Guildford Listing Proves Fremantle Society Correct

“The pretty and large village of Guildford” – Lady Broome 1883

Great news has been announced that Guildford Historic Town has been listed in its entirety by the Heritage Council.

The listing of the whole historic town, an area seven times larger than the listed West End of Fremantle, proves that the Fremantle Society was correct all along when insisting that the historic town of Fremantle should be listed, and not just half of the original designated West End area.

Ridiculed by Fremantle Council, and defamed by the Fremantle Herald, the Fremantle Society was told it was not possible to list what the experts and the Fremantle Society had worked for.

The Fremantle Society were pleased to work with the Guildford Society to make sure the Guildford listing was not slashed, like the Fremantle one. The President and committee members travelled to Guildford and made a submission in support of the listing of the entire Guildford Historic Town.

It does not appear at this stage however, that protections sought for the low scale environment of the Guildford Historic Town, are adequately protected. Also, the Guildford listing, along with the Fremantle one, has not resulted in a single dollar of extra money being made available to do the research and conservation plans necessary, let alone encourage maintenance and restoration.

The Fremantle Society submission:

Guildford Historic Town

The Fremantle Society supports the Heritage Council listing of the Guildford Historic Town, and has worked with the Guildford Society to understand their concerns and priorities, as well as making our own site visit.

The Guildford Historic Town is bordered by the Swan River to the north and west, the Helena River to the south and southeast. It retains the essential elements of a nineteenth century Australian country town, yet is a suburb of the City of Perth.

The Fremantle Society has over 40 years’ experience in heritage and heritage listing matters, and well remembers the process of the recent heritage listing of the ‘West End’ of Fremantle, where the Heritage Council omitted half of the area of the original West End area, ignored our detailed and repeated submissions, and provided no additional funding to go with the listing, to document the area or to encourage restoration or maintenance.

We hope that the process for Guildford is more sympathetic to heritage, more sensitive to local expert opinion, and more forthcoming with the necessary funding to progress the listing and the protection of the precinct.

We are also concerned that developer interests seem to have far too much influence over the Heritage Council inside and out, and recent damaging approvals in the listed ‘West End’ of Fremantle and the historic town of Guildford demonstrate that.

A precinct listing of a unique and significant heritage area like Guildford Historic Town is important, and a great step forward. It will help showcase Guildford and give great satisfaction to residents and visitors alike. If well protected it will become an increasingly rare example of a modest but beautiful settlement of human scale close to a major city. That rarity is already evident, and must not be underestimated as a value of exceptional significance.

The listing should:

a) Have a clear and tight Statement of Significance which protects the colonial scale, height and design of Guildford, and

b) Come with an allocation of serious funding to list in detail the properties inside the precinct and to encourage restoration and maintenance.

Statement of Significance: In the Heritage Council Statement of Significance there needs to be a much clearer description of the modest scale of the town throughout its five key periods, a scale that historically has not exceeded two storeys, and as such differs from the other early settlements Perth and Fremantle.

Two storey premises were generally limited to hotels predominantly in corner or landmark locations and significant civil buildings such as the Post Office  and St Matthews Church.

It would appear to the Fremantle Society that the Guildford Historic Town has Exceptional Significance as a high quality survivor of so many periods of change, with such integrity, history, and heritage value, while the other two towns also set up in 1829 (Fremantle and Perth) have undergone radical change and, in areas, over densification.

Guildford is not just a survivor. It has many significant surviving natural elements of importance relating to the river, parks, gardens, and streetscapes. It has magnificent deliberate tree plantings. Its residential and commercial buildings are homogenous with one and two storeys. Its 1880s side streets have modest and attractive traditional residential housing.

Its historical importance is well detailed, with some omissions. The Local Volunteer Fire Brigade for example, operating out of the convict built Commissariat Store, was Australia’s Champion Brigade. The annual Royal Show now in Claremont had its origins in Guildford where the first agricultural show was held.

In many ways Guildford still has the elements described by Lady Broome in 1883 when she described it as “the pretty and large village of Guildford, nestled amongst its fields and vineyards.”

Thanks to the surrounding Swan and Helena rivers, Guildford is beautifully framed and its landscape elements are exceptional and form a highly significant part of its value. The arrival of the railways fractured the town in some ways but are a valuable part of its current amenity. The decision not to build the Midland Railway terminus in Guildford saved Guildford from over industrialisation just as the decision not to build the western terminus of the trans continental railway in Fremantle saved Fremantle from a similar fate.

In overall terms, it has national significance, as Professor Gordon Stephenson stated when he wrote: “In a planning context, Guildford as a whole should be regarded as one of the most important towns of first settlement in Australia.”

In the Heritage Council documentation section 12 Degree of Significance the Fremantle Society seeks additional strengthening of the various clauses there to reflect what appears to us as Exceptional Significance. We do not believe that the HC Zones of Significance Map P2915-A as it is will protect the historic town from inappropriate development and ask that it be strengthened to reflect the Exceptional Significance of the town as a whole.

It is essential that it be clear to developers and those entrusted with decision making – through well worded regulations – that new development must not overwhelm the existing low scale of the town.

Local Features: Certain local features are significant to the character of Guildford and should be emphasised – such as the use of local materials – clay for bricks, local shell deposits for lime, and river sand for mortar.

Intrusive Developments: Intrusive developments such as 110 Terrace Road and the new St Vincent’s Hospital should be listed and detailed as intrusive to prevent such errors in the future.

Views: Finally, views from the rivers should be seen as equally important as views from roads .

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society
19 October, 2018

photo courtesy the Heritage Council website

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