Fremantle Stuff > Ewers

John K. Ewers 1971, The Western Gateway: A History of Fremantle, Fremantle City Council, with UWAP, rev. ed. [1st ed. 1948].

Chapter 17: Early Results of Council Planning

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Most of the results of Fremantle’s No. 1 Town Planning Scheme in the central part of the city came into being in the 1960s, but the development of its industrial area at O'Connor, a mile or so to the east, was spread over a longer period. The first parcel of land, comprising 173 acres, was offered for sale in 1949, the second of 35 acres in 1952, the third of 66 acres in 1956, and the fourth of 47 acres in 1964. These were all parts of a large area of ‘endowment land’, vested in the Council since about 1834 for the use and benefit of the citizens, and it was necessary to obtain the governor’s approval to make it available. In addition, the Council purchased about 75 acres of land. Not all of it was to be used for industry; the development of residential estates kept pace with that of industry.

Initially the industrial land was offered at $2 (or £1 as it was then) per acre plus the cost of roads, drainage etc. These early contracts were found to be unwieldy and the Council then prepared a subdivision of the land in various sized allotments, ranging from one to fifteen acres. The cost of development was assessed and a price per acre, including all incidental costs, was fixed. This price was subject to review from time to time to meet increased costs and . increased land values. When the Council finally disposed of available land in 1966, the prices ranged from $2,000 to $3,000 per acre, based on an estimated valuation of $4,000 to $6,000. In this way, industry always had the advantage of purchasing the land at well below comparable land prices. At the same time, the Council was in a position to have a selective control over the type of industry permitted, and where necessary to segregate industry so that, for example, food processing industries would not have their products contaminated by proximity to an undesirable neighbour. The purchaser

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had to agree to begin within 12 months and complete within two years a building with a floor area of not less than 20 per cent of the land area, and of a specified value and in compliance with specific building requirements. The frontage of the building had to be in brick, stone, concrete or similar approved material. It had to be set back at least 30 feet from the road and this space had to be landscaped.

It is worthy of note that a number of industrial concerns already established elsewhere in Fremantle were glad to take advantage of the additional area available at O’Connor, so that they could expand their buildings and plant to a degree impossible at the sites they then occupied. There are now over one hundred firms operating at O’Connor, including a number of national companies. Their total capital expenditure exceeds $16,000,000. The current work force is approaching 3,500, but as the allocations of land have been made with a view to future expansion in the next 15-20 years, there is a possibility that by the end of that period the work force could reach 10,000. In this respect, O’Connor has amply fulfilled one of the objectives of the planners. Hitherto much of the work available in Fremantle had been seasonal; now it has been given a new measure of stability. (For a list of industries established at O’Connor, see Appendix 14.)

Simultaneously with this industrial development, residential areas have been opened up to the south and east of the city proper. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s new areas were proclaimed, subdivided and provided with roads, drainage and other amenities. The greater part of Hilton Park and a newer area known as Winterfold now provide a variety of good class homes, some built by the State Housing Commission and some by private contractors. Willagee in the adjoining Shire of Melville also owes its existence, in no small measure, to the fact that there was a growing demand for labour near by. Only Stock Road separates its western boundary from O’Connor. Among the new residential estates there are some flats, but their number is not excessive and they do not dominate the normal domestic architecture.

To see the full results of town planning for industry and housing, one has to travel over a wide area, but the impact within the city proper is immediate and impressive. Anyone revisiting Fremantle

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after an absence of some years would see that the heart of the city has a ‘new look’. This is, of course, true of most Australian cities in post-war years, but in some the ‘new look’ has destroyed much of the former character of the place. Fremantle has achieved a ‘new look’ and at the same time maintained its atmosphere.

Indeed, in one part in particular, it has actually re-established some part of its very early ‘old look’. This has been achieved by closing off portion of High Street and making a one-way traffic rotary incorporating Queen, Newman, William and Adelaide Streets, so that King’s Square has again come into existence. In 1843 all that there then was of High Street had a gaol at one end and a church at the other. (See ch. 4, p. 28.) That is more or less true of the same portion today. The church is St John’s. But it is a different building from the old St John’s and it occupies not the centre of King’s Square, but the left-hand side of it, with the Town Hall and new Civic Centre occupying the other half. Centrally situated between the church and the Town Hall is a series of fountains. As early as 1952 the Council required owners of premises in central High Street and elsewhere to remove their old verandah posts and substitute cantilever verandahs. This gives the narrow street a less cluttered appearance, while re-routing the traffic as described to link up with High Street east of King’s Square ensures a quicker and quieter flow of vehicles.

While the Civic Centre was being built, the old Town Hall was completely renovated at a price that was approximately three times that of its original building cost! The two together are known as the Civic Halls of Fremantle. Before building of the Civic Centre could begin the row of shops east of the old Town Hall had to be demolished and also the Centenary Building in William Street. The Civic Centre consists of a basement, a ground floor and one upper floor, but when needed two more floors can be added. It is built of concrete with facings of white tiles and concrete aggregate slabs resembling stone, and cost approximately $750,000. This modern Civic Centre, containing new Council Chambers, various committee rooms, administrative offices and an exhibition hall 80 feet by 40 feet, was officially opened on 9 March 1966 by His Excellency the Governor of Western Australia, Major-General Sir Douglas Kendrew.

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This is part of the ‘new look’ which, in a sense, restores the ‘old look’. Another impressive outcome of Town Planning Scheme No. 1 is the establishment in Adelaide and Queen Streets of a large retail centre. In 1960 the Fremantle City Council took the unique step of having a Consumer and Economic Research undertaken by a Perth firm, the Western Australian Public Relations Pty Ltd, Market and Consumer Research Section. This was then condensed into a booklet, The Fremantle Trend, 1960, 1 and its wide distribution in this state, interstate and overseas was intended to attract business houses, both wholesale and retail, to the Fremantle area in the immediate present and also the future. In any case, there was a willing response from large firms to the Council’s decision to zone for retailing this large area in the heart of the city, and building was soon under way. The extraordinary upsurge of building permits during these years is shown diagrammatically in an Appendix. (See Appendix 13.)

The building line in the southern end of Adelaide Street was set back to widen the street so that it could become part of a central bus terminal. Previously, buses from various directions had ended their runs at widely scattered places which caused much inconvenience to the public. Now all bus passengers to and from Fremantle arrive or depart in near-by locations in Cantonment, Queen and Adelaide Streets. This centralization of bus terminals was made easier by the fact that all transport services are now operated by the Metropolitan Transport Trust.

Every modern city has been faced with the problem of car-parking and Fremantle is no exception. The earliest mention of street parking meters is contained in the Annual Report for the year ending 30 June 1963. Two years later the Council was planning to instal these to coincide with the opening of a multi-storey car-park it was building. Installation began in the same year and in its first phase there were 339 meters. Today there are 674. The Westgate Multistorey car-park, with accommodation for approximately 400 vehicles was opened in Cantonment Street, quite close to the main retail and business area of the city, in 1965. Other off-street parking in the Holdsworth Car Park and in a small area adjacent to the Civic Centre now provides for a total of approximately 900 vehicles.

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Another multi-storey car-park, with accommodation for more than 1,100 vehicles, is soon to be erected in Henderson Street.

This will be incorporated in a vast, new retail complex, details of which were made public on 8 December 1970. It has a 380 feet frontage to King’s Square and is bounded by Newman, Queen, Henderson and William Streets. The total complex will cover over three acres and will cost more than $13,000,000. Part of it will have four floors for trading with provision for the addition of a fifth when required. Work is expected to begin early in 1971 and completion is scheduled for August 1972. One firm alone will provide employment for 700, of whom 650 will be women. This complex will replace old warehouses and a small council car-park on the site, and will certainly enhance Fremantle’s ‘new look’.

Fremantle has always been well endowed with open spaces, and scenically the most attractive of these is Memorial Reserve, built, it will be remembered, during the depression years. This is impeccably maintained and to the original memorial have been added entrance pillars and plaques to commemorate those who died in World War II. There is also a mounted torpedo which is in memory of United States sailors on submarines which used Fremantle as a base, and some of which never returned to base. Memorial Reserve is a popular place with visitors and tourists. It commands fine panoramic views over the city and harbour.

An important part of the Council’s post-war planning was the improvement of facilities at existing reserves and playing fields and the provision of new recreational areas. Central to the city is Fremantle Park of 22 acres, and because it is adjacent to a number of schools, to the Museum and Art Centre described in the next chapter, and also to the Aquatic Centre now nearing completion opposite the museum, it really forms part of Fremantle’s cultural centre. It has tennis courts, bowling greens, croquet lawns and ample room for football, cricket, lacrosse and hockey. New change-rooms were built there in early post-war years. Also in the central city area is Fremantle Oval where considerable work has been done tiering the spectator area with concrete to provide more sitting and standing accommodation. More than half of this was ready for the 1970 football season. For many years, Fremantle Oval was used for both football and cricket, but two years ago the cricket pitches were removed

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and a new home for cricket created at Stevens Reserve. In the winter Stevens Reserve is also used for hockey, and the up-to-date change-rooms are used by players of both the summer and winter sports. Gibson Park has been improved to provide facilities for rugby, lacrosse, hockey and basket-ball. Hilton Park Reserve has new bowling greens and the Bruce Lee Reserve serves for the recreation of students from the near-by Fremantle Technical College and other schools in that area. Fremantle has been well served by its city gardener, Mr P. Luff, who retired on account of ill-health in 1967 after being with the Council for 34 years. His place has been taken by Mr I. M. Heughes, previously Superintendent of Parks and Gardens at Aldridge, Staffordshire, England. (For a list of Fremantle parks and reserves, see Appendix 10.)

As pointed out in an earlier chapter. South Beach had long been a popular swimming resort, especially attractive to younger children because it does not have the rough surf of the more northerly parts of the coast. Once it had a jetty and a shark-proof enclosure, with a large building called the Hydrodrome equipped with change-rooms, a tea-shop and an upstairs hall for social purposes. The years and the gales of many winters took their toll of all three and, one by one, they were demolished because they were no longer safe. Today South Beach is being entirely re-planned. Two groynes built some time ago between the South Fremantle Power House and the old site of the jetty have built up an extensive sandy beach which has been protected by a handsome, curved, retaining wall of limestone. Change-rooms and a small shop are there for patrons and a large area above the retaining wall is under grass. As I write this, the sandy beach is being levelled in preparation for the 1970-71 summer season and there is no doubt that, when fully developed. South Beach will again be a highly attractive and popular watering-place.

In 1969, with most of its No. 1 Scheme completed and functioning, the City Council was ready to go ahead with No. 2 Scheme which it had been preparing for some years. Its promulgation led to two meetings of electors, both of them very well attended. The interest shown by the public at these is an indication that the citizens of Fremantle had a lively concern for the future of their city and, no doubt, for their personal stake in it. Finally, after lengthy

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negotiations by the Council with ratepayers and with public authorities concerned, most objections were satisfied, and the stage is now set to put this new scheme into operation.

To what extent Fremantle will be able to retain its distinctive character remains to be seen, but the Council is anxious that it should do so and at the end of its first Town Planning Scheme it has been remarkably successful in this respect. One can think of many cities whose ‘friendly smile’ has changed into a ‘glassy stare’, with sky-scraper buildings converting the streets into concrete canyons. It is largely the absence of tall buildings in Fremantle’s ‘new look’ at the end of its first phase of planning that has prevented this from happening so far. The tallest building at present would, no doubt, be that of the Port Authority which occupies its own place adjacent to the harbour. In the city area proper, it is nearly equalled by a block of flats in Adelaide Street called Johnston Court. This has a terrace of shops on the ground floor and nine storeys of accommodation. Because it presents a narrow front to Adelaide Street it is pleasantly unobtrusive from that angle, perhaps made the more so by an old ship’s anchor used as part of its exterior decor. However, when viewed from other parts of the city it does rather dominate its surroundings. The only other tall building so far erected in the centre of the city is Crane House in High Street, a block of six storeys devoted to commercial offices. One would like to hope that the comparatively low level of buildings will be maintained in the years to come, but perhaps that is too much to expect.

But perhaps it is the people of a city rather than its buildings that retain the ‘friendly smile’, and the people of Fremantle have always been noted for their friendliness, just as the friendly service in its retail stores attracts shoppers from far and near.


1 Fremantle City Council, The Fremantle Trend, 1960: A Consumer Research of Fremantle and Surrounding District. Conducted by WA. Public Relations Pty Ltd (Fremantle: S. H. Lamb, 1960).

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