Too much for Round here

BOB REECE, emeritus professor of history at Murdoch University and a long-term Fremantle reident, is currently writing a biography of Round House architect Henry Willey Reveley. His essay on Reveley won last year’s Heritage Week local history prize for the best unpublished manuscript.

SINCE its completion in 1830, Henry Reveley’s idiosyncratic Round House has experienced many vicissitudes.

Serving as Swan River Colony’s first lock-up and later as a government storehouse, in the early 20th century it survived a number of attempts (mostly by the council of the day) at destruction.

As late as 1929, a move to complete its already partial demolition was only thwarted by strong opposition from influential people like state librarian JS Battye. Even now it is subjected to inferior  conservation efforts.

Local architect Rob McK Campbell, who drew up the first conservation plan for the Round House in 1973 and supervised its initial restoration, has been critical of the council-authorised workmanship and materials used while re-plastering interior limestone walls.

Now comes a threat of a very different kind: being overtaken by the development nearby at the northern end of Bathers Beach of a tavern, possibly with micro-brewery attached, offering outdoor music to audiences of from 850 up to a possible 1500 people. Sunset Events’ plan involves the conversion of part of the existing J-Shed and its extension over the 1830s whalers’ oil-rendering structure and Thomas Mews’ boat-building shed, and use of the surrounding outdoor area.

The enthusiastic reception to the proposed development by the mayor and some councillors makes this vandalism a strong possibility. There is a real prospect of patrons converging on Arthur Head in numbers similar to Little Creatures but with minimal parking and a largely outdoor venue posing major problems of supervision and control connected with alcohol consumption.

Drunk and unruly patrons are a very real possibility, as members of FICRA will attest from their experience with other late-night establishments. Noise levels are likely to be a serious nuisance to residents of the apartment blocks in Cliff Street.

Another important aspect of the plan is a perimeter fence on more than 12 occasions a year, something described as temporary which might well become permanent. The resulting interference with public access to Bathers Beach is at odds with its status as an A-class reserve.

The proposed building at the end of J-Shed will also cover some important archaeological sites encapsulating whaling and boat-building industries at Bathers Beach. Irish archaeologist and former Murdoch student Jack McIlroy was employed by Fremantle council 10 years ago to excavate these sites, which could be developed as attractions.

This area might best be called a “cultural landscape”, a place rich in historical associations and archaeological resources. For good or ill, it is the cradle of European settlement in Western Australia. Its significance for Aboriginal people is also well established.

Sunset Events argue the new facility will “activate” Fremantle’s “dying” West End, providing a new focus for tourists and visitors for whom Fremantle serves as a leisure resort. But how appropriate is it in an area distinguished for its history and which continues to attract tourists and local visitors for that reason.

As it happens, the council itself answered the question convincingly in the negative in its own West End Conservation Area Policy, authorised on 22 June 1992 but evidently long-forgotten:

Principles for Redevelopment

• Arthur Head is a place of great historical and cultural significance to all Western Australians; the council will seek to preserve and enhance this significance;

• its great potential has been preserved by its lack of development; the council will seek to ensure that this is not now lost by piecemeal projects, but rather is realised through long-term planning;

• the southern area, on the Marine Terrace axis, will constitute a transition zone between the “town” and the “A-Class Reserve” and will provide for the principal public uses, from the Esplanade to Bathers Beach and the southern arm of the Round House, promontory;

• the land and waterfront below the Round House and south of it will be developed to allow the physical realities of the colony’s origins to be experienced;

• pedestrian access, display of archaeological sites and vegetation renewal are the key elements to this development;

• the northern end of Arthur Head should primarily be an area of restoration of the original vegetation, restricted access and parking for school buses and disabled persons. A low-key use of the J-Shed, compatible with the ethos of the area, is acceptable.

No doubt some councillors will respond this is an old policy that needs to be re-considered (ie, ditched). However, there would also be a need to re-consider its alcohol management policy signed off on as recently as 27  November last year that it would not favour developments whose main purpose was alcohol sales.

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