Fremantle Stuff > Ron & Dianne Davidson, Fighting for Fremantle

Chapter 9

Rebirth of the Society

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Rumours began circulating in 1985 that a huge resort development was being planned for fourteen hectares of industrial land in North Fremantle between the Fremantle Traffic and Stirling bridges. It was to be called the Anchorage, and would come to be seen as the first element of the Burke ALP government’s dubious financial involvement with certain private businessmen which later became known as WA Inc. The land in question was made up of remnants of small-scale industrialisation in North Fremantle. It comprised a jumble of boat yards, the Rottnest barge harbour, a sail maker, a wool scourer and even an historic steam laundry. All of these were to be moved. The State Superannuation Board was the shadowy developer. The planned development was hopelessly out of scale with North Fremantle and Fremantle as a whole. A canal was to be cut through the riverbank for a six-hundred yacht marina. There was also to be a thirteen-storey hotel and residential towers. A third of the river along the coastline was to be privatised. Homes had to be found for existing industry and this posed a potential threat to recreation at South Beach as well as

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destroying the traditional Harvest Road swimming area. During 1986 estimates of building costs rose from $300 million to $1 billion, making it the state’s biggest project in money terms.133

At the same time, during 1986-87, the America’s Cup defence was in full swing and the Fremantle Society, after bruising conflicts over the Parry Street bypass, the Alcoa building and the new boat harbour, had declared a truce on controversy over the time of the sail-off.134 This became a problem when it was revealed just how devastating the Anchorage was to become to North Fremantle and Fremantle as a whole and how the Society was being hampered by this truce.

The Fremantle Society solved its dilemma at a meeting attended by President Brian Davies, Vice-President David Hutchison, committee member Paul Roberts, architect Jack Kent who was also a North Fremantle resident, Society member Ron Davidson and leading members of the North Fremantle Community Association including Rex Gate and Ann Forma. The name CARD (Community Action for Rational Development) was coined by Brian Davies, who felt people may be tiring of the Fremantle Society label, particularly at a time of considerable festivities. The Fremantle Society would fund CARD and meetings would be held at the Society’s headquarters in Princess Chambers.135

Ann Forma, North Fremantle Community Association. [Fremantle Herald]

The group made a deliberate decision to keep the Fremantle Society in the background and worked on research which revealed some juicy land dealings. The Anchorage and some accompanying scandals became the big Fremantle story and CARD spokesman Jack Kent appeared frequently in the daily press attacking the lack of principles of government apparent in the project. For example, the dredging for the marina put at risk the delicate piling beneath the Traffic Bridge. The Anti-Anchorage campaign included vivid illustrations showing the proposed new hotel dwarfing the existing Swan Hotel. North Fremantle screen printers produced posters drawn by local artist Mandy Browne, showing Fremantle being entangled by the tentacles of the

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Anchorage Octopus. It was a triumph for skilful grassroots activism where the local campaigners were winning the arguments against highly paid professionals.

IS THIS THE FREMANTLE YOU WANT? shouted pamphlets in an extensive letterbox drop that announced a CARD protest meeting in Fremantle Town Hall. The hall was packed on 28 April 1987 for the meeting, and the audience unanimously rejected the project despite a robust defence from Tony Lloyd, the new chair of the State Superannuation Board. Next Premier Brian Burke was calling for calm and the project lost momentum when faced with a number of scandals involving land valuation and an earlier chair of the State Superannuation Board. By year’s end the Anchorage was dead despite its original momentum generated by massive state government backing.

The North Fremantle Community Association members dropped from view as the original Anchorage energy dissipated, leaving CARD with sometimes only Jack Kent and Ron Davidson as frontline activists. There were, however, other major issues brewing, of possibly greater import than the Anchorage. The publicity attracted by the America’s Cup brought to wider public notice Fremantle’s stock of handsome and cheap buildings in the West End. The eighties mining entrepreneur and winemaker Denis Horgan and his public relations man Chris Codrington had plenty of money to buy buildings for a projected Catholic private university. The future of Fremantle prison was in question. It was due to be decommissioned in 1991 and no decisions had been made about whether it was to remain in public hands or be handed over to private developers; there were questions about the appropriate development of the Fishing Harbour, and also about the increasing practice of building inappropriate new structures behind a token heritage facade, or ‘fasodomy’.

David Hutchison, Vice-President of Fremantle Society and member of CARD. [Hutchison family]

In the meantime, the Fremantle Society itself was undergoing a major crisis. It was proving more and more difficult to recruit members to the committee and executive, and in 1988 the committee decided that a special general meeting should be called to discuss whether the Society should be wound up and its assets distributed. A special newsletter was put together by the Society’s Vice-President David Hutchison notifying members of the meeting, outlining the urgent issues facing Fremantle and calling for a revitalisation of the Society.136

The special meeting was held on 23 November 1988. Intensive lobbying by CARD activists and others resulted in the best attendance in years, with the Society’s patron,

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former Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck also present. It was proposed that the motion to wind up the Society be postponed until General Business to allow nominations for a committee to proceed. Sir Paul pointed out that an official committee could only be elected at a formal Annual General Meeting, which could not be convened until the following year, and it was agreed that nominations should be called for an interim committee to allow the Society to continue functioning.

Jack Kent, CARD spokeman. [Fremantle Herald/Michael Wearne]

There was a sharp new awareness at the meeting that something drastic had to be done to save the Society, and ten members nominated for the interim committee: former vice-president and museologist David Hutchison, green activist Bryn Davis, real estate agent and prominent local identity John Dethridge, documentary filmmaker Paul Roberts, Jack Kent, industrial chemist Elizabeth Atahan, Regal Theatre impresario John Thornton, Murdoch University academic and Councillor Alan Petersen, local activist and historian Dianne Davidson and of course the tireless Alice Smith. All nominations were accepted, and Brian Davies agreed to continue as interim president.

During discussions about the Society’s future it was stressed that newsletters were a crucial issue, and that the Society needed to reinstate a restoration advisory service and rekindle social activities to involve members. It was also felt that the Society needed to once again make strong public statements on important issues.

Sir Paul Hasluck pointed out that it was crucial for Fremantle to retain its distinctive character and not become just another city as Perth had done. It was currently at risk, he said, and the Society had a vital role to play:

We must be ready to make a declaration or protest directed at the right target at the appropriate time. People with local knowledge and wisdom must be heard ... the Society can’t help being political, though not partisan. There are many powerful and conniving people devising schemes under a cloak of confidentiality to increase their fortunes. Eventually they must apply for permission. This is where the Society must be active, and make the right people aware of its views.

There were extensive and enthusiastic exchanges of views, and by the time the motion of dissolving the Society was brought forward under General Business it had no supporters.137

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The interim committee met weekly until Christmas to work out what was needed to rejuvenate the Society, with a strong membership drive initiated through personalised letters to likely candidates, arranging publicity and organising press statements, and, importantly, finding an effective president.138

George Seddon at his Fremantle home, Lenaville. [Fremantle Herald]

Another newsletter quickly followed at the beginning of February advertising the formal Annual General Meeting, to be held 14 February in the Fremantle Town Hall. Professor George Seddon, a brilliant and multi-talented academic who had recently become a Fremantle resident, was the keynote speaker on ‘The need for a landscape plan for Fremantle’. Former Society president June Boddy outlined briefly the history of the Fremantle Society, and David Hutchison summarised the current major issues confronting Fremantle residents.

The Annual General Meeting was a resounding success. Approximately two hundred people attended, all twelve available committee and executive positions were filled, and there was a deluge of applications for membership. Early vice-president of the Society and a former deputy mayor of the City of Fremantle, Don Whittington, was elected unopposed as the new president.139

The Fremantle Society was indeed back, full of renewed energy.

Endnotes

133 West Australian, 28 June 1986.
134 Fremantle vol. 15, no. 2,1987.
135 Fremantle, September 1987.
136 Special edition newsletter, October 1988.
137 Minutes of Special General Meeting, 23 November 1988.
138 Fremantle, December 1988.
139 Fremantle, April 1989.

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Garry Gillard | New: 17 June, 2020 | Now: 20 June, 2021