PATRICK KING is the rector of the Anglican Parish of Fremantle. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED Fr Patrick says the church is in a unique place to help prevent the demise of its important cultural institutions. As we reported last week, the Anglican Parish is putting together a bid to buy Victoria Hall, which could be a god-send for the Fly by Night Musicians Club.
FREMANTLE, we have a problem – but the fix has been here for 175 years.
The fifth Anglican Rector of Fremantle, Daniel Glyn Watkins, must have been a four-Weet-Bix-a-morning kind of person.
He served the parish for thirty years, between 1875 and 1905, and oversaw the demolition of the original St John’s and the planning, construction and consecration of the present building in the heart of the city.
He masterminded the building of ten affordable homes (for the ‘impoverished of the parish’) on Cantonment Street, and finally led the church into employing the services of Talbot Hobbs to design a parish hall, now known as Victoria Hall.
I’ve a list full of energetic, dedicated and faithful predecessors both before and since The Rev’d Watkins, but he surely must set the bar for the level of engagement that the Anglican parish has had with the city.
As the sixteenth Anglican Rector of Fremantle, just a year into the post, engagement with the local community is something that is much on my mind too.
“We are the Body of Christ,” we affirm in St John’s every single day at our services.
That’s how we see our church – that we, as a body of people, are the presence of Jesus to this community of Fremantle.
And that means throwing ourselves into life here – that means engaging with all of this community, loving all of this community and walking alongside all of this community.
It means standing alongside community groups, fighting to preserve the social, historical, physical fabric of the city – it means playing our part in this city in a visible, tangible, real way. Not because it makes business sense.
Not out of desperation or fear of being irrelevant or left behind.
Not in a self-important aggrandising kind of way.
Not out of a desire to fill our pews on a Sunday morning.
But simply out of a commitment to the flourishing of our shared community. We give, we treasure, we are Fremantle.
Victoria Hall was built to provide a space in which the whole community could play, dance and sing, could enjoy music and theatre, could fall in love with one another and fall in love with the arts.
It wasn’t built to make commercial sense (no parish hall ever is!) but simply to serve the people of Fremantle and provide a haven for social inclusion.
It is beautiful, it is cultural, it sings Fremantle.
The hall has been ‘saved’ on various occasions, most recently by the city, but all that effort and money goes to waste if access to our cultural heritage is lost; if it no longer functions as a space in which the community can gather.
The Anglican parish is uniquely placed – with its history with the building, with its calling to serve the local community, and without the need for it to make commercial sense, to answer the question posed by the Fremantle Society, “who will save it now?”
To that end, as reported last week, we have been trying to put together a responsible and sustainable plan, and have had conversations with the board of the Fly By Night Musicians Club.
It’s not just a community space that’s under threat, but an important part of the cultural scene of Fremantle in the form of the Fly.
We are working to come up with a model whereby the Fly might continue to call Victoria Hall ‘home’, hiring the space as required; and in the form of Victoria Hall, Fremantle might retain a vital part of its cultural fabric.
We’re at a very early stage, but St John’s has been at the heart of Fremantle for as long as there’s been a Fremantle, and we are committed to preserving its unique heritage.
Fremantle has lost both Kulcha and Deckchair Theatre in recent years.
Let us work together to secure for future generations what makes Fremantle, Fremantle.