Plans parked, but not buried

How Pioneer Park might look with a below-ground archaeology centre.

JOHN DOWSON is president of the Fremantle Society. He says spilling Spare Parts across Pioneer Park isn’t the best use of its valuable heritage greenery

REPORTING on the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre plans to take over Pioneer Park adjacent to Fremantle Train Station,  the Herald (March 6) said I “lamented the end of the society’s hopes of having an archaeology centre on the park”.

The society doesn’t actually see this as the end of our hopes, but yet another battle to fight to get proper planning and good outcomes in Fremantle. 

The fact that city ward councillor Rachel Pemberton labels the new plans “awesome” reflects on her ignorance about what we believe is good planning and heritage – which is a concern given the damage poorly informed councillors can inflict on a city.

Just as she denied the council had plans to sell the Leisure Centre car park – not knowing it was in their current 10-year plan – she and the council seem oblivious to the years of key planning documents already adopted for Pioneer Park and the surrounding area.

These include the Phillimore Street Precinct Fremantle Conservation Plan, and masterplan, and integrated masterplan, the Phillimore Street Precinct Archaeological Conservation Plan, and Pioneer Park Reserve Heritage Interpretation Plan.

Council’s 10-Year plan even lists $1.75m to be spent in 2019-2020 getting started on the Phillimore Street masterplan, but there is no evidence of any action.

Pioneer Park, though shamelessly used by some councillors recently as a political stunt for a homeless “Tent City”, is an important public park; a green space at the entry into Fremantle from the station, but with a poorly maintained wishing well, an incongruous animal statue, and a puppet theatre building so badly maintained it is propped up with a $440,000 temporary metal brace.

For Pioneer Park, the Fremantle Society simply wants the $160,000 plans done (by the council before mayor Brad Pettitt) for a $4 million archaeological centre to be implemented.

Council, in its own 10-Year plan states that it will “revitalise Pioneer Park as a vibrant quarter of Fremantle embracing its heritage”. 

Firstly, it needs to read is own Pioneer Park Reserve Heritage Interpretation Plan which encourages an archaeological project to reveal the very early colonial remains there from 1844, through “provocation, not instruction”, by providing an experience of “discovery and inspired insight”. 

Revealing and interpreting the archaeology below the surface activates the park and makes a drawcard for tourists and locals.  

Pioneer Park is an exceptional archaeological treasure, a microcosm of early Fremantle. Many cities have ruins on display – few have them in such a central location. This is “an opportunity unparallelled in a major Australian city.”

The Fremantle Society supports the plans put forward in 2009 for the below ground archaeological centre, though like most who made public submissions then, we do not support the intrusion of ideas like a basketball court onto the precious green spaces in the park.

There are plenty of other interesting stories of Pioneer Park to be told, including an explanation for the raised site level being because John Forrest, when he advocated the Trans Australia Railway, wanted the western terminal for the nation to be on this site.

The Puppet Theatre is welcome to expand and get improved facilities, but Pioneer Park is not its to take over. It belongs to the public, as a treasure trove yet to be opened and appreciated.

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