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Staff at the Fremantle Prison discovered their green thumbs while the city’s premier tourist attraction was forced to close its doors to ‘customers’ for the first time in 170 years, restoring the gardens that once supplied the kitchens. Prison director Paula Nelson says it’s not the first time the prison’s had a role in rescuing WA from the economic doldrums.

More city facilities reopen as Covid restrictions ease

THE barrier tape will come down across playgrounds in Fremantle today as the further easing of Covid-19 restrictions kick in.

Skate parks are also likely to get a hammering, with gatherings of 100 people now permitted as the state moves to phase 3 rules.

Fremantle council has also announced it will be opening the Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle Visitors Centre, The Meeting Place, Walyalup Cultural Centre and the seniors lounge at its library.

Swimmers will have to hang on to their goggles just a little longer, with the Fremantle Leisure Centre due to open on June 18, at the same time as the Samson Recreation Centre.

Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said it was exciting to have some certainty about opening facilities.

“We know that people really love our facilities like the arts centre or the leisure centre and have really missed them during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Pettitt said.

Distancing

“Unfortunately it’s not possible to open up all of our facilities straight away because there is some prep work that needs to be done to ensure we have the physical distancing and cleaning regimes in place to ensure the safety of our community and staff.”

As the Herald went to print on Thursday evening, Cockburn council was still considering its response to the easing of restrictions.

But under its roadmap to reopening, it should see its playgrounds and outdoor gym equipment made available again, while Azelia Ley Museum, Memorial Hall, its Seniors Centre and the admin centre’s front counter reopened.

Further easing of restrictions at Cockburn ARC, its youth centre and libraries is also flagged in the recovery plan.

Melville’s headquarters opened earlier this week, while some LeisureFit centres will start offering some services and programs from June 15 and the Piney Lakes Environmental Education Centre opens up this Tuesday.

Prison staff Leah Stevens and Debbie Burgess get stuck into the weeds as the garden is once again brought to life.

Prison-led recovery has historic precedent

FREMANTLE PRISON is amongst a raft of attractions reopening this weekend as Covid-19 restrictions are eased across WA.

But director Paula Nelson says they’re feeling an extra level of responsibility to help kickstart the local tourism industry given the prison adds $21.7 million to the economy each year.

“There’s a limited market, and it’s never been more important to say to people ’this if Fremantle’,” Ms Nelson said.

But she reckons history is on her side; 170 years ago the prison’s first convict inmates arrived to provide the cheap labour to drag the Swan River Colony out of its economic malaise.

“The prison still has a role in picking up the economy,” she said.

Tour numbers have been halved to 15 and the tunnels will remained closed until the restrictions are further eased, but Ms Nelson said the down time had provided an opportunity to tick off a couple of initiatives.

Redeployed

“We redeployed staff to other tasks, mainly cleaning … but we were also able to reinstate the prison vegetable garden.

“In the 1850s there was no need for a garden, but as it morphed into a maximum security prison, various gardens have sprung up through the years, such as one near the kitchens.”

Ms Nelson said the prison had also sent funding requests to the state and federal governments for further conservation works.

“We have a big impact on our economy, and if we can get those capital works, we can support it with local employment.”

Ms Nelson said the shut-down had also given staff the opportunity to work side-by-side for the first time, as usually they’d only pass each other on the way down a tunnel or the next tour and she’d like to foster the camaraderie even as the door reopen and tours return.

“We have developed a new interpretive management plan and the guides have been able to engage in the new theme setting.

“They know what customers respond to.”

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