Joint letter to Editor

Dear Editor

We write in response to “Reece a lone voice against festival plan” (Herald12-2-11) as the Presidents of Fremantle’s community based history and heritage organisations. We represent members with a wide range of ages and professional expertise that have strong connections to the city’s past and who are committed to its sustainable future. Both organisations believe that, through a knowledge and understanding of and commitment to our past, our cultural capital is enhanced and enriched.

We therefore believe it is vital to maintain an independent Heritage Festival that increases understanding of the past and engages in a broader debate that focuses on the future. A well-run heritage festival allows the Fremantle community and visitors to be part of that process.

We dispute the proposition that the Heritage Festival is untenable and believe that it is not only sustainable but, by reviewing its charter and including events that allow opportunities for participants to engage in a broader dialogue, we will enhance its current profile and ensure the Heritage Festival is a highlight of Fremantle’s rich calendar of events.  In retaining and enlivening the Heritage Festival we contribute to the economic, social and environmental benefits enjoyed by our port city.

Bigger is not better. Bigger means one voice is diminished at best, lost at worst. We encourage the council to review and refine the Heritage Festival and to ensure that the international reputation Fremantle enjoys continues to engage and challenge locals and visitors alike.


Jon Strachan, President Fremantle Society and Anne Brake, President, Fremantle History Society

East Fremantle Royal George Decision

East Fremantle’s Council Chamber was packed to capacity at Tuesday’s Full Council meeting, which I attended for the Fremantle Society. The Royal George Hotel is clearly close to the hearts of East Fremantle folk and two hours passed as the community aired their thoughts to Council on the proposal for short-term accommodation and restaurant.

Thirteen people registered to speak with 10 against the proposal.  Their main objections were loss of community space particularly for artists, and lack of developer intentions to meet parking shortfall of over 40 bays.  There was frustration at losing the Royal George as a Council held community asset to a private development proposal.  Cr Martin likened it to two lovers, both parties telling each other what wonderful things they could achieve together, but ending in divorce.  In this case at the court of the SAT.  The proposed developer, his architect and one community person spoke in support.

Andrew Smith, who aired his views in thinking allowed in two editions of his newspaper, the Fremantle Herald, urged Council to refuse the application and formally ask the National Trust(NTWA) to please explain several issues, including a very pointed, why they went back on their partnership agreement with East Fremantle Council.

Mayor Ferris allowed members of the gallery to ask questions of the developer and his architect, thus people not registered had a say and those who had spoken strengthened their case.

At 9:30pm Council returned to the chamber to make their decision.  The Officer’s recommendation was for Conditional Approval with Council choosing between 1 of 3 options. Whilst there were 20+ conditions they differed only in dealing with parking issues.  Cr de Jong moved Conditions B requiring ‘submission of amended plans incorporating sufficient on-site car parking…’  Cr Collinson led the charge for outright Refusal.  40 minutes later the motion Passed 5 to 3.  The application will now go back to SAT for further Mediation.  If the parties cannot agree it is destined for a full sitting of SAT for Determination.

The Fremantle Society called the Royal George home in 2009/10 partnering with the NTWA in seeking Federal grant funding for restoration work retaining the community use component, which unfortunately was unsuccessful.  It is saddening to see what started out a decade ago with such promise coming to this.

Councillors speaking for and against the motion were of like mind on the issue, with the mover of the motion stating the ‘National trust has been disgraceful‘ on this issue.  There was Councillor consensus at their disappointment and frustration at being obliged to decide this controversial item on Planning grounds.

The clock cannot be turned back, but mediation between East Fremantle Council and the NTWA is required, not on planning issues but on ownership and the future of the Royal George.  One thing is for sure, it’s not the end of this issue, with many in the community prepared to fight for The People’s Royal George Hotel.

Jon Strachan


Last year, having a decent budget for a change,  we had a very good Fremantle Heritage Festival. Having a new mayor helped, as did having a very energetic officer in Alex Marshall.  Also, the Fremantle Society did a lot of work and their events attracted many people. I had 96 people attend a talk I did with Fremantle’s senior architect Rob McCampbell at the old asylum.

It will be over my dead body that Council gets rid of the long running Heritage Festival. Apart from anything else, it  incorporates the annual Heritage Awards, something which has run  successfully for 30 years.

We already have seen Council ditch the very strong heritage committee it had, and the Heritage Festival should be left where it is as a major annual event on our calendar at the end of May.

This year, with the ISAF sailing championships, there will be increased numbers in town for the November Fremantle Festival. I would certainly support an improved Fremantle Festival, and heritage should always be part of that festival too, as it is the character and stories of Fremantle which attract people in the first place.

But, Fremantle needs a good festival every few monthsI during the year.  I would like to see a few blockbuster heritage events this year, like a Son et Lumiere at the World Heritage listed Fremantle Prison for example. I am speaking with some hotshot experts to see if they can be enticed to Fremantle to present their views and expertise on heritage issues, whether those issues be planning matters, port related, advice on restoration, or here just as an excuse for a good debate.

City of Fremanle Councilor John Dowson


The Fremantle Society has had its first 2011 full Committee meeting since our AGM and I am delighted to tell you 2 vacancies on Committee are filled.  Pam Hartree is welcomed as Hon Secretary; you may know Pam in her role Head of Local History Section of Fremantle Library she is also an Associate Member of Australian Library and Information Association.  Clearly she will bring a lot of experience and wisdom to the Committee.

Kate House was also co-opted to the Committee.  Kate has worked on the Planning & Heritage committee in 2010 and we welcome her continued involvement in the Society. The several Society members who attended the meeting were welcomed and we encourage more in future.

Other agenda items included Fremantle Heritage Festival programmed for the end of May.  The Society is committed to working with Council and local stakeholders to ensure the continued success of this longstanding local event.  If you or your business wish to be involved contact us, it would be great to have you on board.  The Society will also contribute to the newly announced National Heritage Week in April – with a National focus.

Ongoing planning issues include the US Laundry at FAC, The Old Royal George in East Fremantle, and a new hotel at Little Creatures.

It is great to finally have a home and a wardroom to hold our meetings; the Society has truly come of age.

Jon Strachan

History of the former US Navy laundry building

An interim report prepared in January 2011 by Lindsay Peet, a military historian and specialist defence heritage consultant.

In February-March 1942 the Asiatic Fleet of the United States Navy (USN) made an emergency evacuation of their surviving submarines and surface ships from the Philippines and Java to Fremantle. Here they found a new slipway in a well-equipped the port, with the significant infrastructure of Fremantle and Perth nearby, all well out of range of Japanese aircraft based in the Netherlands East Indies. So a decision was made to base the submarines of the USN Seventh Fleet’s Task Force 71 at Fremantle.

This decision resulted in a large USN base facility and infrastructure being established at Fremantle in 1942, such base operating until the end of the War against Japan in 1945. This base required a large number of buildings for various purposes, and areas of vacant land for other purposes. The Navy also utilized a significant amount of dockside resources on both sides of the harbour, but principally Victoria Quay, and later towed a very large floating dry dock, ARD-10, over from the United States, eventually mooring it in the middle of the harbour. In addition, the USN used King George Sound at Albany as a secondary base, and, in 1943, Exmouth Gulf as an advance resupply base. The USN also based its PBY Catalinas of Patrol Wing Ten (later Fleet Air Wing Ten) at Matilda Bay on the Swan River from March 1942 until August 1944.

The USN leased/hired all their premises and areas of vacant land in Fremantle, Perth, and elsewhere in WA during the War, rather than buying them. This was carried out for that Navy by the Australian Army’s Hiring Service using requisition powers contained in the Australian Government’s wartime National Security Regulations. In some instances, these leased premises/buildings were further modified, adapted or improved for wartime purposes. In other cases, new buildings, structures and other facilities were constructed. All of these works were implemented through the aegis of the Allied Works Council which had been set up in Australia in 1942 to prioritise and authorize the immense amount of construction that entailed from that country having become a major place from where the war against Japan in the Southwest Pacific Area was conducted. The money for all of this work and activity in Australia, including hiring/leasing costs and the supply of food, fuel and other consumables, came from the Australian Government under the Reverse Lend-Lease Agreement (this was adjusted after the War against Lend-Lease equipment funding from the US Government).

Almost all the wartime building construction in Australia was timber-framed because timber was a readily available resource. Much use was also made of asbestos products and galvanized roofing iron. Wartime buildings constructed in Australia for the United States armed forces were almost always of a higher standard, both structurally and in respect of fittings and fit outs, than buildings constructed for the Australian armed forces and for the Australian home front!

In setting up their facilities and infrastructure at Fremantle the US Navy required a very large number of buildings to accommodate their maintenance workshops, repair facilities, ordnance facilities, supply, storage/warehousing, cold/refrigerated storage, transport, administration and general support services. Because of the large number of American personnel working at Fremantle, living accommodation, with domestic and recreational facilities for the many enlisted men were also required close by. The USN‘s 1944 Facilities Report for Fremantle and Perth detail the properties lease/hired for USN purposes in the Fremantle area. One of the most important of these was the Old Womens Home, Fremantle, which became known during the War as ‘Receiving Barracks, Navy 137, Fremantle’ and today as the Fremantle Arts Centre. The USN Report shows that by September 1944 at least twenty two buildings had been constructed on that property ‘under Reverse Lend-Lease and by Naval Personnel.’ The first building on the detailed list for the Receiving Barracks was the Laundry with a stated area of 5400 square feet, being the largest building there except for the ‘open garages.’ The 1944 Report states that the capacity of these Barracks was 19 officers and 670 enlisted men, and also states that ‘[T]he Receiving Barracks laundry is used and is adequate for all washing purposes.’ The same Report notes that adjacent to these Barracks there was a playing field with a softball diamond, a football area, and a combined basketball and volley ball court. All of this indicates that these Barracks were a major defence establishment, and it was likely that all facilities were constructed, fitted out and equipped to the much higher American standards.

As stated, Fremantle became a major American submarine home base and after 1942 it was commanded by a USN rear admiral, a well-known one later in the War being Charles Lockwood. It was larger than the USN one at Brisbane, and nearly as big as the USN submarine base at Hawaii. During the war against Japan, USN submarines in the western Pacific commenced their war patrols from one of these home bases, usually returning to that starting base, however, on other occasions they transited between these bases carrying out war patrols in the process. Commencing in 1943, Fremantle-based submarines usually carried out double patrols, returning to an advance base at Exmouth Gulf for refuelling and revictualling, loading more torpedos and ammunition, carrying out urgent repairs, and making essential changes of personnel, before setting out again, and finally ending up at Fremantle. Although hard on both the men and the ship this increased the effectiveness of the submarine campaign. In military terms this is known as a ‘force multiplier,’ ie getting ‘more bang for the buck!’

American submarines originating from Fremantle sank a very large tonnage of Japanese shipping in the western Pacific, arguably more than submarines from any of the other two bases. This success effectively strangled the Japanese supply lines from Japan, as well as their ships transporting oil, petroleum and strategic minerals back to Japan from the resource rich Netherlands East Indies. It is considered that the submarine campaign so disrupted the Japanese war effort that it was one of the major factors shortening the War in the Pacific.

At least six USN submarines departing from Fremantle failed to return, mostly with the loss of their entire crews. Apart from their main role of sinking enemy shipping, these submarines were often required to carry out other types of missions such as rescuing downed Allied aircrew, carrying out covert reconnaissances of particular places, and special operations such as inserting secret agents/special forces into enemy territory and/or retrieving them. Special operations using submarines were especially risky because the vessels had to venture close to shore in poorly charted waters without being detected. All of these wartime activities were particularly dangerous, with the distinct possibility of being depth charged or shelled by Japanese ships, being bombed or strafed from the air by Japanese or Allied aircraft, being struck by their own errant torpedos (these were known to often circle back), hitting uncharted reefs or shoals, losing deck crew in crash dives, and suffering other kinds of underwater accidents and emergencies. When each submarine departed on a war patrol, the crew knew there was a very strong possibility of not returning from that voyage, whether that was due to them being killed or becoming prisoners of the Japanese. So, when a submarine arrived at Fremantle after a war patrol, especially a double one, the crew could not wait to get off their ship immediately and head to Perth or further inland for rest, recreation and the other kinds of activities that young sailors engage in during wartime.

The morale of submarine crews was extremely important. Operating in dangerous enemy waters they had to work as a team if they wanted to sink enemy ships and still survive, they had to depend on each other as if anyone made a mistake the safety of the submarine and all aboard would be jeopardized, and every member of the crew had to be able to put up with whatever exigencies or emergencies that occurred during the patrol. Apart from interacting amongst themselves, and having limited entertainment available, the only real amenity or ‘support’ they had at sea was having reasonable food including ice cream. USN ships were completely dry. But, over-riding all of this, the whole crew would always have in mind the prospects of what was awaiting them when they arrived at a very friendly, safe port like Fremantle, particularly if they already had contacts in the WA community. This, plus the fact that they were directly helping to win the War kept them going.

During World War II submarine crews on all sides were looked after particularly well when they returned from a patrol or a mission because of the dangerous and difficult nature of their work. The USN was no exception: once in port their sailors were given a great deal of freedom and were largely free of duties. It is likely, therefore, that a large laundry facility like the one constructed at the Receiving Barracks which was able to readily handle their clothing and bedding upon such return played a significant part in keeping up the submariners’ morale.

Ablution and washing facilities on the submarines were very limited, conditions were crowded, few of the crew ever got topside into fresh air, so having good laundry facilities ashore at Fremantle when they arrived there was very important. Certainly, the Laundry at the Receiving Barracks would have been well set up and equipped to facilitate this. Although it has yet to be definitely established, it is likely that submarine crews may have had their laundry done for them by other persons at the Barracks, with local civilians possibly being employed for this purpose.

Sources and Bibliography


There a number of published primary and secondary sources dealing with USN submarine operations from Fremantle during 1942-5. These include Admiral Charles Lockwood’s memoir, Sink ‘em all, Clair Blair’s Silent victory, Rosco Creed’s Operations of the Fremantle submarine base, and Lyn Cairns’ Fremantle’s secret fleets, as well as personal memoirs of other former USN submarine officers who sailed to or from Fremantle. These will be detailed in the final version of this report.


In Australia there are records (possibly including drawings) in National Archives of Australia (much in their Perth Office), at least one document in SLWA, and there may be others held in collections in the Perth area. The State Record Office of WA should also be checked as they hold a surprising amount of records dealing with wartime works in WA.

In the USA there are likely to be records in the Naval Historical Center at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington DC, the United States Naval Institute at Annapolis, Maryland (also possibly oral histories), the National Archives and Record Administration at College Park, Maryland, and the MacArthur Memorial Archives at Norfolk, Virginia.

First meeting in the new HQ: All welcome!

Dear Fremantle Society Members,

The New Year’s well & truly in and a new year for your Society at its HQ that is taking shape. As you made have read in the recent Herald article, we’re at #11 Captains Lane (in the Roundhouse circa 1831 Precinct).

All members are welcome at the first Full Committee meeting at HQ; members may observe the formal meeting from 6pm &/or attend the post-meeting networking from 7pm(ish).

We have some exciting projects lining up for our duration of our occupancy here so your help to make these happen will be greatly appreciated.

What: Fremantle Society Committee Meeting
When: Thursday 27 January 2011 at 6pm (Networking 7pm)
Where: Pilot Cottage #11 Captains Lane, Arthur Head, Fremantle
Transport: CAT Cliff St, Railway Station, Maritime Museum
Parking: Little High St, Freo Port etc.

The agenda is available on request.

PS: We are still seeking an enthusiastic person to join the committee as Secretary (no Minutes or Member role!!).