Council closes Whalers Tunnel

ONE of Fremantle’s premier tourist attractions could be off-limits to the public for months after the local council closed it over safety fears.

As hundreds of passengers from giant cruise ship Sea Princess started exploring the city early on Thursday morning, Fremantle council was locking the gates to the Whalers Tunnel beneath the Round House. A geotechnical report had found there was a high risk of rock falls from the limestone cliffs surrounding the tunnel entrance.

Mayor Brad Pettitt says there’s no threat to the tunnel or the Round House themselves, but the cliffs have significantly eroded.

“Our immediate response is to close the tunnel and fence off the areas where there is a high risk of rock fall,” Dr Pettitt says.

• Cruising into Freo on the Sun Princess were Welsh visitors Elaine and Christopher Dean (rear), while Londoner Linda Summers was hoping to visit the Whalers’ Tunnel with local Joan Blair. Photo by Steve Grant

Danger

“In the short term, we’ll look to shave off the overhanding rock where we can to remove the immediate danger and investigate erecting nets or scaffolding above the entrance so we can re-open the tunnel.”

But the council’s facing criticism over the lengthy closure, with several people telling the Herald they’d been complaining for up to two years about the state of the cliffs. One of the complainants has geotechnical expertise.

Photographer Peter Zuvela says he took a council ranger on a tour of the cliffs two years ago to point out teetering rocks.

Mr Zuvela says the rocks were shaved back, but if the council had taken the issue more seriously it could have planned ahead to have workers at the ready for the long-term solutions and reduced the time the tunnel would close.

He says his and other arts businesses at the J Shed will suffer a significant drop in foot traffic while the tunnel is closed.

“We are very disappointed about the closure.”

Round House guides Roel Loopers and Les Green both say the council hasn’t given Arthur Head the love it needs.

Mr Loopers says it’s always a battle to get the council to attend to maintenance issues at the Round House, which gets 400,000 visitors a year.

Mr Loopers says he’s been complaining about the state of the tunnel for years.

Five years ago the WA Museum removed artifacts that had been on display in alcoves along the tunnel, but they never returned and all that remains are embarrassing signs highlighting what’s missing – and often litter.

Mr Green says he’s pitched numerous ideas about promoting Arthur Head, but says the council doesn’t seem to grasp the area’s importance.

“They’ve neglected it something terrible over years,” Mr Green says amongst tales about explosives destined to blow up Fremantle harbour being stored in the tunnel in case the Japanese invaded during World War II.

But council CEO Philip St John says the council has put plenty of resources into Arthur Head.

“In recent years the City has made a number of improvements to the area, including the construction of new footpaths, lighting and way-finding signage. We have also installed the coloured LED up-lighting at the base of the cliffs at Arthur Head,”  he said.

“Re-vegetation works to the base of the Arthur Head cliffs were completed last July, as well as two years prior, while last year we carried out repairs to the natural stone wall along Captains Lane and to the timber fencing at Mrs Trivett Place.

by STEVE GRANT

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