scale at all, and by some perverted psychologic it is supposed to welcome you in. Just who is being taken in by whom? Guess how many floors in the CofE/R&I Bank building.

It would not win a prize in a beauty contest but it doesn't seem to bother anyone.

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Question -

Will it all feel more (or less) comfortable with two extra floors on the Civic Administration Buildings and possibly an overscaled Office block on the corner?

With a couple of trees. Cantonment Street may yet become as attractive as the redeveloped Kings Square!

4, Trick Question -

You are walking down Henderson Street from William to Queen Street (not window shopping). Which side of the road are you on and why?

It didn't matter two years ago.

These are not exercises in metaphysics, or even aesthetics. The word is simply awareness. Are we aware of what may happen to our environment, before we allow it to be changed?

N.B. (Again) You do not change the environment, you can only allow or encourage it to be changed.

Question -

For better or worse?

There is no consolation in being wise after the event.

I do believe that a City is a living thing and must change and renew itself, but I also believe in seriously questioning - and controlling if necessary - any sort of development which does not maintain or enhance an environment which I believe to be pleasant and comfortable.

Be aware and wary.

As long as the City is alive, there are not - and never will be -finite answers to these questions.

The important thing is that the questions should be asked - regularly.

R. McK. CAMPBELL, Consultant Architect.

Garry Gillard | New: 7 December, 2019 | Now: 20 April, 2024