Square pegs in round holes

FREMANTLE Society president JOHN DOWSON says the council is whitewashing history with its proposed renaming of Kings Square, and needs to listen to the local community more.

JOHN CURTIN: “Where no discussion is, tyranny is sacrosanct.”

Western Australia’s only prime minister wrote the above words 100 years ago, and today they are relevant in Fremantle, the seat he won for the Labor Party. 

They are relevant because Fremantle council has a propensity of giving its residents what it wants, rather than what they want.

When ratepayer Helen Cox asked at last month’s council meeting: “How, when and where were the Fremantle ratepayers involved or included in the planning of a tavern design concept to be located in the cultural and civic centre?”

The answer came back: “The city undertook a Kings Square Urban design strategy in 2012/2013 which was developed through community consultation.”

The strategy, which undermined the heritage of the area and paved the way for the big intrusive boxes we see in the area now, said nothing about a three-storey tavern in a “cultural centre.”

• John Dowson

Last week when a council committee was discussing changing the name of King’s Square, one council consultant said:  “Well, we have been discussing this for three years.”

Well, neither the highly paid consultant nor the council have been discussing that issue with the community for three years. 

When the suggestion comes to council this Wednesday to rename Kings Square after Midgegooroo – a cold blooded murderer whose execution was even cheered by some Aboriginal onlookers – council may reluctantly give the community a few weeks, but only to give their suggestions for a name change.

Nowhere is there any discussion of the reason why Kings Square and its nearby sister, Queens Square, were established. 

The most intelligent person ever to live in Fremantle, George Seddon, wrote in 1994: “There has not been adequate recognition that the street patterns, the street names, and the public open spaces are the most enduring record of early Fremantle. 

“They need to be conserved…We should plan a new and more appropriate site for council chambers in Fremantle, leaving the 1887 town hall and St Johns as an historic precinct in the open square.” 

In full agreement, the Fremantle Society has fought to achieve that ever since. 

All we can hope for now is to retain the names.

The ideological whitewash of traditions and heritage in Fremantle is scarily becoming more and more evident as the rebranding and neglect of heritage gathers pace. 

When the Fremantle Society was told several years ago that a Fremantle council consultant had indicated the superb Moreton Bay fig trees in King’s Square had to go as they affected the sight lines to the new administration building, the speaker was not believed. The trees are now gone.

Council has shown contempt for its community’s views. It has shown distaste for Fremantle’s heritage – the heritage committee, the heritage grants scheme, the 1.25 per cent of rates for heritage projects, the heritage awards, and the local history awards have all gone, and are not coming back under this council.

As John Curtin thundered: “There are persons in Australia as in every other country who can see no good in their country. The reason is that they are no good themselves.”

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