Tim Winton’s feeling chirpy about Fremantle’s future.
You mightn’t get that impression given the city’s bleak critique in the author’s latest novel, Eyrie, but the four-time Miles Franklin award-winner senses it might be limping out of its slump.
“There is a build-up of feeling in the town, with young and imaginative people making things happen,” he says.
“Freo can solve its problems and I think there is the talent here to make it happen.”
Winton says for too long the city rewarded mediocrity, which led to many becoming disengaged with decision-making and those with valuable creativity on offer feeling crushed.
“There was this feeling that consultation was pre-steered; whether that was true or not I don’t know, but that feeling infected a lot of the community.
“There was a feeling that if there were competing business and community interests, business would win,” Winton says.
While not specifically referring to the current council’s consultation over changes to its planning scheme allowing high-rise development, he does think it was “over-egged”.
“People need to be taken along—I think there was a little bit of shock and awe,” he says.
He says despite the unflattering portrayal of high-rise living in Eyrie, he’s comfortable with tall buildings—it’s the “’60s throw-ups” that depress him.
“I don’t mind high-rise, but the buildings have to add to the community and people’s quality of life, and add to the social equality.
“When was the last time an interesting building was put up in Fremantle? The maritime museum.”
He also takes a pot-shot at local landlords and says the community should take more responsibility for allowing them to leave their shops empty.
“I don’t know this to be true, but I suspect there is gouging,” he says.
“I wonder if we should put a note on the door of these empty shops about who owns the building and what rent they charge.
“Perhaps councils and the community were better at holding these people to account in the past.
“Look at the people in the ‘60s and ‘70s who saved the West End while the rest of the city was calling in the bulldozers—they took responsibility, they were committed to saving and rehabilitating the area.”
Mind you, he’s not that thrilled with the final result, complaining West End buildings tend to be all painted “Notre brown”.
While he’s feeling positive about Fremantle, Winton does harbour concerns the city is turning into a coffee monoculture.
“We risk becoming this place where all the other human enterprise has to make way for coffee.”
He says the city should promote its unique attributes, not try to pretend it’s another “big-box” shopping centre like Booragoon.
“We should be saying ‘if you want a genuine, non-repeatable experience, then come here.”
by STEVE GRANT