Faces of Fremantle: Freo’s ‘quiet achiever’

MARYROSE BAKER prefers to be known as a ‘quiet achiever’, but there is nothing subdued about the community activist who has led Fremantle’s Inner City Residents Association for many years.

A gifted speaker and organiser, she has helped provide a robust and well-informed voice for people who would otherwise have had to wring their hands in frustration at not being heard.

She’s tackled a wide range of issues, including the successful fight to stop Sunset Events opening a 800-1500 capacity outdoor tavern and concert venue at the A-class reserve, Arthur Head.

Tenacity

Her good-natured tenacity and energy have helped to raise public debate beyond the highly personal slanging matches of the past.

Perhaps her gritty determination and cheery attitude is down to her upbringing in Tyneside in the North of England (she can put on a very convincing Geordie accent if required).

As a child with her family of ‘ten pound Poms’, she found herself living in a clearing in the jarrah forest at Banksiadale, near Dwellingup, where her ex-Royal Navy father was employed at the local mill.

Isolated as they were, he and the other British and European immigrants and local Aussies developed a close camaraderie that brought their families together, forming a warm and supportive community.

It might even be suggested that this spirit was later echoed in FICRA’s close circle of neighbours.

Those years in the bush gave a young Ms Baker self-confidence and independence; qualities that stood her in good stead in her future career in education and health.

After four years at UWA and Teachers College, she initially taught in secondary schools then did three years of overseas work and travel.

After returning home she joined the health department; working in health education, community development and health promotion campaigns, including sex and drug education and HIV AIDS prevention.

While managing women’s health policy, she steered through the first publicly-funded home birth midwifery program in Australia.

It was approved by the then-federal health minister, Carmen Lawrence, funded by the commonwealth and located in Fremantle.

Ms Baker is keen to emphasise that she has not sought to make a career out of community activism; pointing out that FICRA has never been an incorporated body.

It is essentially a community-building and advocacy collective, which can provide a rallying point for action when pressing issues such as the Arthur Head tavern arise and demand an informed and articulate response from residents.

FICRA’s recent success as a lobbying group has been largely due to its ability to tap into the professional skills and expertise of its supporters like Dick Baynham Richard Bartlett, Richard Mehan and David Hawkes.

FICRA is currently focused on stopping the damage to the Roundhouse and other historic buildings in the West End, and the impact of future train traffic.

Supporters remain concerned about loss of inner city green space in areas like Esplanade and Pioneers Parks.

If we see Ms Baker’s name in the paper, we can be sure that there is ‘trouble at mill’.

by ROBERT REECE

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