Cockburn coast heritage focus

• Paul Watson fears for the preservation of Defence heritage.

• Paul Watson fears for the preservation of Defence heritage.

World War II WAR II bunkers and significant Aboriginal sites, including limestone caves, face obliteration under a plan to populate the Cockburn coast south of Fremantle.

Hamilton Hill historian Paul Watson raised the alarm at a recent Cockburn council meeting, only to be told “military experts” had found nothing of note on the coastal ridgeline.

Unconvinced, Mr Watson called in artillery barracks personnel who identified defence sites the Herald visited this week.

“Acknowledgement and preservation of the military heritage of this area is essential for the development of a ‘sense of place’,” Mr Watson says.

Cockburn planning and development director Daniel Arndt says LandCorp commissioned a cultural heritage strategy covering structure plans for Robb Jetty and the emplacements along the existing Cockburn Road overlooking the sound.

“Both local structure plans were referred by the city to the department of indigenous affairs and State Heritage Office,” he says.

“Both agencies were supportive of the content of the local structure plans and did not request changes.”

Mr Arndt concedes defence personnel were not consulted, ”the South Beach battery remains are contained within a current City reserve and there is no intention to remove the battery”.

Mr Watson says the Cockburn coast project and a planned coastal road threaten to demolish heritage sites in the existing emplacement precinct, contrary to the structure plan’s aim of achieving, “a sustainable community that celebrates the area’s past”.

He criticised the four weeks Cockburn residents were given to comment on a major coastal development that will take 15 to 20 years to complete. The WA planning commission allows no less than three months for public submissions.

He says the council has given little attention to the extensive military complex, which still exists along the ridge pegged for high-density housing.

Similarly, LandCorp’s cultural heritage survey, which devotes two and a half pages to defence heritage, undersells the importance of the area, he says.

“There is a strong feeling among many residents of Cockburn that any call for submissions to respond to planning instruments is largely tokenistic,” Mr Watson says, adding submissions that raised concerns were largely ignored.

Mayor Logan Howlett says the structure plans adopted after workshops with local businesses and landowners last year were, “an important milestone in the Cockburn Coast project”, now being considered for final approval by the WA government.

“Once this occurs, the project moves into the delivery phase with developers able to prepare their plans for subdivision and development,” he says.

“This is one of the city’s and Perth’s most exciting coastal redevelopment projects, seeking to transform the area of land between South Beach Village and Port Coogee into a vibrant mixed use coastal community.

“Cockburn Coast will be the trendiest place to live.”

He says Cockburn will have a population of 130,000 by 2031, “a child born this year will be celebrating their 18th birthday in a thriving commercial, residential and industrial hub-city”.

He adds Aboriginal people have lived in harmony with the land for tens of thousands of years.

“Importantly, we are still learning how to live in harmony with the land and how to provide for future generations without destroying the very land and waterways we rely on to survive,” he says in the latest edition of the council’s newsletter. ARCHAEOLOGISTS have been asked to survey a former swamp next to Randwick stables after Cockburn city council approved a community garden over an Aboriginal burial ground.

One of the first titles granted in the Swan River colony in 1830, the original 2000-acre block stretching from Fremantle to Bibra Lake belonged to Captain George Robb and now includes part of Randwick stables, Dixon reserve and Hamilton Plaza shopping centre.

Referred to as Hamilton Hill swamp, former wetlands near the tall Norfolks and palms were used as a corroboree and burial ground by local Nyoongar Wadjuk people.

Randwick stables manager Alison Bolas says a survey is planned given the site’s historic uses, including the burial of Aboriginal people beside the lake now used for horse training.


“We hope to start with fruit and vegetables,” she says. “The idea is to make the garden community inclusive, for everyone to use and share.”

Council engineering and works director Michael Littleton says the council has worked extensively with the Randwick stables community garden group, which includes a historian, “considering the archaeological and indigenous implications for the site”.

The area produced the colony’s first printed newspaper, The Fremantle Observer, Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, whose birth notices included the arrival of a son to Captain and Mrs Stirling.

The “black sand” also produced the colony’s first vineyard, the South African “sweet water” vines which impressed Stirling replanted at Mt Eliza, “nursery of the Colony’s vineyards”.

Hamilton Hill resident Paul Watson commends council for putting some effort into establishing a list of significant heritage places. But it was not enough, he told the Herald.

He’s applied to have the WA main roads-owned site listed on the state heritage register, recommending it be re-named Hamilton Hill swamp precinct.

Cockburn adopted the Hamilton Hill revitalisation strategy in November. The rezonings identified in the strategy are advertised for public comment until July 23, details of which can be found at

The WA government’s Directions 2031 document sets a target of 47 per cent of additional dwellings by 2031 in the Perth and Peel metropolitan areas.

“Hamilton Hill, as a well-connected inner-ring suburb, is well-situated to contribute to the delivery of these infill targets,” the strategy states.

One of the first settlers at Hamilton Hill was Robb’s agent Sydney Smith, 25, who arrived in January 1830 on the barque Leda to build Robb’s farmhouse near the middle of the western boundary of the grant (Swan River location 10). The first reference to the suburb is in a letter, dated August 27, 1830, in which Mr Smith gives his address as Hamilton Hill.

The name is derived from the Hamilton Ross Company of Cape Town, which operated the Leda.

In the 1840s, newspapers in the area referred to the area as, “that delightful locality well known as ‘The Hamilton Hills’”.  From his neighbouring grant, 30-year-old Charles MacFaull printed his news journal which survives today as The West Australian, now printed at a facility nicknamed “the Swamp” (on reclaimed wetlands in Osborne Park).

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