US Laundry Demolition By Neglect

Last evening Fremantle Council supported WA Museum’s application to demolish the old US Laundry on grounds that it was too dilapidated to save.  The sad fact is that the deterioration occurred while the building was under the care of the Museum, a clear case of demolition by neglect.  After listening to the debate I believe I saw a decision based on Councillor’s opinions rather than evidence based decision making.  The Council’s heritage expert recommended retention as did a number of experts in the field who became interested in this issue and gave free advice to Council on the merits of retaining the building.  Cr Sullivan challenged Mayor Pettitt to be the Mayor of a heritage city that supports heritage; alas he chose to be the Mayor who supports demolition.  The application will go to the WAPC with little chance of a turnaround unless the Heritage Council moves to put the Laundry on the State Register.

Jon Strachan


2 Replies to “US Laundry Demolition By Neglect”

  1. Josh thanks for your extensive reply. I can assure you I do not support ‘hero’s & villains’ approaches to issues, but deal with the issues. The decision on the US Laundry has gone through Council and will now dedicate my efforts to the next challenge which is hopefully promoting Fremantle and all it has to offer.
    Sorry you felt targeted by the Society at election time, I find it difficult to believe Ian Alexander would have engaged in negative campaign. I guess as someone who works in the political spectrum you are well aware of the extraordinary atmosphere of election times.
    Happy to catch up any time to discuss Fremantle’s future.
    Jon Strachan President

  2. Jon, the Council decision re the US laundry was a difficult one. I made my decision after a careful and painstaking consideration of all the evidence – and I must say that in the context of any difficult issue I think it’s a bit convenient to suggest that people who don’t agree with one view are taking a position ‘subjectively’. In other words, “Your view is only a valid view if it agrees with my view.” I will happily walk you or anyone else through the evidential basis of my decision. As you know, the expert evidence in this matter was finely balanced, with both the HCWA and the earlier Council report indicating that conservation of materials and interpretation on site were an appropriate outcome. Despite a lot of recent lobbying, the HCWA didn’t change its position. There was also the engineer’s report that said the building was unsound and at risk of sudden, dangerous collapse. That report indicated that a few trusses, doors and windows could be salvaged. The Council decision on Wednesday was to recommend that a further report be made to identify what could be salvaged, and to insist that such material be kept for possible interpretative re-use. Cr Dowson said that he didn’t believe the engineer’s report. Cr Sullivan said that his expertise as an architect and his recent visit to the outside of the site led him to believe that the engineer’s report wasn’t definitive. They are both entitled to their views … but it does seem that people pick and choose the evidence they rely upon irrespective of which side of the argument they’re on. Let’s also remember that while a lot of people harped on about the imperative of Councillors making their decision on the basis of the “limited” or “some” heritage distinction (indeed, I followed this framework myself), this was not in fact a case where that City of Freo policy strictly applies – as the site is reserved from the LPS – and the ultimate decision maker is the WAPC. That’s one of the reasons that even though the expert input concluded that there was some heritage in the US laundry, demolition and interpretative re-use on site was an acceptable outcome. (The other reason was the terrible condition of the building.)

    I will let the Mayor speak for himself, but I think it’s a bit rough to extrapolate from this particular case to the superficial, pejorative “demolition Mayor” tag. To me this is an example of the unsophisticated, black & white, us-and-them nature of the heritage discussion in Fremantle.

    I know your role as President of the Fremantle Society requires you to be a strong advocate for heritage, and in my view there isn’t a better person for the job – not least because of your personal integrity and experience – but I would be interested in knowing how the FS reached a position on this issue in consultation with its membership? Was there a meeting that directly addressed and reached a resolution on this issue? I did have a couple of prominent Freo heritage/history FS members approach me to say that they thought the ‘save the US laundry’ campaign was over the top, at the very least. They also said to me, “But that’s not something I could say in the society!” and “Please don’t mention to anyone that this is my view.”

    I think the rejuvenation of the FS in last year or so has been fantastic, thanks to your input, and with the excellent work of Ian Alexander, Don Whittington, Ruth Belben, and Roel Loopers, among others. This rejuvenation has involved more than just a new logo; it has involved opening up and expanding the membership, and making efforts to engage widely and in new ways (including through this blog). I also hope this rejuvenation means an FS that is focused principally on preserving and enhancing the heritage, cultural, and social values that make Fremantle so special … and that there is less of the narrow, clubbish political focus that had come to be a disproportionate obsession of the FS. At the 2009 election I found myself targeted by the FS on the assumption that I was part of some ‘opposition’ conspiracy, clique, or plot, without anyone having the decency to speak to me in person, or to find out my views (with the exception, I should say, of Lloyd Hammond – with whom I had a very good and open telephone conversation). I don’t believe the FS will do itself, or its objectives, any favours if it reverts to the misguided us-and-them political games of the recent past.

    I am a person who puts a great store by reason, evidence, and argument. I am always open to being persuaded by these things. I respect other people’s views and I’m always open to hearing them. But like you and everyone else, I’m human, and when I’m not shown the same respect in return; and where people imply or state that my views are not evidence-based; and where people say false and stupid things in the local press … I find it harder to be open to persuasion and argument.

    My voting record at PSC and on Council is evidence of my inclination to recognise and support the value of heritage and history in Fremantle. At the same time, heritage can be valued, preserved and, more importantly, expressed in a number of ways. Heritage is also something that must take its place among a number of City of Fremantle priorities, and it is our obligation as Councillors to be honest with the public when it comes to the City’s resources, funding and otherwise.

    Anyway, this has been a longer rave than I intended it to be … and I guess I’ll finish by saying that I consider myself a pro-heritage Councillor, and I think the Fremantle Society is one of the most important social/community institutions we have, for its role as an advocate, facilitator, and custodian.

    I hope that the FS will continue to exercise that function in a constructive, positive, and respectful manner.

    All the best,


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