Fremantle Stuff > Ron & Dianne Davidson, Fighting for Fremantle

Chapter 13

'Anti-football Traitors'

Ralph Hoare came to the Fremantle Society presidency in 1994 with a considerable provenance. He had joined the Society in 1978 when Les Lauder was still touring Fremantle and East Fremantle, dropping in at houses where good things seemed to be happening outside and usually signing up the occupants. The following year Ralph found himself installed as vice-president. He was also soon involved in a photographic survey of four thousand Fremantle homes, and later in the CBD Interiors Project that recognised interiors were important too. And, of course, he had overseen the difficult process of decommissioning

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the Fremantle Prison and having it accepted as an important heritage site.

Ralph Hoare's presidency gets off to a good start in 1994 when Society Patron Gough Whitlam visits Fremantle Prison. Also at the scene are former Society president Mayor Jenny Arhibald and Society Vice-President Ron Davidson. [Fremantle Herald]

It was fortunate that Ralph had this experience. He was stepping right into one of the Society’s most difficult battles, one in which there was not a demolition in sight. This battle saw the Society, and particularly Ralph, branded as something akin to Fremantle traitors; they were labelled ‘anti-football’.

The battle began soon after the Australian Football League in Melbourne added a sixteenth team to its competition, in December 1993. The team was to be based in Fremantle because of the port city’s one-hundred-year-plus enthusiasm for the Australian game. The Fremantle Society president saw this as ‘strengthening one of Fremantle’s strongest social traditions.’191 But there were also difficulties with implementing the plan. The traditional Fremantle rivals, East and South, were to be foolishly ignored as the bases of an AFL team by those whom Zoltan Kovacs called, in his retrospective analysis in the West Australian, the ‘football bureaucrats’. That rivalry was wrongly seen as a problem for a new team rather than a strength. So a football corporation, like corporations elsewhere, arrived with a strong public relations thrust. Kovacs wrote: ‘an intense marketing exercise produced the Fremantle Dockers who were neither Fremantle (in the traditional sense) nor dockers (the local word usually applied to wharf workers was wharfies).’192

The bureaucrats were poorly versed in another strong Fremantle tradition - community consultation. This meant that when the Dockers set down their perceived needs and plans for Fremantle Oval they failed to notice their potential intrusion on a Fremantle heritage icon - Fremantle Prison. There was no one to tell them. The Dockers, aka Fremantle Football Club, wanted a new training area and administrative headquarters and a highly visible retail outlet. This was all very well, but they wanted it on a small patch of land in the north-west of the ground near where William and Fairbairn streets meet, right behind the existing turnstiles in Parry Street.

Ralph, with his experience working on the prison, said the new two-storey building would dominate the scene, destroy a large old Moreton Bay fig, diminish F.W. Burwell’s grandstand and, most importantly, block the compelling views of the prison gatehouse. It was planned to extend over the footpath in Fairbairn

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Street. The same building would fit comfortably at the southern end of the ground where the Society believed it should go.

Mayor Jenny Archibald and architect Brian Klopper seeking a compromise about the Dockers changerooms, 1994. [Fremantle Herald/Michael Wearne]

Ron Davidson, the Society’s vice-president, was summoned to a so-called compromise meeting with the Dockers’ CEO David Hatt, who had come to his job from the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, where he had been a person of influence. However, Ron discovered that the Dockers were prepared to concede nothing. Indeed, the Dockers bureaucrats refused to budge even when James Semple Kerr (the expert on colonial prisons), George Seddon (the Fremantle planner, author and enlightenment man) and Peter James (an authority on World Heritage listing) all stepped forward to support the Society’s position.

David Hatt seemed to have convinced former Society president Jenny Archibald, who had now become Mayor, and the City Manager Patric de Villiers that if the Dockers couldn’t build on the northern side they would take themselves and an estimated $5 million of annual income for the city and go elsewhere. No one questioned whether a team called the Fremantle Football Club or the Fremantle Dockers could feasibly operate in a substitute suburb like Murdoch or Claremont.

The Society took a crippling blow when, just before the Council was due to decide on the location of the clubhouse, the City Manager received an ‘informal advice’ letter from the director of the Heritage Council, Ian Baxter, which was critical of the southern site favoured by the Society, and named the northern site as the least damaging in terms of heritage. The letter was circulated to all councillors, and the Council meeting on 22 August 1994 voted 11-7 to approve the northern site despite strong opposition by the City of Fremantle’s own heritage architect Agnieshka Kiera.193 Interestingly, at this stage the Fremantle Society had a very strong presence on Council; Ann Forma, Sue Bennett-Ng, Susan Hoare, Anne Rimes and June Boddy were all very active members and strongly supported the southern site. However, several other Society members voted in favour of the Dockers’ preferred option.194

Ralph felt that the Society had been robbed. He accused Ian Baxter of passing off his own opinion as official Heritage Council advice, without going through proper channels, and wrote to the Heritage Minister, Richard Lewis, protesting in the strongest terms.195

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Ian Baxter for his part denied any impropriety, and claimed that six of the nine Heritage Council members had inspected the sites and agreed with his assessment. The plan of the building had not yet been produced: the Heritage Council would again become involved in the issue when this had been submitted.

Fremantle Chamber of Commerce president and former footballer Bob Shields took a free kick at the Society, saying it did not speak for all Fremantle people, ‘and certainly not for the business community which made its voice heard on this occasion.’ He urged Ralph and the Society to ‘accept the umpire’s decision.’196

However, by November when the building plans had been submitted, the Heritage Council considered the two-storey building too large for the site and recommended ways of reducing its impact. The Fremantle Council’s planning committee still recommended approval, despite the former Heritage Council’s chair Ian Molyneux describing the building as a ‘glorified dunny’. Ralph Hoare also attacked the committee, saying it was preparing to contravene the Heritage Act, which stipulates that the building had to have the approval of the Heritage Council.

There was nothing for it but to try a last desperate throw. Society member Nicolas Gurr, soon to become a very long-serving vice-president, decided to organise a ratepayer poll, and got together two hundred signatures on a petition. To build the administrative and training facility the Dockers needed to borrow $950,000 - a loan the Fremantle City Council would organise but which would be repaid by the Dockers. A Society advertisement in the Fremantle Herald urged voters to vote against the northern site, assuring them that their ‘No’ vote would not mean that they did not want the Dockers in Fremantle. The advertisement’s message was endorsed by the Fremantle Prison Trust, Jim Kerr, George Seddon, ICOMOS Australia chief Ian Stapleton, city architect Agnieshka Kiera, and sixteen other prominent Fremantle architects, including Ian Molyneux.197

The poll proved a disaster. To get a valid result there had to be a ratepayer turnout of at least fifteen per cent. It was a hot January day in 1995, and the turnout was only ten per cent. The poll was therefore declared null and void; but in any case the ‘No’ vote did not get a majority. There were 567 ‘No’ votes against 634 ‘Yes’ votes, with seventy informals.

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Dockers CEO David Hatt. [Alan East]

The Dockers’ CEO David Hatt had been a class hockey player and he took the opportunity to have a ‘free hit’ at the Society. He told the Fremantle Herald that a small unrepresentative body was prepared to do everything possible to drive the Dockers out of town, and that all fair-minded people would support the Dockers’ position. Some ‘fair-minded’ residents thought this was not altogether fair: Ralph Hoare and Nicolas Gurr were among the earliest to sign on as Dockers members, and the Society strongly supported the Dockers coming to town. It was the choice of a site for their change rooms which was problematic.198

But in any case the Dockers themselves were having second thoughts about the northern site. It had become more expensive because of conditions imposed by Council and the building planned was already looking too small. David Hatt was spending time at the southern end of Fremantle Oval - between the Victoria Pavilion and South Fremantle Football Club. By mid-February 1995 he had gained from the Council permission to build there.

This time the Fremantle Society supported the application but approval again came with conditions. David Hatt described it as the first step in deciding between the northern and southern ends of the oval.199 The conditions imposed on the new site again proved too costly for the Dockers.

Meanwhile the Council had belatedly commissioned a conservation plan to guide any development on Fremantle Oval, with the Fremantle Society representing the community on the steering committee. The resulting conservation plan blocked building close to the Victoria Pavilion. This ruled out the sites on both the northern and southern sides of the stand. The Dockers abandoned their earlier sites and went for an interim solution. They refurbished the change rooms under the Victoria Pavilion and waited for their financial position to improve before building on a site behind the southern goalposts. It was a win-win situation for both teams.


191 Ralph Hoare to David Hart, Fremantle AFL Team, 17 May 1994.
192 The West Australian, 8 May 2008.
193 The West Australian, 24 August 1994; Fremantle Gazette, 30 August 1994.
194 Fremantle, October 1994.
195 Ralph Hoare to Richard Lewis, 25 August 1994.
196 Fremantle Gazette, 30 August 1994.
197 Fremantle Herald, 7 January 1995.
198 Fremantle Herald, 21 January 1995.
199 Fremantle Gazette, 17 February 1995.

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Garry Gillard | New: 17 June, 2020 | Now: 21 June, 2021