Fremantle Stuff > Ron & Dianne Davidson, Fighting for Fremantle

Chapter 16

Development Onslaught

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Given the very dominant role played by John Dowson, his departure from the presidency of the Society left no obvious successor. Unwillingly and after much hesitation committee member Cathy Hall agreed to take on the role, but only until another president could be found.

Cathy had emigrated from England in 1976 after years of anti-nuclear activism there, and after many adventures in the eastern states and Darwin had ended up in Fremantle in 1981. As she and her partner Jon Strachan were then restoring a house, they also joined the Fremantle Society, but Cathy was kept too busy with her nursing career and university studies to take a very active role for some time. However, when the precinct system was announced in 1996 she helped to establish the South City precinct, becoming its co-secretary. After a move to South Fremantle Cathy became convenor of the South Fremantle precinct, and from the late 1990s she was also heavily involved in community agitation

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about the South Fremantle tip site and its future. She formally joined the Fremantle Society committee in 2003, being nominated by State Member for Fremantle, Jim McGinty.239

For some time before Cathy took over the presidency there had been a growing feeling among prominent Fremantle residents that a more progressive council was needed once again, one which adhered to its stated policies, followed due process and took heed of community and professional advice. Cathy was part of this group, which formed the Fremantle Community Network dedicated to ensuring that the Council would be re-energised in the 2005 elections.240 As a result, the year of Cathy’s presidency saw the election to Council of Fremantle Society founder Les Lauder, former president John Dowson, and Society members Jon Strachan and Alice King.

This happened just in time to avert a major heritage catastrophe; almost immediately after his election Les discovered that the new City Planning Scheme No. 4 that had already been forwarded to the minister for approval had had crucial height limits and heritage and demolition controls removed. How this happened was never fully explained. Quick action from the new councillors saw the Planning Scheme recalled and the important controls reinstated. It was a close call; high-rise buildings would have been legitimised in the West End.241

However, it gave rise to festering ill-feeling. It was four nights before Christmas, and all hell was about to break loose at a Council meeting to consider nominations for membership of advisory committees. It had been decided in May that all memberships on these committees would expire at the end of 2005. When the votes were taken at 12.30 a.m. there were three shocks. Deputy Mayor John Dowson and the other heritage expert Les Lauder had been king-hit and voted off the Heritage and Special Places Committee. It was easy to tell from the grinners who were behind the coup. The impact was exacerbated when popular Councillor Shirley Mackay was dropped from the Sport and Recreation committee.

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There was an immediate public outrage that the two councillors most qualified in the heritage area should have been dropped. More than seventy emails were recorded by John Dowson alone, calling for rescission of the Heritage and Special Places result. Some elected members were alarmed by the overwhelming public outcry and held an informal meeting to decide what to do. Mayor Peter Tagliaferri reported at the next Council meeting in January 2006 that it had been proposed that two extra members be added to the committee. This was put to Council and was approved 7-5, thus avoiding a rescission. The influence of John and Les had not been excised from the committee but it had been diluted.

A very important development during Cathy’s presidency was her decision to take up an old and important ongoing issue - the nomination of Fremantle places for the national heritage register at the very least.

As has been noted already, the state government had shown no interest in supporting either national or world heritage listing, despite the urging of the Australian Heritage Commission that it should do so in the 1980s. In the 1990s the City of Fremantle had taken the bull by the horns and launched a bid for world heritage listing, hoping for state government support given that the heritage-minded Jim McGinty was member for Fremantle. An enthusiastic taskforce was set up headed by then mayor John Cattalini with representatives of the Heritage Council, state planning and heritage ministers and senior council officers. They felt that since the West End of Fremantle was an almost intact nineteenth century port, built at the height of British imperialism, the cultural significance of this was important in world heritage terms.242

However, a visit from conservationist and member of the United Nations committee responsible for approving world heritage listings, Joan Domicelj (later chair of the Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee), cast some doubt on this assessment. While agreeing that the West End had national significance, she was uncertain whether it could be described as having the 'outstanding universal value’243 required under the United Nations heritage charter. More importantly, she had serious doubts about whether either the City of Fremantle or the state government had the necessary powers to police the heritage listing if it was granted. Ms Domicelj was quick to point out, though, that Fremantle Prison would certainly qualify for world heritage listing as part of a serial nomination of convict sites.244

Finally, Federal Member for Fremantle John Dawkins scuttled the proposal at least for the time being in a letter to Mayor Cattalini saying the federal

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government would not apply for world heritage listing for Fremantle until the effects of such listing on the development of areas such as Victoria Quay and the modern expansion of Fremantle as a working port could be clearly assessed.245

Nevertheless the City of Fremantle persevered and employed consultants to report on the feasibility of nominating the port for listing. The report was disappointing: the consultants also agreed that Fremantle Prison should be nominated but not the West End or the port as a whole. It recommended that the City monitor the prison to ensure that its potential world heritage value was not compromised by inappropriate development, and limit development on Victoria Quay to avoid compromising the West End, which it did recognise as being of outstanding value in a national context.246

Fremantle’s heritage importance on a national scale had taken a severe blow when the John Howard government introduced new heritage criteria in its Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 which made national heritage listing much more difficult. It also mothballed the existing Register of the National Estate, on which so many Fremantle buildings had been entered; the Register would no longer provide any protection against development.

For some years the state government and Fremantle Ports had been promoting a commercial precinct on Victoria Quay, with alarming rumours of high-rise. Cathy decided that the Fremantle Society should nominate the Fremantle Inner Harbour and Victoria Quay for national heritage listing to provide more protection for this now clearly endangered area. She persuaded the committee to hire a consultant, historian Kristy Bizzaca, to help Cathy, Society Vice-President Nicolas Gurr and committee member Jon Strachan in preparing the complex submission.247

The Inner Harbour’s significance to the nation was described in the following terms:

1. The Fremantle Inner Harbour is one of the most largely intact - and still working - nineteeth century industrial ports with direct linkages to a port town in Australia and internationally;

2. The Fremantle Inner Harbour was the main strategic port for Allied Forces during World War II in the southern hemisphere and as such played an integral role in Australia’s and the Allies’ defence operations;

3. The Fremantle Inner Harbour was the point of entry for hundreds of thousands of people who arrived in Australia as part of the Commonwealth Government’s massive post—World War II immigration program;

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4. Since its major redevelopment in the nineteenth century, the Fremantle Inner Harbour has provided employment for many thousands of ‘wharfies’ and Mumpers’ who not only made significant contributions to the development of Fremantle but also formed part of what is now the Maritime Union of Australia; one of the strongest and most organised unions in the history of Australia;

5. The Fremantle Inner Harbour was the first of the major breakwater ports in Australia and has been recognised by Engineers Australia (formerly the Institution of Engineers, Australia) as a National Historical Engineering Landmark for its innovative design, technological achievement and contribution to the engineering profession; and,

6. The development of the Fremantle Inner Harbour saw it become known nationally and internationally as the Western Gateway into the Australian nation.248

The submission pointed out that the nominated place satisfied six of the nine criteria listed on the nomination form, any one of which could potentially be considered adequate for heritage listing.249

The nomination form was lodged with the Heritage Division of the Department of Environment and Heritage on 15 August 2005, and advice was received a month later that the Fremantle Inner Harbour had been entered in the Australian Heritage Database as a Nominated Place, and the nomination had been referred to the chair of the Australian Heritage Council for assessment.

Having overseen this major step towards national heritage listing, Cathy Hall retired as president and was replaced by energetic town planner Kris Kennedy, who had managed the City of Fremantle’s planning department from 1998 to 2001. Almost immediately he was faced with the wrath of the Fremantle Ports CEO, Kerry Sanderson, who was furious about the nomination of the Inner Harbour and Victoria Quay for heritage listing. She had not been consulted by either the Australian Heritage Council or the Fremantle Society, and she demanded that the Society withdraw its nomination. The Society refused to do this, Kris pointing out that national heritage listing need not affect the port’s operations.250

However, Kerry Sanderson’s protests must have been taken seriously at various government levels, because the nomination progressed no further. The Society was advised in September 2006 that the assessment process had been extended by a year, but when the Finalised Priority Assessment List for 2007-08 was released the Inner Harbour nomination did not appear on it.

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The Society was told that the nomination had lapsed ‘because it had been excluded from two consecutive work plans,’ as the Australian Heritage Council had considered that it was unlikely to have national heritage value. This was contrary to all advice received from heritage experts, including members of the Heritage Council of WA. It was becoming increasingly clear that unless a nomination for national or world listing was supported by both state and federal governments, and any other agencies involved, it would not succeed no matter what its merits were.251

The Fremantle Society did have a triumph in the heritage field though. In May 2006 the Heritage Council gave its prestigious award ‘for contribution by an individual to the preservation of heritage in Western Australia’ to Society founder and patron Les Lauder, making him officially Heritage Ambassador for the year. It was the first time the award had been made to a Fremantle resident, and Minister

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for Heritage Michelle Roberts described Les as ‘the saviour of Fremantle’. In his acceptance speech Les urged the minister to press for more adequate funding for heritage, which he described as having the lowest level in the western world.252

Kris Kennedy took on the Fremantle Society presidency with the stated aim of making a major push to reinstate trams in Fremantle, but events quickly overtook him and he was confronted with a major urgent battle to be fought; the Fremantle Ports and ING commercial development on Victoria Quay.

The commercial development had been foreshadowed for years, with the Ports calling for tenders in 2002 and Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Alannah MacTiernan rejecting the original plans on the grounds that they would not in her opinion be accepted by the local community.253

This concern about community opinion soon evaporated. When the ING plans were revealed by Fremantle Ports in March 2006 they showed a mix of six, seven and eight-storey buildings, in direct contravention of the Waterfront Masterplan of 2000 which had clearly specified heights of no more than two to three storeys so as not to overwhelm the existing buildings.254

Kris Kennedy had been unsuccessfully calling for months for the Ports to produce a simple scale model of the projected development, and he was appalled at the bulk and massive scale shown on the plans now revealed. He immediately set about organising a public meeting for Fremantle electors to express their views on the proposal.

Crowded Town Hall meeting protesting against proposed ING development on Victoria Quay, 2006. [Fremantle Herald]

The Town Hall was packed with over six hundred people on 6 June 2006, all expressing outrage at the monstrous high-rise proposal on Victoria Quay. At the request of those at the meeting, the City of Fremantle undertook to:

• Advise the minister it strongly objects to the proposal by ING and Fremantle Ports;

• Form a high-level strategic group to deal with the ING site;

• Seek to have the land brought under the City’s planning control;

• Seek to have the land, which is clearly surplus to the requirements of Fremantle Ports, transferred to the City of Fremantle;

• Support a comprehensive consultation program to assist in determining the best development outcomes for the site;

• Seek the support of local parliamentarians.255

Community outrage had no impact. Alannah MacTiernan announced that ING had ‘dramatically reduced’ their development to four, five and six storeys, and that heritage lobbyists wanting less than this would get ‘short shrift’. Nor

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would the state consider handing over the surplus land to the City of Fremantle or allowing the City any planning control as demanded by the meeting.256

In addition, in November Alannah MacTiernan announced her own version of community consultation. In a Fremantle Herald ‘Thinking Allowed’ column former president John Dowson described the process graphically as ‘Two hundred carefully chosen people were paid fifty dollars each to spend a day considering High-rise Option A or High-rise Option B.’ He emphasised that the Society was not opposed to development on Victoria Quay, but that such development had to be sympathetic, port-related and not overwhelm existing structures.257

Federal Member for Fremantle, Dr Carmen Lawrence, a professional psychologist, agreed with John’s assessment, and described the forum as ‘a sham designed to give a predetermined outcome’ and ‘a manipulative process’ which included no option to reject both choices.258 However, the minister ignored all criticisms and announced that the ING plans had been overwhelmingly endorsed by her forum and that she expected a development application to be submitted to the City of Fremantle and to the WA Planning Commission within weeks.259

By the end of 2006 Kris Kennedy had left Fremantle for Subiaco, and the Fremantle Society was about to acquire yet another new president, and the hope was that it would be for a longer term.


239 Cathy Hall to Dianne Davidson, 16 January 2010.
240 Fremantle Herald, 14 August 2004.
241 Fremantle, Winter edition 2006; Fremantle Herald, 30 July 2005.
242 Fremantle Herald, 22 April 1991.
243 Fremantle Herald, 23 September 1991.
244 ibid.
245 Fremantle Herald, 7 October 1991.
246 Fremantle Herald, 20 July 1992.
247 Cathy Hall to Dianne Davidson, 16 January 2010.
248 Fremantle Society Nomination Form for listing of Fremantle Inner Harbour, 15 August 2005.
249 ibid.
250 Fremantle Gazette, 20 December 2005.
251 Fremantle, September 2008.
252 Fremantle, Winter edition 2006.
253 West Australian, 27 December 2002.
254 Fremantle Herald, 11 March 2006.
255 Fremantle, Spring edition 2006.
256 Fremantle Herald, 15 July 2006.
257 Fremantle Herald, 2 December 2006.
258 Fremantle Herald, 3 February 2007.
259 Fremantle Herald, 25 January 2007.
260 Fremantle, September 2009.
261 Ian Alexander, interview with Ron Davidson, 29 January 2010.
262 Fremantle Herald, 7 April 2007.
263 Fremantle Herald, 16 June 2007.
264 Fremantle Herald, 26 May 2007.
265 Fremantle Herald, 23 June 2007.
266 Fremantle Heriald, 21 July 2007.
267 ibid.
268 Fremantle Herald, 11 August 2007.
269 Fremantle Herald, 10 November 2007.

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