Fremantle Stuff > Ron & Dianne Davidson, Fighting for Fremantle

Chapter 8

Troubled Times

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For the Fremantle Society the turbulent 1980s really started in 1979 with Sir Charles Court closing the Fremantle-Perth railway to ‘save on maintenance’. Les Lauder had resigned as president in 1978 and had been replaced by June Boddy, a very determined social worker with government Disability Services. She wrote to Sir Charles to protest against the closure, pointing out the work that had been done by both the Society and the Council to restore and promote the historic port and its potential for attracting visitors. This letter elicited a curious reply. The Court government was expecting increased traffic to Midland and to Armadale, but not to Fremantle. It seemed to have a strange blind spot about the port city, which at the time was clearly already developing strong tourist potential. Only a few years later, in 1983, it was to win the prestigious international Pacific Area Travel Association award. The Court government did not seem to see this coming.98

The King of Nepal opens the 1983 Third International Pacific Area Travel Association Tourism andHeritage Conference in Kathmandu. The City of Fremantle wins the 1983 Heritage Award, and Society member and Deputy Maor Don Whittington gives a presentation on the planning approach to conservation in the West End. [Don Whittington]

A Friends of the Railways group was formed in March 1979 at a meeting of eight hundred people at the Perth Town Hall, with Fremantle councillor and Society member Peter Newman convening its Citizens Action Group, which

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included representatives of the Railways Union, the Environmental Centre and the Fremantle Society. The Federal Member for Fremantle, John Dawkins, convened the Politicians Action Group, of which State Member for Fremantle John Troy was also a member. Within a month the Friends of the Railways had collected 99,840 signatures for a petition against the closure and Peter Newman presented the petition to the Minister for Transport on the steps of Parliament House. The minister’s response was that the government would take no notice. This prompted the Leader of the Opposition, Ron Davies, to point out that in dismissing what he believed to be possibly the largest petition ever presented to state parliament the government was demonstrating its undemocratic nature.99

June Boddy, c. 1979. [Fremantle Herald]

The Liberal government might have been able to ignore public opinion, but they couldn’t ignore the Railways Union. The union stepped in and refused to pull the track up, thus saving the railway line for the long term. The Fremantle-Perth railway was reopened in 1983 after the election of the Burke Labor government.

Reopening of the Fremantle-Perth railway line, 1983. [City of Fremantle LHC ref. 1544A] From left: Peter Newman, Merv (playing the accordion), Don Whittington, Mayor Bill McKenzie, Dorothy Brooks.

Both John Dawkins and Society President June Boddy had been prominent at protest meetings and marches along the railway track. They also used to meet while exercising their large dogs on the open spaces of Fremantle Park. One day Dawkins made June Boddy an offer she had to refuse. Dawkins wanted the Fremantle Society and the ALP to work together to support ALP candidate Norm Marlborough in South Ward for the forthcoming council election.100 She said this was not possible: the Society made a special point of not aligning itself with political parties and pointed out that party policies were usually not relevant to issues coming before Council. Then a demand followed almost immediately. Fremantle Society committee member Alyson Hulley-Jeffries, whom the Society

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was supporting for South Ward, was to withdraw from the contest, or the Society’s other candidates would be targeted. This demand was rejected.

Until this time there had been a fairly comfortable relationship between the ALP and Society members. They were often the same generally progressive people, and some Society members were members of the ALP. But there were also members who supported the Liberal Party. Sir Paul Hasluck, the former Liberal Governor-General, had been the Society’s patron since 1974 and members of his family had handed out how-to-vote cards for Les Lauder at the Society’s first council election foray in 1973.

June Boddy immediately contacted Bob McMullan, then State Secretary of the ALP, to protest. Bob had said nice things about the progressive policies of the Fremantle Society and had even sounded out Les Lauder as a possible candidate for the state seat of Fremantle. But he claimed he had not heard of any ALP push and didn’t promise to intervene, only expressing a hope that there would be no local conflict between the ALP and the Fremantle Society.101

But there was. The Society did not have long to wait for candidate targeting to begin. In 1979 June Boddy was opposed in the Hilton Ward by union organiser Clive Hughes, who would later, in the space of a single year, become MLA for Cockburn, be viewed as a prospective Labor leader, and die of an undetected melanoma. He was strongly supported by the ALP in the Hilton contest.

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On 5 May a big team of Fremantle Society workers on foot and in cars swarmed over Hilton, getting out the vote and where necessary driving voters to the polls. The message was that June Boddy was independent and that was good: Clive Hughes was described as a party hack which wasn’t quite true. June won easily in a high voter turn-out and received a note of congratulations from Dawkins.

However, the election was not all good news for the Fremantle Society. There was a shock in North Ward. During the pre-election jockeying Gerard MacGill, one of the pioneering Society councillors who was elected two years after Les Lauder for North Ward had been surprisingly beaten by an ALP member when he came up for re-election in 1978. He wanted to stand somewhere the following year, but not, originally, against the former president. So, as a party member, he sought ALP endorsement for South Ward. He failed to get this, but his request lost him the support of the Fremantle Society. He was still determined to stand somewhere, and he finally did choose North Ward where he lived and was active in the community. This led to a bitter clash between sitting North Ward Councillor and former Society president Les Lauder and one of its most able former committee members. According to Les, he was crippled by a letter to the electorate from John Dawkins withdrawing his support because he no longer considered Les a suitable candidate. Dawkins when questioned did not remember any details of the contest - not even Gerard’s name.

When Les was again elected to Council nearly twenty-five years later he was to be very critical of sustainability advocate Dr Peter Newman for Peter’s support of waterfront projects like the ING high-rise development on Victoria Quay and the North Port Quay plan to engineer a number of islands over the ocean. However, in the aftermath to the 1979 election, Peter Newman’s praise for Les was unreservedly generous and appeared in the Society newsletter of October 1979 under the heading ‘In Appreciation of Councillor Les’. He wrote of Les’ contribution during his appointment to the National Estate Committee:

Peter Newman, c. 1995. [Fremantle Herald]

Now restoration of the many public buildings became possible as someone who understood Fremantle’s unique situation was able to articulate the case in Canberra. Half a million dollars eventually came to Fremantle and each of the beautiful buildings which we now treasure was given a new lease of life. And most importantly they began to fulfil a commercial or cultural role; a new tone was set in the city. Old buildings began to get a new

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image as an asset not a liability. Slowly the restoration programme spread throughout the city and even the stone houses that surrounded the city began to smile again. Les was also interested in more than just buildings though. New thinking had begun to occur that local government was more than a provider of roads and rubbish services ... Les became a staunch and articulate advocate of the many progressive ideas which marked out Fremantle ...

Les had finished his term as president in 1978 in poor shape physically: he had been living on his nerves and as a consequence had had a number of major operations because of chronic internal bleeding due to ulcerative colitis. Once he had arrived in the Council Chambers in pyjamas, escorted by supporters, straight from his Fremantle Hospital bed. He was just in time to tie the vote and bring Bill McKenzie’s casting vote into play once again - and save the Evan Davies building. John Cattalini, the local pharmacist who often voted against Les, saw how sick he looked and was shocked. Next day John and his wife Pam Cattalini, devout Catholics both, knelt beside the bed of Les Lauder the unbeliever and prayed for him to recover. He eventually did, but only after being close to death on a number of occasions.102

In a further wash-up from the Council election the Society published a five-hundred-word statement to ‘clear up misunderstandings’ regarding the Society’s position about political parties. It was essentially that the Society had to be independent, as to protect Fremantle it had to be free to deal with both political parties.103 This was what June Boddy had told John Dawkins at Fremantle Park some two months earlier.

But while June had convincingly defeated Clive Hughes, ALP member Norm Marlborough won South Ward and future Labor premier Geoff Gallop was waiting in the wings, to be elected in Beaconsfield Ward in 1983. Fremantle City Council was shaping up as a proving ground for party hopefuls.

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The last year of Les’ presidency had seen the emergence of possibly the most important project the Society was involved with in the closing years of the 1970s and the early 1980s. This was its comprehensive photographic survey, originally coordinated by Fremantle architect Ralph Hoare. In August 1978 photographing commenced of all Fremantle residential buildings in North Ward, City Ward, South Ward and the western sides of East and Beaconsfield wards. These buildings were then to be indexed so that the Society could assess the architectural and historic value of both individual buildings and entire streets. The completed collection was to be made available to both the City of Fremantle and the National Trust.

Les Lauder had managed to secure a small Commonwealth grant to get the survey under way. The work was to be carried out by volunteer photographers, and film and processing costs were donated by Mayor Bill McKenzie on behalf of the Friendly Societies.104

One of the volunteers, Colin Nichol, describes vividly the personal experiences, encounters and pitfalls that awaited the photographers who contributed to this massive project:

‘Are you from the Council?’ asked the curler-decorated head. Without pausing for my explanation, dropping broom and pinning back her flapping scarf, the lady of the house grasped what she hoped was a golden opportunity to have her say over the front fence ... Say what you will about the melting pot [made up by] Fremantle residents, a common and rapidly developing characteristic is certainly vivid interest and concern for their community. They are aware of the value of their unique residential area and anxious to see it maintained.

... I had reckoned without interested bystanders and householders who either thought me a Council official or would-be burglar getting the lie of the land. Certainly I had not thought there would be so many spontaneous encounters with friendly dogs anxious to catch my runaway hat before I did or with rattled motorists nearly catching me.

Street furniture takes on a new dimension when you find the best angle for a shot of an interesting house obscured by a no-parking sign, while the many attractive trees often necessitated my climbing on top of fences to photograph behind.105

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By October 1979 some four thousand photographs had been processed and were being evaluated by an assessment team consisting of Les Lauder and architects Ralph Hoare, Tony Connor, Wayne Jacks and Carl Payne. The process had its enjoyable side as the team sat around the table at Ralph’s house drinking port and assessing houses street by street. They divided important buildings into two categories: those which were important to Fremantle’s character in their present form, and those which would be important if they were restored. Les proved invaluable in the process; he had been inside many of the houses and could provide additional knowledge of interiors.107 The team identified fifty buildings which could be considered outstanding but which were as yet unrecognised, and successfully recommended their classification by the National Trust.107 The photographic survey continued into the early 1980s, now convened by Tony Connor, and by July 1983 some five thousand buildings had been photographed.108

The departure of Les Lauder from the presidency ushered in more than a decade of rapid turnover in presidents, with eleven incumbents between 1979 and 1990.109 Early in the 1980s there also seemed to be increasing difficulties about recruiting members willing to serve on the executive or on the committee, and there were increasingly frequent questions about whether the Society had a future.

The reasons for this are not clear. There were probably a number of factors at work: the strident discord over the Hampton Road house alienated a number of longstanding Society members, while the considerable Fremantle Society presence on Council by 1979 may have engendered a false sense of security in the Fremantle community.

The latter seemed to be the view of the Society’s administration, and from 1980 onwards the newsletter lamented the poor attendance at Annual General Meetings and the difficulty of attracting nominations for executive and committee positions, while stressing that in fact Fremantle buildings had no legal protection at all. Despite these exhortations, by the end of 1982 no presidential nomination had been forthcoming and the post was only filled at the last minute by local resident and oil company executive Peter West.110

Social activities such as annual bush dances, quiz nights, house inspections and walks around Fremantle continued, as did the ongoing oral history program. However, politically the Society was seeing itself as consolidating and stabilising rather than acting as an opinion former.111 In 1982 the Society moved into permanent premises in Princess Chambers in Market Street, and a lot of energy was put into cleaning up, renovating and restoring the rented rooms.112

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Some important political issues did arise in the early part of this period. In 1981 global aluminium giant Alcoa, which had employees scattered around offices in the Fremantle CBD, put forward plans to Council for a three-building complex - two of five storeys and one of eight - in a Cantonment Street car park. The Society was under serious pressure; nobody wanted Alcoa to move out of Fremantle, but such a high-rise development contradicted the provisions of the City of Fremantle’s Town Planning Scheme No. 3 which was about to be implemented, and which restricted building height to five storeys. As Norm Marlborough, Councillor for South Ward, pointed out, if Alcoa gets away with breaching the Town Planning Scheme, what is to stop other corporations doing likewise?113

The Alcoa issue resulted in a sharp and public rift in the Fremantle Society. Anthony Rutherford, who took over the presidency from June Boddy in 1980, had come out in support of the Alcoa proposal, stating in a letter to the mayor that ‘While on the one hand we are concerned with the overall aesthetics of the new development, we are also concerned to encourage Fremantle’s growth as a viable commercial area.’ This outraged his predecessor June Boddy who wrote to the committee demanding his resignation, claiming that his letter was ‘an outrageous betrayal of everything the society stands for.’

June’s sentiments were echoed by Fremantle resident and master of grassroots campaigning Rick Grounds, who suggested that an alternative group should be formed now that the Fremantle Society had clearly been ‘discredited’ over its stand. Both June and Rick pointed out that the Alcoa issue had not been discussed by the Fremantle Society committee and that Anthony Rutherford had presented his own views on the matter in the name of the entire Society.

In November 1981 Councillor Dick Cotton moved to full Council that the new plan should be accepted. The plans now made the tall building ten storeys rather than eight but it was thinner. The vote was 10-7 and Fremantle Society members and supporters who were on Council were hopelessly split, some voting for and some against. The Alcoa proposal was accepted, but shortly afterwards Alcoa moved out of Fremantle anyway, using the Fremantle Council’s approval to promote an even higher building in Garden City.114

Anthony Rutherford was a new kind of president for the Fremantle Society. He was a Liberal supporter and worked in the office of a Liberal Party senator. He lived in an extensive Georgian house in Norfolk Street which had been largely restored with Commonwealth funding; later it was to become the Sala Thai

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restaurant. Here he delivered to members a paper on the role of private enterprise in protecting heritage. He survived the attack on him over the Alcoa issue and went on to be re-elected unopposed as president later in the same year.115

Another major issue in the early 1980s was the Parry Street extension, a proposal to extend Parry Street from Holdsworth Street in order to curve between the Markets and the Fremantle Oval grandstand and connect with South Terrace and Norfolk Street. In its 1978 document ‘The Future Fremantle’ the Society had expressed cautious approval of the plan:

Parry Street By-Pass [it became known as PSE in 1980] has certain advantages as, for example, providing an inner-city ring road system linking through to the West End and Phillimore Street. However, it would appear to provide a barrier to the Gaol and other areas. The proposal needs to be seriously re-examined and is seen as a last resort strategy.116

Gerard McCann, c. 1980. [Fremantle Herald]

However, by 1980 the Society was expressing serious reservations about demolition of existing buildings and splitting the markets - Fremantle Oval precinct; it called for a re-examination of the proposed extension.117 There was also strong opposition to the road being expressed by a new body, a Citizens Committee headed by Fremantle architect Gerard McCann. This group included a large number of prominent architects who objected strongly to a heritage precinct being divided by a road, and pointed out that a future heritage icon, the Fremantle Gaol, would be cut off from the city. The Citizens Committee wrote to councillors and local politicians putting forward their objections, and in June 1983 submitted an extensive critique of the proposal to the City of Fremantle which included alternative suggestions for improved traffic flows and parking.117

The Fremantle Society planning subcommittee headed by Society Vice-President Carl Payne and Secretary Reg Gordon supported the Citizens Committee, now also recommending against building the extension, and pointing out that existing inner-city roads should prove adequate. It recommended pedestrianisation of all roads around Kings Square and monitoring of ‘new movement patterns’ which it believed would emerge.119 Despite all this, and a petition containing 1500 signatures organised by the Citizens Committee against

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the extension, the Council announced in early 1984 that the plan was to go ahead.120

There were some positive moves on the heritage front. In February 1980 the National Trust issued an official definition of the West End Conservation Area of Fremantle, and nominated the entire area for the Register of the National Estate.121 There was also a hope that with the election of the Brian Burke Labor government in 1983 Western Australia might finally get a Heritage Act, since this was part of the ALP platform.

The Society itself was also involved in a major restoration project in the early 1980s. A historic brick and stone cottage known as Winter House in Johannah Street, North Fremantle, was in poor condition and deteriorating rapidly due to neglect and vandalism. In 1982, under the presidency of journalist Baden Pratt, the Society formed a partnership with the City of Fremantle to restore the building, despite several councillors favouring demolition.122 After several months of hard work the restored cottage was officially opened on 5 November 1982, and was to win the Fremantle Society a heritage award from the City of Fremantle in 1984.123

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America's Cup celebrations, Fremantle, 1987. [City of Fremantle LHC]

In 1983 Alan Bond’s controversial new yacht Australia II won the America’s Cup at Newport, Rhode Island, and an announcement soon followed that the 1987 America’s Cup challenge would take place in Fremantle. Reactions to this ranged from ecstatic to wary. Society member and Councillor Peter Newman was full of enthusiasm, comparing the possible economic benefits for Fremantle to the arrival of convicts in the 1850s and the gold rush of the 1890s. Other Society members noted with apprehension that a possible new boom would bring pressure to redevelop and recycle existing buildings without any heritage protection that would ensure that this was done appropriately.124 The Burke government did not seem to be in any hurry to enact its promised Heritage Act.

Interestingly, there had been serious moves to place Fremantle on the World Heritage List, though not by the Fremantle Society. In 1982 a visiting heritage expert and member of the Board of Trustees of the United States National Trust, Robert Collins, stated publicly that Fremantle was the most significant historical area he had seen in Australia: ‘I thought that Fremantle was a world event - it is the most unique collection of nineteenth century commercial buildings.’125

Early in the following year the Mayor of Fremantle, Bill McKenzie, moved a recommendation in Council that the city manager should report on preparing a case to UNESCO to have Fremantle included on the World Heritage List. This was carried.126 A few months later the chair of the Australian Heritage Commission, Dr Kenneth Wiltshire, visited Fremantle to present the mayor with a certificate recognising the port city as part of the National Estate, and proclaiming it to be ‘probably the best example of a nineteenth century city in the world and well worthy of nomination on the world heritage list.’ He announced that the full Commission would be visiting Fremantle in 1984 to inspect it formally.127

The Australian Heritage Commission did visit Fremantle, holding its forty-fifth meeting there in May 1984, with Kenneth Wiltshire announcing that ‘Fremantle had probably more historically significant sites per square kilometre than anywhere else in Australia.128 However, in January 1985 the Daily News carried a prominent headline — ‘Freo Misses History List’. Wiltshire had recommended nomination, but the Australian Heritage Commission did not have the resources to do the research and preparation required. The normal procedure, he said, was for the state government to do this and nominate the area to the federal government which would then put a recommendation to the UNESCO Paris office.129 The Burke government expressed no interest in following this up, and the Fremantle Society does not seem to have been involved in the debate at all,

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other than to note in its newsletter the failure to have Fremantle nominated and to deplore Western Australia’s lack of interest in its own heritage.

A very interesting suggestion did emerge from the Fremantle Society during this period. In April 1985 the Society had been asked by the City of Fremantle to suggest a possible project which might be funded by the Australian Bicentennial Authority’s Heritage and Environment Program. The Society’s secretary, computer statistician Brian Davies, proposed that all federal and state land in Fremantle be transferred to the City of Fremantle as a bicentennial gift, to be administered by a Heritage Management Trust which would acquire, manage, restore and maintain the properties, and which would pay rates to the City.130 Needless to say, the suggestion was not taken up.

The Society was in any case having serious doubts about its own future, and a front page headline in its May 1984 newsletter was ‘Future of the Society’. The newsletter noted that several members of the executive were planning to retire in 1985 and warned that unless nominations were forthcoming the Society would have to seriously consider calling a special meeting to consider dissolution.131 In any event an executive and committee were cobbled together from the floor, with no written nominations for the executive, and only two for the committee, one of them the ever-reliable Alice Smith.132

During 1985, housing inspections and Fremantle walks were still held, but the photographic survey was discontinued and social activities generally became the responsibility of the whole committee, which saw major events like the annual quiz nights and bush dances disappearing. The newsletter continued through 1985, but ceased publication during 1986,1987 and most of 1988.

Some other activist groups emerged campaigning on particular issues, notably the Buckland Hill Action Group which was lobbying to preserve the Hill as a major regional park linking the Swan River to the ocean, and the South Park Action and Revegetation Committee (SPARC) with its aim of restoring the South Beach area as a regional seaside park.

However, during this period the most important new group was set up by the Fremantle Society itself - CARD.

Endnotes

98 Correspondence between June Boddy and D.H. O’Neil, Fremantle vol. 7, no. 1, 1979.
99 Fremantle, vol. 7, no. 2,1979.
100 June Boddy, interview with Ron Davidson, 2 September 2008.
101 Fremantle, vol. 7, no. 2,1979.
102 Les Lauder, interview with the authors,
25 February 2009.
103 Fremantle Gazette, 21 June 1979.
104 Fremantle, vol. 7, no. 1,1979.
105 Fremantle, March 1979.
106 Ralph Hoare, interview with Ron Davidson, 8 July 2008.
107 Fremantle, October 1979.
108 Fremantle, vol. 10, no. 3,1982.
109 See Appendix I: Fremantle Society Presidents.
110 Fremantle, vol. 11, no. 3,1983.
111 Fremantle, vol. 11, no. 1,1983.
112 Fremantle, vol. 10, no. 1,1982.
113 Fremantle Gazette, 4 November 1981.
114 ibid.
115 Fremantle Gazette, 9 December 1981.
116 The Future Fremantle, 1978, clause 2.6(h).
117 Fremantle, vol. 8, no.1,1980.
118 Outline of Submission to Fremantle City Council: Objections and alternatives to the proposed Parry Street extension,
15 June 1983.
119 Fremantle, vol. 11, no. 3,1983.
120 Fremantle, vol. 12, no. 1,1984.
121 Fremantle, vol. 8, no. 1,1980.
122 Fremantle, vol. 10, no. 3,1982.
123 Fremantle, vol. 12, no. 2,1984.
124 Fremantle vol. 11, no. 4,1983.
125 Fremantle Gazette, 31 March 1982.
126 Fremantle City Council Minutes,
17 January 1983, p. 16.
127 West Australian, 20 June 1983.
128 West Australian, 1 May 1984.
129 Daily News, 9 January 1985.
130 Fremantle vol. 13, no. 2,1985.
131 Fremantle vol. 12, no. 5,1984.
132 Minutes of Fremantle Society Annual General Meeting, 1985-86.

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