Arthur Head: time for a rethink

READING Letters to the Editor this week, it is clear the controversial tavern decision has inflamed local sentiment, for all the wrong reasons.

Most miss the main point.

Fremantle council is badly divided, split down the middle.

The application for tavern approval now goes to the WA planning commission for a final decision.

From the beginning, the application by music promoter Sunset Events four years ago for a large licensed outlet next to the Roundhouse at Bathers Beach in Fremantle’s historic West End, has drawn the crabs.

The objectors have included:

• inner-city residents alarmed by the rapid growth of small bars in the West End and worried that a 300-seat tavern would overwhelm their neighbourhood

• heritage buffs outraged at having a tavern on an A Class Reserve adjacent to WA’s first public building built in 1830

• traditional Aboriginal owners who feel the council has not understood their connection to the site

• long term artist tenants who are facing being pushed out from the council-owned J Shed

Up to now Fremantle council has pushed on regardless, believing Sunset Event’s track record of a series of successful Fremantle events over the years would be good for the city.

But we reckon it is time for a rethink; time to move on. We feel a serious conversation could help heal this ill-feeling.

Fremantle is embracing a new destination marketing direction and the Arthur Head precinct offers so much, even without a booze barn.

It’s the centre point of Aboriginal and colonial history: how many residents realise that a remnant of the bar that once blocked the harbour still exists and is a tangible connection to one of the Whadjuk Noongar’s most significant Dreamtime stories?

What a wonderful drawcard for those cruise ship passengers who tend to jump on a bus to quaff a chardonnay in the Swan Valley.

Fremantle also has a World Heritage-listed facility—not that you’d really know it.

It’s the very impressive convict-built Fremantle Prison, part of the worldwide British colonial-era prison system.

The Roundhouse was its precursor.

Both facilities were instrumental in an ultimately ‘successful’ British colonial settlement and the consequent destruction of Indigenous society.

Huge numbers of Aboriginal prisoners from around the state were marched through Fremantle in chains, often without ever understanding what they’d done wrong, to be locked up in the Roundhouse en route to the brutal Aboriginal prison on Rottnest Island.

Perhaps as many as 400 are buried over there. To suggest that because the area next door was quarried somehow makes it immune to this history takes a willing blindness.

Aboriginal culture is some 70,000 years old, if not older. It has some amazing artistic, cultural and physical features unique to this land and to our city.

Could not Fremantle cast itself as a vital component for a unique WA-wide experience in cultural tourism?

For an experience that tells the truth about our unique Aboriginal culture, about British and European colonialism, about the history of our town. We know people all around the world, including Australia, are seeking more meaningful travel experiences.

Could we not think big and help fulfil this unmet need?

by ANDREW SMITH
 and STEVE GRANT

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