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Fremantle History Society:
After leaving school Cathy Hall worked as a secretary before changing course to train as a nurse in Leeds, UK. She worked as a nurse there and then in Perth after she and partner Jon [Strachan] immigrated, although the physical hardships of the job eventually forced her to discontinue. However, the end of one phase of our lives generally heralds the beginning of another and Cathy spent the next forty years throwing her considerable energy into fighting for a vast range of causes. She fought against injustice to the marginalized, to women, to refugees. She was a strong advocate for reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. She practised and promoted sustainable development, permaculture, recycling, upcycling, defiantly challenging the inevitability of climate change.
Cathy completed a Bachelor of Arts in 1995 in Politics, Philosophy and Sociology, and a Masters Degree in 2016 in Sustainability and Climate Policy. Her desire to effect change and her efforts to do so were recognized when she was granted the Premier’s Active Citizenship Award in 2012.
Cathy loved her adopted Fremantle and an important part of the local culture for her was its history. She served as President of the Fremantle Society for a term and was on the committee of the Fremantle History Society from 2007 till 2020, thereafter an active member, always willing to volunteer at society events. She assisted with the rewriting of the constitution. She worked with other members of the Committee on various projects, including the Deck Chair Theatre archives. It was her tenacity and determination that saved the archives which are now held in the State Library of WA. FHS Newsletter, ed. Kristi McNulty, July 2022.
Ron & Dianne Davidson, Fighting for Fremantle
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
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.
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
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;
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 ...
In recognition of Cathy’s contribution to the Fremantle community the Council has installed a memorial seat at the southern end of Hulbert Street.
Friday 22nd September family and friends gathered to pay their respects to this much loved and sorely missed wonderful woman. Partner Jon Strachan and Fremantle Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge said a few words before raising glasses in a toast.
The bench is in a lovely quiet spot amongst the trees that Cathy so loved, and while some mischievous tagger had already left their mark across the seat, I think we felt that Cathy would have been quietly amused. FHS Newsletter, ed. Kristi McNulty, November 2023.
Fremantle Herald, 30 July 2022 (as above).
FHS Newsletter, ed. Kristi McNulty, July 2022 (as above).
FHS Newsletter, ed. Kristi McNulty, November 2023 (as above).
Davidson, Ron & Dianne Davidson 2010, Fighting for Fremantle: The Fremantle Society Story, Fremantle Society (as above).
Garry Gillard | New: 30 July, 2022 | Now: 10 November, 2023