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J Shed

The building called 'J Shed' is on Arthur Head to the west of the height with the Round House on it. It stands on a level created by quite recent quarrying, before which there was a much larger limestone headland in that general location.

'J Shed' is of no importance in itself. It's an industrial shed of no architectural nor historical interest whatsoever. Almost no-one remembers where it was or what it was there for. It doesn't even have the same letter it did. And it's a different length.

What is important about 'J Shed' is conceptual. It's about where it is, and what it represents.

Arthur Head is about as important as any place gets in both this part of (European) Western Australia and also Whadjuk Nyoongar Boodja (the country of the first people).

At the moment, 'J Shed', as a location, not a building, represents Art. It's called an artists 'precinct'. The building is occupied by a very small number of (quite significant) artists. ... A change was suggested in early 2019: that the location come to represent something different—the culture of the first people, the Whadjuk Nyoongar.

In April 2019, it was proposed that the area where J Shed now is be occupied by a Walyalup (Indigenous) Cultural Centre, taking up most of the area in the triangle between Bathers Beach, Fleet Street, and the remnant cliff left from quarrying Arthur Head. The concept drawing below suggested that there might be space between a new building and the existing cliff, but that there would a walking connection with the top of it. (At present there is a stone staircase.) Note that the figures in the drawing are way out of scale, only half as high as people would be, making the structure look much larger.

The proposal suggested the 'heritage' shed (it's a shed!) would need to be relocated. It also says nothing (at all!) about the present tenants, one of whom has been there since 1992, and is a cultural treasure in himself.

And what is this obsession the Council has with grassy knolls? (See also the council building, which has a grassy slope as its main feature.) Why can't buildings look like buildings? You know, with walls and stuff. Copying the Federal Parliament building, I suppose, as the Maritime Museum copies the Sinny Opera House.


David Hutchison:
J Shed was built on Victoria Quay as a cargo shed in 1912/13. It would have been the most easterly shed on the South Wharf. It was redesignated H Shed in 1929. When (partially) removed from the wharf to its present position under the cliff on the western side of Arthur Head in 1968-69, it was renamed J Shed. (Hutchison)

Plaque on the northern end of the building >

Brad Pettitt:
The area currently housing the J-Shed only dates from the 1960s when a large portion of the western part of Arthur’s Head was excavated and levelled off about 1.5m above sea level to create a large open area for port activities.  As part of these works J-Shed, which was originally part of a goods shed that stood on Victoria Quay, was relocated to stand in this new area next to the cliff remnant of Arthur’s Head. (Brad Pettitt, mayor's blog)

The shed has had a variation of purposes since its move - including being a fibreglass workshop - until 1988. In 1992 the building was repurposed again - after a restoration completed by the City of Fremantle - to be used as the independent semi-industrial art studios they are today.

J Shed in 1986. Note the six doors: it has since been reduced to five by the removal of one-sixth of the building at the Bathers Beach (south) end. Image from Brad Pettitt's blog.


J Shed has four 'units' (tho five doors), all of which occupied by artists The one at the southern end (Unit 1, yellow and orange doors) with the glass wall and the best view and the best light was incomprehensibly let (2016-17?) by the City to an entrepreneur/promoter called Sunset Events, which proposed building a tavern there. Sculptor Jina Lee now leases Unit 1, thank goodness.

Greg James Sculpture has been there since 1992 when the J Shed studios were established, and his workshop and studio is the centrepiece of the building, at Unit 2 (blue door).

Jenny Dawson has her Ceramics Studio next to him, at Unit 3 (red door) which she shares with her partner, photographer Peter Zuvela.

A recent tenant of Unit 4, at the northern end (green door), was the Art of Freo Gallery, manager Ellen McCarthy - until the end of 2018.

Ross Potter, her husband, had his own space within it, while the larger area was used for other exhibitions, such as the photography of Kylie Richardson. Art of Freo is or was supported by the City of Fremantle, through its Emerging Artist Support Fund.


This photo taken from the Round House 'gun deck' shows Unit 1, with the glass wall, at the end of J Shed. That, and the space where the track and green lawn are, is where Sunset Events proposed a tavern be built. Photo courtesy of Roel Loopers' blog.

At its full meeting 23 May 2018, the Fremantle City Council decided to support Sunset Events' proposal - for a tavern in and around Unit 1 of J Shed - for 300 patrons for 21 years. ... It was, as a previous leader of the 'free world' would say, a dumb deal. ... The only hopes for the resident artists were the WAPC and the liquor licensing authority.

The vote in favour of the proposal going forward was 5/4, those in favour being Brad Pettitt, Andrew Sullivan, Doug Thompson, Hannah Fitzhardinge, and Dave Hume. Those against: Jeff McDonald, Jenny Archibald, Bryn Jones, and Adin Lang. On leave (according to the agenda): Ingrid Waltham, Rachel Pemberton, and John Strachan.

Agnieshka Kiera writes:
As the former City Héritage Architect, I was in charge of the planning and implementation of the long term Strategy Plan for Arthur Head A class Reserve, involving its the 1980s-2009 incremental implementation. Including the 1888 restoration and adaptation of J-shed to local artists studios. The implementation of the long term strategy for Arthur Head A class reserve designated (from memory) for the ‘historic buildings, community and environment’ was the 25 years long process involving reconstruction of the 1870s foreshore, dunes and its vegetation; conservation of the whalers tunnel and cliffs; conservation of the Round House; restoration and adaptation of the Fort Arthur and Pilots cottages; upgrading of the headland including construction of the stone steps and walk around the Roundhouse, public toilets, walking paths and whalers jetty. In 2009 it culminated with the final upgrade of the Old Port, which I also managed, including restoration of the former Kerosene Store (now Kidogo), the boardwalks and beach steps and reconstruction of the former mortuary as the shade structure. As the result Arthur Head has been transformed from the former depot into one of the most significant for WA heritage sites and a very popular public reserve. This also fulfilled the City of Fremantle’s obligation and commitment to the State Government undertaken when it transferred the area into the City of Fremantle in the 1980s for a peppercorn rate. In light of this the approval by the City granted to Sunset events for use of J-shed as a tavern is a breach of that commitment and a violation of the designation of the Arthur Head A-class Reserve. So what I would like to know is how could the City get away with such an obvious breach of the area’s formal designation and its own strategy plan for the area? Agnieshka Kiera, personal communication (Facebook)

The WA Statutory Planning Committee refused on 28 August 2018 the application by Sunset Events to develop a tavern in Unit no. 1 of the J Shed - against the wishes of Mayor Brad Pettitt and a slender majority of the FCC. It is on the record that Brad Pettitt calls Dave Chitty his 'mate'.

In September 2018 Sunset Events abandoned the lease.


References and Links

Dowson, John 2018, 'J Shed - Again', Fremantle Society blog, 23 May.

Hutchison, David 1999, 'Shedding light on sheds in transit', Fremantle Studies, 1: 66-76.

Loopers, Roel 2018, 'Fremantle Council's moment of insanity', blog, 24 May.

Pettitt, Brad 2018, 'Arthurs Head's Changing Face', blog.

J Shed Facebook page

Art of Freo Facebook page.

Garry Gillard | New: 3 February, 2017 | Now: 31 March, 2024