A community asset

In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED, STEVE WELLS reflects on Fremantle council’s proposed sale of the historic Victoria Hall, which until recently was used by the Fly by Night Musicians Club. Mr Wells, a retired school principal, is on the Fly’s board of directors.

DURING the heyday of the gold rush, Victoria Hall was built by the church as a community hall.

The church was well aware of the need to create a space where people would meet and develop a sense of community, regardless of background.

Designed by one of the state’s most distinguished architects and soldiers Talbot Hobbs, the building has changed functions and ownership many times over the years, including spells as a dance hall, flea market and boxing ring. During the 1970s when the place was scheduled for demolition, it was saved by the action of the Builders Labour Federation. Fremantle council then purchased the building as a public amenity.

The most recent tenant, the Fly by Night Musicians Club, is scheduled to leave the hall at the end of August due to the city’s decision to sell the building.  This is a shame as the Fly activated the building in a manner which developed the social fabric or amenity of Fremantle.

Selling of public assets is always a vexed issue. The standard arguments given for selling off assets include revenue raising, greater activation of the facility and better services or operations in private hands. One needs to look at examples like the selling of Telecom and energy utilities to see how well things can turn out.

Disposal of public assets can also be viewed in terms of whether they compromise the role of government.

• Unveiling of the restored Victoria Hall in 2003.

A local government, in concert with its state and federal partners, should promote and develop social amenity for people.

This concept at its most basic means ensuring that a place like Fremantle is a safe, engaging and friendly place for all of us.

It also means providing the necessary support through planning and developments which will ensure the city remains a vibrant and sustainable place which is attractive to locals and visitors.

The redevelopment of Kings Square is a bold and hopefully effective example of our city looking towards the future with optimism and consideration of the needs of its people.

A real concern about the proposed sale of Victoria Hall is that it may lead to a reduction of the social fabric of the community.

There may be no tenders for the sale, in which case it will revert to being under-utilised as it was prior to the Fly taking on the place.

A worst-case scenario may be promises of “bells and whistles” by a developer who is unable to fulfil their promises or wants to shift the goal posts.

Such local examples include the proposals currently in limbo for Bathers Beach and the Drill Hall.

Both seem stalled with little evidence of an outcome soon. Is there an alternative to the above gloomy scenarios? Perhaps…

There may be a person or organisation who considers Victoria Hall to be a significant hub for developing social amenity for the city, and in particular for the eastern end of town.

Such an entity, should it exist, may be able to take the building off the city’s books, but still maintain its original function as a community hall.

Maybe history will repeat itself?

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