• Megan Jaceglav nominates the development of Port Coogee as one of the reasons she’ll be happy to see the end of Cockburn council. | File image—early concept

• Megan Jaceglav nominates the development of Port Coogee as one of the reasons she’ll be happy to see the end of Cockburn council. | File image—early concept

MEGAN JACEGLAV is a PhD candidate at Murdoch University and a long-term resident of the Fremantle-Cockburn area. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED she says she’ll “stand warmed by the funeral pyre” of Cockburn council’s demise.

IT is a fine irony that those who relentlessly bulldoze have now themselves been razed to the ground with the same clean exactness, the same clinical precision, by which sand dunes, gum trees—home to threatened species, heritage dwellings, community voice and concern have been brutally disregarded and destroyed, time after time.

I am speaking of Cockburn council—the council that is now petitioning the community to help it stay alive—the community it has so wilfully destroyed.

Glenn Albrecht, a professor in sustainability at Murdoch University, writes of a feeling he calls solastalgia: a modern phenomena that corresponds to the sense of despair, soul sickness one feels when the place which you call home is no longer home—is desecrated before your very eyes, changed beyond recognition, beyond reclamation. This is not a parochial picket fence sense of place but the landscape, the birdcall, the scope of sand and sea and light fall that secures belonging.

My partner and I bought a little stone cottage in Spearwood seven years ago—it at the time was a leap to move from Fremantle to this outer-Freo vicinity.

This contrast was tempered however by the space that Spearwood seemed to offer, vast sand dunes catching the light as you moved south, market gardens with lemon, pine and eucalypt trees where countless birds roosted and chortled in the dawn and dusk, old heritage homes speckled here and there, remnants of Spearwood’s farming past. There was a slowish semi-rural kind of symbiosis; this was a setting that seemed to offer space to both nature and culture.

The gathering was a sad event as the faith these folk had was shown naive, ridiculous even. 

Within mere months the executions began and solastalgia plagued our lives. First went the sand dunes, amidst vast protest and vast corruption, to welcome the rich, tasteless and environmentally toxic enclave called Port Coogee. Next went the gardens, the trees, the habitat for threatened species as developers of “Packham north” and Cockburn engineers clapped each other on the back.

Next went the heritage dwellings—A-listed historic buildings, razed to the ground without consultation—why? They would be out of place in the new development, says the heritage officer, these things are up to council discretion, to be translated as the rule of the mighty without systems of correction. The last cull was community voice and concern itself, trust in representation and fair process.

I live in the fore-mentioned cottage, one last standing heritage dwelling, an anachronism to be sure, on a road called Rigby Avenue. The street is named after original settler Robert Rigby who built our 1913 cottage—now flanked by two McMansions, out of context perhaps? Rigby Avenue is full of retired folks, ancestors of settlers, politically shy, used to the premise of good faith, the premise of community, living local treasures you may say.

Many of these elderly people, over 40 or more, came out on a stormy September night last year, a culminative act, after years of petitions, submissions, emails, phone calls, pleas to council to address the traffic problem on Rigby Avenue,  one that is beyond liveability since the “development” began with no traffic report of the existing area.

The gathering was a sad event as the faith these folk had was shown naive, ridiculous even.

Council staff produced to a staring group of 40, a Powerpoint presentation weighted in percentiles, graphs and callously exerted power to make it known they had no intent of respecting, let alone acting on, the concerns of these citizens, no intent at all.

A dejected, tired group left that night, some of whom were similarly assaulted at a council meeting a week later. Now the road exceeds the carrying capacity for a local road (more than 3000 a day) and the council still suggests “current traffic volumes and speeds in Rigby Avenue are not a surprise and would not warrant immediate action”. A small offence perhaps in the wake of vaster and more significant destruction, but a symbolic one and one that deeply affects the lives of people who are trying to make home on Rigby Avenue.

Solastalgia  has become something else—what might it be when you have to run from place, a place called home, because those who make decisions with no concern for community destroy peace, trust and hope, destroy a sense of belonging?

Cockburn council—as you smoulder, spark and burn I and many others will stand warmed by your funeral pyre, solemn at your failings still but hopeful as the flames are fanned by the winds of the Fremantle doctor—Dr Brad Pettit and his crew, progressive in the best sense of the word, community and environmentally minded people who may heal the carnage of place and trust you have left in your wake.

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