Insensitivity and Insanity at Fremantle Council

If it wasn’t for the excellent work of the volunteer guides at Arthur Head who get no help from Fremantle Council, and the presence of a few outstanding artists such as Greg James and Glen Cowans, Arthur Head would resemble a demolition site, such is the neglect of the area by Fremantle Council. The Fremantle Society today sent the following letter to the mayor and councillors:

To the mayor and councillors

It beggars belief, after 10 years of appalling neglect and abuse of Arthur Head by your council, that you are considering an insensitively located large Aboriginal cultural centre proposal there without any input from history or heritage experts, and that you will be allocating $50,000 in addition to tens of thousands of dollars already spent to pursue this idea.

Yes, the idea of a well developed plan for an Aboriginal Cultural Centre is strongly supported by the Fremantle Society. So is the idea of a well developed Fremantle History Museum, a well developed Immigration Museum, and a well developed Archaeological Centre.

To that end, the former CEO of Fremantle Council 10 years ago developed a museum policy for Fremantle Council following discussions with current Fremantle Society president John Dowson, the rationale being that Fremantle had recently lost four key museums and needed to get some back. That council policy appears to have been ignored, despite over $250,000 spent on developing an archaeological proposal for Pioneer Park, years of work done on getting an immigration museum, and the obvious need for a Fremantle History Museum. However, the Walyalup Aboriginal Cultural Centre Visioning Report indicates that considerable money has been spent preparing the current report, though it certainly has not ‘involved the community from the outset’ as it states.

The visioning report you voted on in April, with its ‘preliminarys’, ‘landscape treatement’, ‘adapatable seating’, and ‘site preperation’ selects Arthur Head as a preferred site.

Arthur Head is not a development site, but a heritage site. And it is one of obvious State and national importance.

The abuse and neglect of Arthur Head by your council over the past 10 years has been scandalous. The Visioning Study report’s support for a $40 million large new intrusive building at Arthur Head for an Aboriginal Centre requires the removal of J shed, which now has its own heritage as a centre of arts excellence.

It will also be of concern to many that your report recommends: “There is opportunity for the new facility to begin a reclaiming process by the Aboriginal community of Walyalup/Fremantle, particularly the Manjaree/Arthur Head precinct. “ (p46).

The Fremantle Society is keen to support and help with any proposals which improve Fremantle’s telling of its Aboriginal, archaeological, immigration, and settler history, but the way your council is operating ignores the expertise of the community, the vesting rules for Arthur Head, and other urgent priorities such as saving Arthur Head from further collapse and ruin.

As former Fremantle Society committee member Colin Nichol wrote a year ago, the neglect of Arthur Head is a metaphor for the city’s shortcomings. He quoted the shadow local government minister Tony Kristicevic stating that Fremantle Council should be forced under the new Heritage Act to do its job of maintaining Arthur Head. He stated: “As the custodian of a heritage place, the city has a responsibility to protect, promote, and preserve this historic landmark.”

Mayor Pettitt asked the Fremantle Society to work with the Fremantle Council to get money for Arthur Head. That won’t happen, because if the expensive asset management plans that were put together 10 years ago to prevent the current disgraceful neglect had been followed, there would not be so much damage, and less need for the council to belatedly seek external funds. Also, some of the council remediation proposals for Arthur Head are clumsy and detrimental. The Fremantle Society instead will lobby, and support Arthur Head, using its various experts.

The good work of the previous council at Arthur Head prior to 2010 has been seriously undermined. As Fremantle Society committee member Agnieshka Kiera stated: “The most successful council project according to the Catalyse Survey has been the transformative Arthur Head Project (Old Port Project, boardwalk, Kidogo Gallery, Bather’s Beach etc)” – all done prior to the current council, and all done sensitively.

The $500 million Aboriginal centre proposed for Elizabeth Quay and the $40 million one proposed for Fremantle are worthy aspirational ideas, but they should not be pursued without sensitivity to other histories. By not even-handedly looking at the needs of a range of Fremantle stories that need to be told, and by not consulting properly, you are dividing the community instead of uniting it, in your obvious ideological pursuits.

The former CEO of the National Trust (WA) and CEO of all Australian National Trusts, Tom Perrigo, concurs with Fremantle Society concerns about the location and scale of the proposed Aboriginal Centre at Arthur Head. The Fremantle Society wants Aboriginal heritage and culture to be properly promoted and appreciated, but not the way you are going about it.

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society
8 May, 2019

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