‘Breath-taking immaturity’

13. 2. 16THINKAWARD-WINNING author JOHN DOWSON, a former president of the Fremantle Society, takes aim at the council and its plans for the nationally significant Arthur Head. The long-time West End resident, a former deputy mayor, says the current council is immature and causing “breath-taking” damage.

CITY ward councillor Tim Grey-Smith is rarely seen in action or in print, but recently he wrote a Thinking Allowed for the Herald about plans to “shake up Arthur Head and turn it into a dedicated arts hub”.

The article included a photo of Cr Grey-Smith with the mayor and Cr Rachel Pemberton on Arthur Head, funnily enough in almost the exact spot that Captain Charles Fremantle placed the British flag in 1829 to claim this part of Australia for the British.

While Charles Fremantle was doing something truly momentous, the three in the photo were plotting something quite the opposite.

Historical significance

Nowhere in any of Cr Grey-Smith’s rhetoric is there reference to the fact Arthur Head and the Round House are of huge historical significance to the state.

This important area is being used simply as a backdrop for council’s poorly thought out “cultural strategy”. In the process, the council has caused deep distress to everyone involved with or working at Arthur Head. Proven standout artists already there, who are key attractors to Fremantle and that area, have been so shabbily treated they had to ask WA government minister Simon O’Brien to come to Fremantle to help them.

Fremantle already has an arts hub—it’s called the Fremantle Arts Centre, and it costs the ratepayers well over $1 million in wages each year to run. Funny, but when I tried to save from demolition the last remaining WWII US-military built building, which was at the arts centre, so it could be turned into facilities for artists, Cr Grey-Smith voted against it.

Cr Grey-Smith says one of the “exciting aspects to this plan is that all rents collected through the area will now be reinvested back into it”. If he reads the original vesting of Arthur Head to the council in 1982, he will find that has always been a compulsory clause in the vesting.

Arthur Head is first and foremost an important historical area. If the council wants to “revitalise” the area, then proceed to enhance its history. Focus on that first. Get on and fully implement the council’s own strategy for the area (Arthur Head Reserve Strategy Plan). Commemorate our pioneers. Rebuild the state’s first courthouse where it used to be alongside the Round House in 1835.  But, whatever happens, the area needs great sensitivity and care.

We have no commemoration for our founding father Captain Charles Fremantle anywhere, let alone at Arthur Head where he planted the flag. Premier Colin Barnett indicated he may put $100,000 towards an arts installation about Captain Fremantle, but the mayor’s response was to tell me to, “get the Premier to write to me”.

There is now talk of removing the fences around the historic cottages and installing ramps for people with disabilities. Cr Grey-Smith’s talk of a “sculpture park” in such a historic precinct is inappropriate. Temporary outdoor exhibitions yes, but not permanent ones.


The council is already doing enough damage nearby with plans for a $2 million concrete skateboard plaza on Esplanade Park. That has now grown to 3500sqm in size on the famous green spaces of the place.

The mayor admitted he hadn’t read the conservation plan for the Esplanade Park before deciding to put the concrete there.

I wonder if he and the councillors have read the council’s own strategy for Arthur Head, which states the area is, “one of the state’s most significant historic sites for all West Australians” and “an area of national importance”.

The immaturity of the current council and the damage it is doing is breathtaking.

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