Fremantle Stuff > Ron & Dianne Davidson, Fighting for Fremantle

Chapter 17

New Beginnings

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On learning of Kris Kennedy’s imminent departure, Les Lauder contacted former academic and politician Dr Ian Alexander, inviting him to dinner to discuss becoming a member of the Fremantle Society committee. A number of other committee members were present, and after copious amounts of food, wine and chat Ian had agreed not only to become a committee member but to be the new president.

Ian was a town planner by profession, and had lectured at UWA and Curtin University. He had also served on the Perth City Council and had fought unsuccessfully for the retention of significant Perth buildings like Boans, suggesting with tongue in cheek that Jack Mundey of ‘green ban’ fame should be brought over. A response came quickly from a prodevelopment councillor, Rod Evans: ‘you do that and you’ll end up in the Swan River with concrete boots

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on.’260 Ian had also been ALP member for Perth in the Legislative Assembly before becoming an Independent; after leaving parliament he then joined the Greens.

Fremantle Society president from 2007, Dr Ian Alexander. [Ian Alexander]

He had moved to Fremantle at the end of the 1990s and had become involved in community activism in 2000 through his opposition to the construction of the Collie Street car park. He quickly learned the tone and feel of Fremantle public debate; ‘What would you know, you’re just a Johnny-come-latelyl’ was the response to his argument against the car park at a Town Hall meeting. But Ian had always admired the fact that Fremantle had preserved its heritage while he had seen developers being allowed to destroy Perth, and he was determined to persevere with his new home.261

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A view to be treasured from Market Street: a tanker passes behind the railway station. [Photo Moderne]

Ian planned to ‘breathe new life and relevance’ into the Society, and to articulate a new vision for Fremantle while becoming more active in planning issues. He also wanted to develop closer ties with other heritage bodies such as the National Trust and the Heritage Council.262

However, he too was immediately confronted with the ongoing problem of the ING development on Victoria Quay; he described the latest plan, two six-storey blocks flanking a single-storey shopping complex, as having ‘Orwellian’ proportions. He believed it would ‘smother’ the city, and was in any case simply yet another boring suburban shopping centre.263

Ian felt that a more comprehensive group than just the Fremantle Society was needed to lobby against the ING commercial development, and he called together what was to become the Victoria Quay Task Force (VQTF). This consisted of representatives from the Fremantle Society, the Fremantle History Society, the Fremantle Inner City Residents Association (FICRA), the South Fremantle precinct, the South City precinct and the Gibson Park precinct, with other interested groups sending representatives from time to time. All were strongly opposed to the proposed development on Victoria Quay, and supported the Fremantle City Council which had voted unanimously that the Fremantle Ports should not lodge any application for the development until a conservation plan for Victoria Quay was approved by the Heritage Council.264

The VQTF began meeting in early June 2007, and initially held weekly meetings, first to organise a large electors’ meeting to debate the Victoria Quay development, since the forum held by the minister had been so flawed and had offered participants only a ‘Hobson’s choice’. Ian had met with WA Planning Commission head Jeremy Dawkins, and had formed the impression that Dawkins agreed that the proposed plan did not conform to the Waterfront Masterplan officially launched by then premier Richard Court in 2000. He felt that this offered a ‘sliver of hope’ that the Planning Commission would reject it.265

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The Fremantle Society aften did not see eye to eye with the University of Notre Dame. However, it did when UND Vice-Chancellor Peter Tannock strongly attacked the ING proposal. Here Carmen Lawrence, Paul Keating and John Dawkins provide Dr Tannock with the setting for a Herald staffer's speech balloon. [Fremantle Herald]

An unexpected source of support for the Society’s and the VQTF’s position emerged when the Vice-Chancellor of Notre Dame Australia, Dr Peter Tannock, put forward his view that the design was ‘totally out of character with the West End,’ and would detract from the ‘beautiful and historic precinct.’266 He claimed it reminded him of the ‘disastrous Convention Centre’ in Perth. Ian quickly went on record to say that he agreed totally with Dr Tannock’s assessment.267

So did large numbers of Fremantle residents. The electors’ meeting organised by the VQTF in August again packed the Town Hall, with around four hundred people attending. It overwhelmingly rejected the ING development yet again, and Jim McGinty, who was present, promised to convey the sentiments of the meeting to the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure.268

The Fremantle City Council at least was listening. At a special meeting in November it rejected the Ports and ING development, despite the feeling of some councillors that to reject outright rather than ask for modifications meant being locked out of future developments.269

However, the combined pressure from the Fremantle Ports and the minister was hard to counter. The WA Planning Commission approved the development subject to conditions, against which ING immediately appealed to the State Administrative Tribunal which cleared the way for the project to proceed by mid-2008.270 Despite repeated assurances to the contrary by the minister, the views of the Fremantle community had made no difference to the outcome.

Fortunately for the community the global financial downturn followed shortly afterwards, putting such projects on hold. At the time of writing there have been no further developments on the Quay, but the proponents are adamant that the commercial development will go ahead.

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There was another heritage setback for Fremantle when in 2008 the South Fremantle Power Station was removed from its interim heritage listing on the grounds that it was now in private hands, although whether Verve Energy could really be described as a private concern is questionable. The Fremantle Society was responsible for its listing in the first place, having made it the Society’s ‘task of the year’ in 1997. Ian Alexander at once expressed concerns about its removal from the listing, and the Heritage Council agreed, having strongly emphasised its cultural heritage significance and the need for its retention on the heritage register. However, Minister Michelle Roberts was not convinced that it was worthy of registration and its fate remains uncertain.271

As well as the commercialisation of Victoria Quay there had been other moves by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure to turn Fremantle into what Ian called ‘another suburban shopping centre and marina development’ with its proposal to expand Fremantle’s three harbours, part of which involved closing off the view to the ocean from Bathers Beach by means of a new breakwater and inserting retail and residential development at the harbours’ edges as well as greatly increasing yacht mooring and stacking facilities. The Fremantle Society and other community groups launched an immediate protest at this gross commercialisation of the oceanfront, and particularly at the closing off of the view of the horizon from Bathers Beach.272

As usual, community consultation had been extremely selective and restricted,

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ignoring the most important part of the community - the users of Fremantle beaches. The project had been on the drawing board since 2006, but most Fremantle residents did not learn about it until over a year later, and the reaction was immediate. In December 2007 a very effective action group sprang into being, the Save Fremantle Beaches Alliance, which at once launched a website urging people to protest and save their access to their beach which was being threatened by an excessive residential and marina component around the three harbours.

The Fremantle Society worked alongside the Save Fremantle Beaches Alliance and also put forward a submission to the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, strongly objecting to the loss of connection to the ocean which would follow such massive residential and marine development, and pointing out the lack of real community consultation.273

The effect of all this community outcry was that when the government began to plan for the development of Victoria Quay from the Round House to the old Traffic Bridge, Alannah MacTiernan set up a special steering committee consisting of representatives of Fremantle Ports, Tourism WA, the Fremantle City Council and the WA Planning Commission, with local Fremantle architect Richard

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Longley as a community representative. She wanted to avoid a repeat of the ING ‘bun fight’. Ian welcomed the appointment of a community representative, but called for more than one, and for an end to secret decision-making.274

In any event the Labor government did not last long enough to embark on any of its plans; it lost office in September 2008, and the incoming Liberal government of Colin Barnett had other priorities.

Over a thousand people celebrate the Galati family at the Town Hall in Ausgust 2009. [Jeremy Dixon/Galati Family]

A great occasion came when the Fremantle Society nominated the iconic Galati family for the City of Fremantle Spirit of Heritage award in May 2008, and they carried off the prize. The family was nominated for their massive contribution to Fremantle over fifty years of trading. Their Wray Avenue shop had become the social hub of the area, and beyond. Sadly the ill health of matriarch Vincenzina Galati caused a long postponement of the celebration of this historic award, but when the occasion finally came a year later it was memorable. Over a thousand people crammed the Fremantle Town Hall; relatives, friends and long-time customers all crowded into the large main hall to celebrate the Galatis. Wine flowed and the famous Galati arancini and other delicious food, much of it cooked by Vincenzina and her friends, seemed to come in a never-ending stream for most of the Sunday afternoon in August 2009. It was a unique celebration of Fremantle and one of its outstanding families.275

There had been other positive developments for the Fremantle Society as well. Ian had reinstated the notion of committees to deal with special issues like planning and heritage, as well as social acitivities, membership, newsletter and website. And the Victoria Quay Task Force was also a major step forward;

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apart from concentrating on the quay it had also been talking about community-based development guidelines for key sites like the Myer-Queensgate complex, the Point Street area adjacent to Princess May Park and the eastern approaches to the city along Queen Victoria and Beach streets. A sub-group of the VQTF had been liaising with Professor Ruth Durack, the convenor of the UWA Urban Design Centre, since early 2008 about these issues.276

An important subcommittee was set up under the convenorship of former World Health Organization researcher Professor David Hawks to investigate how best to pursue the still important goal of national or even world heritage listing for Fremantle or for parts of it. As noted earlier, there seem to be formidable obstacles involved, but the Society has confronted such obstacles before and overcome them.

A very positive development emerging from the VQTF was the attempt at establishing some liaison between state government ministers, the Fremantle City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Fremantle Ports. This is an ongoing venture driven mainly by president Ian Alexander and ex-councillor and wise Fremantle elder June Hutchison and is hopefully drawing together some formerly antagonistic elements.

Fremantle Park, as seen from a Quarry Street building, c. 1940. [Fremantle City Library LHC]

Another success story involved Fremantle Park, which came under threat in 2007 of possibly being taken over by the Fremantle Dockers, who wanted a new headquarters and other facilities. Resistance to this from local residents led to a Fremantle Park Task Force being formed, with local resident Graeme Evans

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as convenor. The task force lobbied for the park to be listed by the Heritage Council, and asked David Hutchison to prepare a history of the park. By then several local residents including former Society president Don Whittington had also formed a Fremantle Park Association, so it was felt that the Fremantle Society could disband its task force, keeping contact with the Association to monitor any development.

Fremantle Heritage Week 2010: Mucky Duck Bush Dance Revival. [Roel Loopers]

The Fremantle Society continues its battle for Fremantle as a great place to live. Under Ian’s presidency its membership has almost doubled, and when the Society celebrated the City of Fremantle Heritage Week in 2010 with a revival of its 1970s Mucky Duck Bush Dance, tickets sold out quickly. More than a hundred and fifty people danced the night away at the Town Hall; many were longstanding members, but a large proportion were much younger.

Fremantle Heritage Week 2010: Don's Tram Tour.
Left: Don Whittington with Fremantle Mayor Dr Brad Pettitt, who joined the tour [Michael Wearne]
Right: Don talking to his passengers about saved buildings. [Michael Wearne]

Another Society event during Heritage Week was a tram tour led by Don Whittington as conductor. It started as a single tour of buildings saved by the Society. That sold out immediately, as did tour two and then tour three. The crowd still kept coming, including a couple who travelled up from Bunbury. For Don it was like revisiting the past; he had been there at the beginning when these magnificent buildings, and many houses, were saved from the wrecker. The tram travelled past Dalkeith House, Victoria Hall, the Fremantle Markets, the warders’ cottages, the Fire Station, Fremantle Prison, the extravagant facades of High and Henry streets and the Evan Davies Library, now pivot of the cappuccino strip. The tram chugged on: the passengers cheered.

Fremantle was still a special place.


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.
270 Fremantle Herald, 24 May 2008.
271 Fremantle Herald, 7 June 2008.
272 Fremantle Herald, 15 March 2008.
273 Fremantle Harbours Policy; Submission from the Fremantle Society, 7 February 2008.
274 Fremantle Herald, 12 April 2008.
275 Fremantle, September 2009.
276 Fremantle Herald, 15 March 2008.

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Garry Gillard | New: 17 June, 2020 | Now: 22 June, 2021