MOVING tributes from family, friends and colleagues featured as another of Fremantle’s original heritage warriors was laid to rest late last month.
Dianne Davidson was a founding member of the Fremantle History Society and a successful author whose 2010 book Fighting for Fremantle, written with her husband Ron, is a must-have on Freo’s heritage bookshelves.
Ms Davidson was born Dagnija Everts in Riga Latvia on September 8, 1940, with her family fleeing the country in 1944 as the occupying Germans were replaced by occupying Soviets.
Taking only what they could carry on their backs, the family fled to Germany where they lived in a farmhouse and various refugee camps until finally giving up their dream of returning to their homeland and instead boarding the Norwegian steamer Nelly to Australia.
During the five-week voyage, Ms Davidson fell dangerously ill and was quarantined; as they sailed through the tropics her temperature soared above 40.
She later told her daughter Janie that at one point she remembered drifting above her ailing body and feeling euphoric, so much so she was annoyed when her mother roused her and brought her back inside herself.
“My grandad wrote in his journals about the experience and how he prayed he and my granny would not lose the only thing they had left that meant anything to them,” Janie says.
“Mum was a very bright young girl and despite being in a foreign country she was third top of her class and received a scholarship to attend the very prestigious University High School in Melbourne.”
Ms Davidson moved to Perth during her 30s to study history at UWA while also working as a secretary in the psychology department where she met her future husband.
Fluent in Latvian, German, Italian, French and English, Ms Davidson had a love of literature and was a voracious reader, though her first foray towards authorship in the 80s was fruitless when Mills and Boon rejected her romances as far too complex for its housewife target audience.
Her publishing debut came in 1997 with Women on the Warpath: Feminists in the First Wave, a history of WA’s Women’s Service Guilds.
Former Fremantle Prison curator and WA Heritage Council member Anne Brake said Ms Davidson made her feel welcome when she first arrived in WA and an enduring friendship was formed. She said Ms Davidson came to their first meeting with an ambitious agenda.
“I think it was August of that first year when Di and [then-mayor] Jenny Archibald organised to meet with me down at the prison,” Ms Brake said.
“Both had been involved with the Fremantle Society for some years.
“While this important community group were doing amazing things in relation to Fremantle’s heritage, Di had identified, and Jenny agreed, a deficit in providing access to the rich cultural history of the port city and had conceived of the idea of forming an historical society.
“They came to see if I would like to join them in their quest.”
Ms Brake says she’s “still a very happy member 27 years later.”
Ms Davidson is survived by her daughters Janie and Emma.