Love thy neighbour?

THE Fremantle community, and dare I suggest Fremantle council as well, have a love-hate relationship with Notre Dame University. 

As a supporter of our West End uni I do understand the frustrations, and NDA can only blame themselves for the ongoing negativity.

Fremantle council regularly signs a Memorandum of Understanding with Notre Dame, but it is not worth the paper it is printed on, because nothing in it is legally binding and is mostly ignored. 

For example, NDA has promised for a decade to activate its buildings at street level, but all we have is a small corner location turned into a hairdresser. The new Prospective Students Office, opposite the hairdresser, has two large windows closed with boring white blinds.

Student accommodation in the inner city has been a big wish of council, but NDA has shown no inclination to take action. 

NDA tell me it’s in their Strategic Plan 2022-26: “The University of Notre Dame Australia is preparing for growth in its student population, especially with the reopening of the international borders, allowing students to return to Australia. Included in our preparations is the need to provide accessible and affordable accommodation for students and we are investigating a number of potential options. Having those students living and studying in Fremantle will be a boon for local businesses and will further enhance the vibrancy of the city.” 

But NDA bought the large Customs House complex between Henry and Pakenham streets years ago – perfect for student accommodation. Why didn’t it develop the site?

The uni was also preparing a masterplan a couple of years ago, but it hasn’t been made public, so we’re left to worry about the ghost town the West End becomes after the daily exodus of students and staff. 

Whatever happened to the promised activation nodes, and NDA courtyards filled with concerts, movies, activities, and weddings?

The NDA story is not all negative though. I love the vibrancy the students and staff bring to the West End at daytime. Many cafes would not survive without NDA patronage. 

But in the evenings it is dark, dead, boring and dangerous. 

I also love the stunning adaptive re-use of the heritage buildings and Notre Dame’s Aboriginal art collection, but how many Fremantle people have seen it?

During a long talk with likeable vice chancellor Francis Campbell, he told me a new marketing manager would reposition Notre Dame, making Fremantle a university city; however the marketing manager is based at the uni’s Sydney campus. 

I used to get regular updates of NDA events, but that no longer happens; by chance I discovered Open Day this year and took photos. 

How does NDA believe it connects to the Fremantle community when it does not communicate with us and share what they are doing? 

It does not help the reputation of Notre Dame either that many staff and some top lecturers left or were made redundant after a cost-cutting restructure that remains pretty opaque in its objectives. Is Fremantle still the heart of the university, or has that shifted along with a heap of the hierarchy, to Sydney?

Two mature-aged students told me admin at NDA is very frustrating to deal with. 

Student graduation ceremonies were relocated to the RAC Arena in Perth due to Covid, but will that lovely tradition return to the university’s Drillhall in Fremantle again this year, now that there no longer are Covid restrictions?

The fact that Notre Dame, like all educational and religious institutions, does not have to pay council rates upsets many in the community, and the uni is not exactly the most generous local sponsoring. They are not talking the talk of wanting to be part of the Freo community.

The Freo community is tired of platitudes, spin, and empty promises, tired of the inaction, and tired of the lack of progress and commitment by the university. Only the uni can change that, through decisive and good action! Walk the walk, Notre Dame!

Roel Loopers

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