Fremantle Society Dinner at the Federal Hotel

Fremantle Thursday March 3, 2016 speech by John Dowson, President

I especially wish to welcome Howard Shepherd and his wife Betty. Howard was on the original steering committee of the Society and helped write our 1972 constitution. Great to have you here 44 years later. We also have Ralph Fardon, who grew up in this hotel and lived here 1932 to 1952. We will get Ralph to answer some questions in between courses.

We chose this venue not just to support two dynamic new owners Marc and Nickola as they go about refurbishing this heritage building- and thank goodness they have already reinstated the original name of the hotel (they are offering to show you around the hotel before your first course, in groups of around 20). No, we chose this building because at 129 years of age it is a brilliant example of the sustainability possible from high quality architecture. Just across the road sits the Queensgate centre that council built only 27 years ago and intend demolishing. What does that say about council’s sustainability credentials and their management of our assets?

Worse still, they intend using the small amount ($6m) they are selling it for to Sirona to put towards a $50 million new building in Kings Square for offices for the mayor, councillors, and staff, along with an underground library the staff don’t want, turning the square into a triangle instead, and leaving us, the ratepayers, with massive debts and increased rates.

Also across the road sits our town hall, built the same year as the Federal (1887), but unlike the Federal, looking tatty, unloved and without a cent spent on it since the mayor came to office. It is so dangerous now the Australian flag cannot be flown from the building.

The Fremantle Society wants a complete rethink of the current priorities and plans for this area, to get better quality outcomes and ones that build on the heritage values of the area rather than destroying or undermining them. Ironically the Federal Hotel is listed on the Australian Federal Government’s Heritage Database: “….. of greater significance is the contribution the building makes to the Victorian streetscape of the west end of the city and, in particular, in relation to the Town Hall opposite and to the commercial premises which extend around the corner and into High Street. A building whose presence reinforces the surviving Victorian character of the very centre of the city where Town Hall, Church and commercial premises combine to produce a significant and cohesive townscape.”

King’s Square used to be in the West End Conservation Area, but it has been removed by the current council to allow developers more freedom.

Only ten years ago council spent $50,000 examining through Ruth Durack and the Urban Design Centre the best outcomes for King’s Square. The outcome favoured by the experts was to demolish the current council building in the square and relocate the staff elsewhere to the Queensgate site. They wrote that Fremantle deserved “a true urban square- of appropriate size and dignity to anchor the heart of Fremantle …. this is the concept that speaks to the City’s confidence in its future….and refuses to bow to the short term exigencies of a conservative marketplace. It celebrates the original structure of the space.”

Council’s changes to the town planning scheme to allow high rise buildings at Queensgate and elsewhere was done to kick start a revitalisation program. But years later there have been no kicks and no starts in this area. Six years wasted!

To achieve better urban design outcomes, and protection for the heritage of the city centre, and to avoid the financial black hole of the Kings Square Business Plan, we need to support the termination of the council’s agreement with Sirona on May 10th, an agreement which has already cost us millions of dollars. We need to support the Urban Design Centre recommendations for an expanded and improved King’s Square, and to focus more on revitalising existing buildings.

Let’s do this and let’s make the Fremantle Society once again a positive voice and a strong pulse of the community.

Federal Hotel c1898 (postcard sold at auction $496)
Federal Hotel c1898 (postcard sold at auction $496)


After a huge turn out at Kidogo for our first event of the year, The Fremantle Society’s next event is a dinner at the recently refurbished Federal Hotel in William Street Fremantle (formerly Rose O’Grady’s). Join new operator Nikola Jurin and operations manager Marc Townsend to see what they have done so far with the hotel (thank goodness the original name of the hotel has been reinstated!).

The evening will include a tour of the hotel, though you may wish to avoid Room 3 where Lilian Martin and her three year old son Daniel were murdered in 1927.

The hotel opened in 1887, though soon after someone tried to burn it down three times on the same night.

DETAILS: Thursday 3 March at 7pm.

Two course meal $30
Plus tour of the upstairs rooms by the licensee.

Bookings essential. Reply to Social Committee member Helen Cox:

From the President John Dowson

Federal Hotel c1898 (postcard sold at auction $496)
Federal Hotel c1898 (postcard sold at auction $496)

Why the Negativity from Council?

It has been interesting to read various public responses to Fremantle Society’s attempt to promote nomination of a larger area of Fremantle for State Heritage listing than what is currently proposed. From the derogatory and personal attacks of Roel Loopers, through Cr Coggin misinterpretation of John Dowson’s intentions, to the Mayor’s misreading of the initiative as an attack on the City of Fremantle and/or Heritage Office.

What an extraordinary waste of good will and resources! In a situation where the both ‘camps’ share the same objective: the due recognition of Fremantle’s heritage. And in light of one of its strongest manifestations: an active, passionate and involved community group representing Fremantle’s as a social capital i.e. one of the legitimate heritage values of the city – concerned members of the community volunteering its free time for what they believe would benefit the city. The proposed state heritage listing for the historic area of Fremantle could have been used as an incredible opportunity to discuss, unite, and combine forces. After all, appreciation of the city’s heritage is not an exclusive right of politicians or bureaucrats. It has taken a long time for culture of heritage appreciation to mature in Fremantle, and the nomination itself has also taken the City of Fremantle a number of years to initiate and prepare. The opportunity to legally sanctify an area of Fremantle as a unique, intact, high quality, historic and significant to State of Western Australia, doesn’t happen often. So it’s important to get it right the first time. Instead of spite, the Mayor and the Council could show a generosity of spirit and good will, they have been claiming they are motivated by, and take the Society’s proposal into consideration. To discuss support and, ideally arrive at a consolatory rather than divisive decision.

So what the argument is about?

1. Despite plenty of statutory evidence to the contrary, the City of Fremantle chose and negotiated with WA Heritage Office nomination of a fragment of the historic centre of Fremantle for state heritage listing, the area commonly referred to as the west end;

2. In accordance with the well-researched and documented evidence, Fremantle Society is advocating nomination of the larger area, which includes Town Hall, Railway Station, Fremantle Markets and Arthur Head.

Fremantle Society’s action to call public meeting in order to seek its members comment on the Executive Committee’s proposal is a legitimate part of the nomination process, since Heritage Office is obliged to consult with the community and seek feedback on the proposed nomination early on in the process. In this light Cr Coggin’s public argument (Fremantle Herald 22/2/16) that John Dowson is ‘whinging about Fremantle’s achievements in maintaining and boosting our unique built heritage’ is, at the very least, grossly misinformed. While Steve Grant’s article (Fremantle Herald 22/2/16) appears bogged down by the personal assertions and commentary by other sources, because surprisingly, the Herald didn’t even bother to turn up at the Fremantle Society’s meeting to provide its own and accurate account of an important community debate.

There is no surprise that heritage is highly contestable area, all various shades of grey. Heritage is no mathematical science, so whoever is expressing an opinion could be right. This is why the State Heritage nomination process specifies undertaking a rigorous and comprehensive heritage study that identifies heritage values of an area as objectively as possible. The documentary evidence required by the State Government is a critical first step of the nomination process and, ultimately, form the most objective basis for the final judgment regarding boundaries of the area. In 2011, when the City of Fremantle initiated the nomination process, it formed the community-based group to oversee it and had commissioned an expert to research, evaluate and define the area’s significance as prescribed by Heritage Office. The report produced the required evidence and arrived at a comprehensive statement of significance for the larger area’s boundaries, making sure that heritage of Fremantle is well assessed, considered and argued. In this respect it is the Fremantle Society’s support for nominating the expert recommended larger area that complies with the State Heritage statutory requirements, while the City’s and Heritage Office’s does not. To date neither the Council nor Heritage Office offered any comparable and compelling expert evaluation to support their nomination of the reduced area.

Mr Mayor’s published argument that the west end is the most intact and legible example of gold rush architecture might represent his personal view, but it’s not backed up by the evidence. The same aesthetic value applies equally strongly to the larger area proposed by Fremantle Society. In addition and as the official entry on the State Heritage register demonstrates, there are proportionally as many individually listed gold rush buildings in the west end as is in the proposed larger area. And, adversely and proportionally, in both areas are comparable number of the not-gold-rush infill buildings. Yet the larger area not only offers to list the whole historic centre. It would provide a transition zone around the west end to protect its integrity while the reduced area offers no such transition. So nominating the Fremantle Society’s larger area provides much solid rationale for a prudent conservation master planning in addition and as a next step to heritage recognition.

To include the larger area on the State Register would form a base for translating heritage listing into the planning standards and controls in the listed area, providing framework for development PRIOR to development taking place. It would give the City of Fremantle opportunities to seek heritage funding, making heritage agreements, ensuring harmony of new development within and around the listed area, including curtilage, landscaping and public spaces PRIOR to development submissions and with a main objective to ensure public benefits. The current, much more generic LPS4 zoning and height control offer no such prudent mechanism as it has no design process to inform the outcome at any scale prior to development taking place. Instead it provides framework for the developers’ lead growth of the city immediately adjacent to the heritage area. The only opportunity for the City and the State to intervene is to slightly moderate aspects of the proposed development AFTER a developer has submitted a proposal. It is this part of the planning process that currently generates so much uncertainty, thus conflict, between the developers, authorities and community. So it is the Fremantle Society’s proposal that is about ensuring good heritage outcome, not the City’s and Heritage Office. Therefore the City’s push for a smaller area begs the question what motivates the Council and Heritage Office to fight the community and insist on the fragmented nomination instead of embracing it.

Significance of an area is primarily about historic values. Streetscape values are an important aspect of it, but not constitute full weight of the area’s significance So it’s not about just the collection of gold rush buildings looking pretty, but about the historic town centre, including the street network, Kings Square, and the city’s symbol and landmark, Town Hall. The Land and Environment Court of NSW involves a number of cases where the precedence of an area significance based on its historic rather than solely aesthetic values was fought and won by local governments.

The WA prevailing culture propagates the view that heritage stands in a way of development. The developers’ lead development, to be precise. Yet heritage decisions don’t belong solely to Elected Members. In this respect the community, Council staff, the Minister for Planning, STAT, even the developers make heritage decisions. The latter mainly by looking for the loopholes, lobbying and sometimes winning on appeals, if only in the statistical 1% of cases. So in light of the conflicting perception of values, it is even more important to be flexible and generous rather than autocratic. It is important to ensure that the procedural fairness and transparency forms basis for the final decision regarding deciding boundaries of an area. Planning system and the government should serve public interest. Contrary to Roel Loopers’s bitter assertion, what Dr Carmen Lawrence advocated in her presentation was the many reasons for celebrating shared heritage. Especially where there is an opportunity to stand by the community and its values. Come on Mr Mayor and the Elected Members – as the decision makers serving your own community, and in the interest of public benefit, consider being conciliatory, inclusive, generous, flexible and supportive in recognising our shared heritage instead of ‘fighting’ your own community for, what appears to be politically motivated, if not frivolous, reasons.

Agnieshka Kiera

Ma Arch AICOMOS member of CIVVIH + ICTC
24. Feb. 16

(former Fremantle Council heritage architect for 25 years)
Proposed boundary of Fremantle West End Conservation Area (ANOTA


The Fremantle Society committee last night unanimously voted to officially join the RETHINK PERTH FREIGHT LINK coalition.
To quote Rethink The Link: “The Perth Freight Link is a $1.6 billion, 13 km, 6-lane tollway to bring heavy vehicles from Kwinana Freeway, Bibra Lake, to Stirling Highway and Fremantle Port. It carves through significant wetlands and inner suburban communities and there has been no consultation or consideration of these communities and the long term health impacts. There is a better freight solution for Fremantle and we are asking the government to look at the alternatives and weigh up all the costs.”
Web Site:

Additional: Cottesloe Ratepayers and Residents Association are opposing the Perth Freight Link.


We had a lively committee meeting on May 18, 2015 and one of the subjects raised was the announced sale by State Government of Fremantle Port. Committee decided to contact the City of Fremantle to get more information and we have since had a meeting with acting Mayor Josh Wilson, so stay tuned. Our Planning & Heritage subcommittee will be revitalised with new members and a roster to attend and monitor full council and council committee meetings. This will result in more submissions to council, addressing council and committees and making sure we are on the ball and know all about future development and plans for our city.

We noted with regret that the Minister for Lands has approved the use of the Arthur Head – A Class reserve at J Shed for the development of the Sunset Events tavern and live music venue, but will oppose this in a submission to the Director of Liquor Licensing, when the application for a license is made.

FS will donate a total of $ 500.00 to the RESTORE NEPAL fundraising concert on June 13 at the Fremantle Sailing Club, that includes the hire of the PA system for the music.

The Kings Square development and financial plans are an ongoing concern that FS has been monitoring for some three years. Committee decided it would be futile to go through a Freedom of Information process as financial and perceived confidential matters would be blackened out anyway.

We are collaborating with Notre Dame University on how to better engage younger generation in local government and are planning to do a public forum the students will organise and run.

FS also wants to run a soapbox kind of public events in pubs and other venues where topics relevant and important to the Fremantle community would be discussed.

Roel Loopers
Vice President