Fremantle Stuff > Ron & Dianne Davidson, Fighting for Fremantle

Chapter 12

Issues and Initiatives

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A major concern for the rejuvenated Fremantle Society was the continued lack of progress of heritage legislation. A bill had finally been tabled in December 1987, but by the beginning of 1990 there were still objections and amendments being lodged by the Liberal opposition. The 1989 Annual General Meeting saw local resident and geologist Jenny Archibald elected president, and the new committee set up a specific Heritage Group, convened by planner David Wood.

The group met at Jenny Archibald’s home at Dalkeith House, and became involved with the drafting of the final legislation through a liaison officer for state government, Angus Hopkins. Members of the group also went to see the leader of the National Party, Hendy Cowan, who turned out to support the concept of heritage legislation, pointing out that in fact most country towns had buildings that people were strongly attached to and wanted to see preserved.178

The Fremantle Society and the Fremantle City Council also sponsored a public

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Dalkeith House at 160 High Street, early 1970s, before restoration. [City of Fremantle LHC]

meeting in March 1990 to call for the speedy passing through parliament of the Heritage of Western Australia Act. The meeting was well attended and included as speakers the Mayor John Cattalini, Minister for Heritage Kay Hallahan and Professor Norman Etherington from UWA. There was general agreement that the proposed Bill would provide reasonable protection for heritage buildings and should be passed as soon as possible.179

By the middle of the year there still seemed to be little progress, so the Society decided to organise a demonstration in July to lobby for the passing of the legislation. They chose as the site the Old Essex Street Flour Mill, which had been classified by the National Trust and was on the Australian Heritage Commission’s Register of the National Estate. There had been a long debate between the owners of the mill and the Council, who had approved some time before a proposal to

Demonstration at Essex Street Flour Mill, 1990.
Above: A trade union tradition: Fu-Fu Band. [Skip Watkins]
Below: Les Lauder addressing the crowd. [Skip Watkins]

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convert the complex into a restaurant and coffee shop. However, the owners had allowed the buildings to fall into disrepair and ignored Council requests to make the site weatherproof and safe. It was felt to be a perfect example of the sort of historic buildings which would be protected by the proposed legislation from deliberate neglect.

It was a very successful event, despite the seven-foot corrugated iron fence the owners erected the night before with ‘Trespassers Prosecuted’ in large letters scrawled over it. The demonstration went ahead anyway, and was attended by both the Federal Member for Fremantle John Dawkins and newly elected State Member Jim McGinty. There were streamers, balloons, placards and live entertainment, notably by Fremantle’s historic Fu-Fu Band.180 A postcard was created featuring the demonstration, and members were urged to send it to the Premier, the Minister for Heritage, and all members of parliament, demanding that the Heritage Bill be passed as soon as possible.181

The Heritage of Western Australia Act 1990 was finally passed towards the end of the year. It was in many ways an unsatisfactory document, particularly as it vested the powers of listing and de-listing in the Minister for Heritage, making heritage a political issue. This was unlike legislation in other states that left such decisions in the hands of the relevant expert body set up to assess heritage significance. Nonetheless, it was a first step, bringing Western Australia into line with all other Australian states where heritage legislation had been in force for some time.

The other major issue which preoccupied the Fremantle Society in the early 1990s was the proposed construction by Caltex of four gigantic ‘super tanks’ for fuel storage on the North Fremantle foreshore. Caltex first announced this proposal in March 1990, and it was immediately denounced by the president of the North Fremantle Community Association, Ann Forma, as unacceptable both socially and environmentally.

The Fremantle Society agreed, and put a strongly worded submission to the Environmental Protection Authority, pointing out among other concerns that the chemicals to be stored gave off toxic gases when heated or if they caught fire. The submission queried how such toxic fumes would be dealt with in an emergency, with sea breezes blowing fumes towards residential areas. It also viewed the building of the tanks as ‘an improper and potentially dangerous use of a valuable public asset’ since the twenty-year lease proposed for Caltex would rule out more appropriate uses of the land such as residential subdivision. The

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Society emphatically agreed with the slogan the North Fremantle Community Association had coined - ‘Super Tanks, No Thanks’.182

Ralph Hoare and Jenny Archibald. [Fremantle Herald/Michael Wearne]

However, in June 1991 the Fremantle Herald announced that the Environmental Protection Authority had given Caltex cautious support for the erection of the tanks.183 Doubts then emerged about whether the final decision on the project could be made without amendment of the Metropolitan Region Scheme, since the state planning department had ruled in the past that railway reservations could only be used for railway purposes apart from minor short-term alternative uses. Former Fremantle Society president Jenny Archibald, who had been elected to Council in 1990 and had become chair of the planning committee, considered the Caltex proposal to be a major, long-term change to existing land use. This would need the approval of both houses of parliament, and the ALP government had a majority only in the lower house.

Les Lauder had been resurrected in mid-1991 to take over the presidency of the Fremantle Society from Jenny Archibald, and he and Ann Forma called a public meeting in the Town Hall in response to the Environmental Protection Authority decision. The meeting was held in August and attracted over seven hundred concerned residents. Strong views were expressed about the inferior environmental protection standards prevailing in Western Australia, and the majority of those present felt that any rise in fuel transfer and transport posed

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potential threats of atmosphere and ground water contamination. The meeting was chaired by resident George Seddon and was attended by Member for Fremantle Jim McGinty and Planning Minister David Smith, as well as by Liberal frontbenchers Colin Barnett and Richard Court. Colin Barnett, Member for Cottesloe, had by and large been supporting the objections of residents to the super tanks.

The meeting passed unanimous resolutions calling for an overall cohesive planning approach to the future of Fremantle, rejection of the Caltex proposal, full evaluation of options for a container port, and for a delegation from the community to meet with Premier Carmen Lawrence on port planning, the latter to be arranged by Jim McGinty and Colin Barnett.184

More action followed the public meeting, with a petition against the tanks bearing over five thousand signatures being presented to parliament by Colin Barnett. Meetings were held with the Minister for the Environment, the Minister for Planning, Jim McGinty, the Liberal Shadow Cabinet, Fremantle unions and Fremantle City Council. The two community groups featured prominently in the media. In the end, opposition to the tanks included the East Fremantle, Cottesloe and Mosman Park councils, the Liberal Party, the Green Party, some Fremantle Port Authority officers, various trade unions and many members of the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce. In February 1992 the Fremantle City Council rejected the proposal on planning and environmental grounds.185

Les Lauder also organised intensive lobbying of the Trades and Labor Council. With the help of Tony Cooke, later to become the TLC secretary, he addressed a full meeting of the Council in June 1992, exhorting it to help the community in its battle with Caltex and accusing the WA government of making behind-the-scenes deals with the multinational corporation. In a unanimous vote the TLC expressed its strong opposition to the project and undertook to lobby the relevant state ministers.186

A month later Caltex accepted defeat and decided not to proceed with the super tanks. The Fremantle Herald hailed this as a great victory for public opinion over a multinational company and the state government: ‘a local grassroots movement gathered pace, captured the imagination of the Fremantle community and beyond, and became “giant killers”.’ Ann Forma and Les Lauder featured prominently in its list of ‘local heroes’.187

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Driver House, Riverside Road, East Fremantle. [City of Fremantle LHC]

There were other issues in the early 1990s. Driver House, a magnificent turn-of-the-century riverside building in East Fremantle, was about to be restored in 1990. It was built by Tom and Fanny Carroll, with Tom’s boat building business next door, and had been purchased by the state government in the 1970s for public open space and subsequently vested in the East Fremantle Council. The Council had attempted unsuccessfully to lease the building for many years; it was finally leased to a developer planning a combined restaurant and tavern complex, and the proposed restoration plans were published in the local press in late 1989.

On seeing these plans the Society wrote to the Minister for Planning objecting to what looked more like renovation than restoration; it also contacted the East Fremantle Council to offer advice and a photograph of the original building. The Council’s Town Planning Committee called a meeting, inviting the project architect to attend, as well as a representative of the East Fremantle Council’s Advisory Panel, which had been set up in the mid-1980s to advise the Council on aesthetic, heritage and planning issues. However, in the meantime the developers had sold their interest in Driver House to Clough Engineering, who assured concerned community members that the house would be properly restored.

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Once ‘restoration’ was under way, the Fremantle Society soon discovered that verandah posts, doors and windows would be nothing like the original, and the stonework on the ground floor had been rendered rather than restored. With criticism of the work mounting, in May 1990 leading conservation architect Michael Patroni was called in by Clough Engineering to advise on bringing the exterior at least up to Burra Charter standards. The Society commented in its newsletter: ‘That this sorry catalogue of disasters can occur in relation to a building of such historical significance, which is owned by the government and vested in a council, is nothing short of scandalous.’188

While today’s exterior may still not be completely faithful to the original, Driver House has nevertheless found a prosperous new life as The Left Bank cafe.

The Eastern Bypass debate also preoccupied the Fremantle Society at this time. This was part of a project to build a six-lane highway from Stirling Bridge to Mandurah, via Fremantle. The Fremantle section involved a new road from High Street to Roe Highway in Hamilton Hill, cutting through White Gum Valley and Beaconsfield. It had been part of the Metropolitan Region Scheme since 1973, with the City of Fremantle condemning it from the late 1970s as unacceptable socially, environmentally, and on planning grounds.

The Fremantle Society members were divided on this issue, with the committee finally resolving not to support deletion of the bypass, on the grounds that at some point it may become necessary. The general feeling on the committee was that it would be preferable if traffic could be improved using other measures like traffic calming and better public transport. In its newsletter in June 1992 both sides of the issue were argued by two passionate Society members, Heather Smedley and Curtin academic Bob Pokrant. Heather had been elected to the Fremantle City Council in 1991 campaigning largely against the bypass, while Bob had been actively lobbying to retain it as an option.

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Jim McGinty had been a strong opponent of the bypass during his election campaign in May 1990, promising to ensure its deletion if elected ‘with a stroke of the ministerial pen.’189 The Fremantle and East Fremantle councils also maintained their opposition to the bypass, and in October 1992 the State Planning Commission deleted the planned extension at the request of the Minister for Planning, fulfilling McGinty’s promise. However, the bypass story was to be a long-running one: after the defeat of the Carmen Lawrence government in 1993 the bypass was reinstated by the incoming Liberal government, but was deleted again by the Labor government of Geoff Gallop, this time by an amendment to the Metropolitan Region Scheme. It remains a contentious issue, but its reinstatement seems unlikely given that much of the reserve land intended for the bypass has been sold.

As well as dealing with major issues after its revival, the Society instituted a regular schedule of social events, with seminars, wine and cheese nights, a champagne breakfast, mulled wine and supper at the Maritime Museum in the old Commissariat building in Cliff Street and pub dinners with poetry readings at the Sail & Anchor. Especially memorable was an election fundraiser in March 1990 at His Lordship’s Larder where local identity and real estate agent John Dethridge called a ‘candidate race’, proving he had missed his true calling as a racing commentator. There was also an unforgettable Christmas feast at the home of Society President Jenny Archibald where the roast pig and lamb on the spit almost set fire to the building. During Jenny’s presidency in 1990-91 social events were largely orchestrated by the irrepressible and inventive Shavda Pemberton, whose husband Paddy was then the Society’s treasurer. After Shavda’s departure from the committee in 1991 social gatherings were more commonly structured around talks and seminars, including an important talk by former Liberal Shadow Minister for Heritage Phillip Pendal in July 1993 on a review of the Heritage Act.

The Fremantle Society sustained a serious loss in January 1993 when Sir Paul Hasluck, who had been an active and involved patron of the Society since 1974, died at the age of eighty-seven. His replacement in 1994 would be the former Prime Minister whose government had first promoted the concept of heritage in Australia - Gough Whitlam.

There was also an important initiative taken by the Fremantle Society in 1992: the Interiors Project. The Society had always been proficient when it came to using photographs. Michal Lewi’s magnificent collection of photographs taken in

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the 1970s became an important part of the Society’s campaigns to protect iconic buildings like the Orient Hotel, Victoria Hall and the Fire Station. They also became important as fundraisers. Later thousands of images were taken by volunteers and classified, ensuring there was a complete record of all Fremantle buildings. This eventually provided the basic data for the City’s inventory of heritage places required under the Heritage of WA Act. Generally the Society placed greatest emphasis on the age, external appearance and history of buildings.

Drawing prepared by Curtin University students as part of the Interiors Project. [City of Fremantle LHC]

The 1992 Interiors Project was something different and sought to record the interiors of some of Fremantle’s major buildings that were about to change. It was funded by a small grant of $3000 from the Heritage Council of WA and it

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was timed to anticipate the arrival of Notre Dame Australia, which was going to make major changes in big parcels of buildings, like the eight J & W Bateman buildings in Croke, Henry and Mouat streets.

This proved to be one of the Society’s most ambitious, important and difficult projects. The subcommittee appointed to deal with it comprised Michael Patroni (convenor for 1992), Ralph Hoare (convenor 1993-96), Les Lauder, John Dowson and Wayne Jacks. It was a stellar line-up of Fremantle’s architectural and heritage expertise. The completion of the project in 1996 was handled by Ralph Hoare and John Dowson.

Originally it had been intended to begin an archival photographic study of West End buildings on the State Register of Heritage Places, significant buildings not on the register and a sample of those outside the West End conservation area. It was soon apparent that this would provide an impossibly large sample of several hundred buildings. This was reduced to twenty buildings by restricting choices to buildings from the West End Conservation Area west of Market Street, for which owners’ permission to enter had been granted. Buildings chosen included the Old Customs House and the Dock Building at either end of Phillimore Street, the elaborate Lionel Samson building, the classical Lilly building, and the Herald building, all in Cliff Street, and 10 and 16 High Street and the old Bank of NSW building with its wonderful jarrah ceiling. The Workers Club in Henry Street, with its tiles and 1950s architecture, was the exception in the sample. At this time the West End was still vibrant with artists’ studios, restaurants and pubs - but in need of repair. The notion that NDA was moving into a deserted village was wrong.

The selection of buildings for study came from small geographic areas allocated to Curtin University of Technology’s fourth-year architecture students as part of their assessed course work. A photographer was employed to complete the volume of photographs, which included many pressed tin ceilings, timber balustrades and other details. There was another volume of fine drawings done by students.

When the project was complete all the relevant material was lodged with the City of Fremantle’s Local History Collection, its Planning Department and with the Heritage Council of WA, providing a remarkable resource for planners and restorers.190

An important aspect of the Interiors Project was that it brought back on stage the next president of the Fremantle Society, Ralph Hoare, and introduced his successor, John Dowson.

Endnotes

178 Jenny Archibald, interview with Ron Davidson, 5 February 2009.
179 Fremantle, April 1990.
180 Fremantle, July 1990; Fremantle Herald, 2 August 1990.
181 Fremantle, October 1990.
182 Fremantle, March 1991.
183 Fremantle Herald, 10 June 1991.
184 Fremantle Herald, 19 August 1991; Fremantle, August 1991.
185 Fremantle, June 1992.
186 Fremantle Herald, 22 June 1992
187 Fremantle Herald, 3 August 1992.
188 Fremantle, July 1990.
189 Fremantle Herald, 12 October 1992.
190 Fremantle, June 1992; Ralph Hoare, facsimile to Heritage Council of WA, n.d.; Ralph Hoare to City Manager, City of Fremantle, n.d.

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