The Fremantle Society 50th Anniversary

BOB REECE is a veteran historian and writer whose wide interests have involved him in the history of Aboriginal-white relations, the Irish in Australia, and Borneo. Arriving with his wife Lesley in early 1978 to teach at Murdoch University, he remained there until retirement except for three years in the late 1980s at University College, Dublin.

A QUIET hurrah for the Fr emantle Society which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

What an unrecognisably different place Fremantle would have been without warrior heroes like Les Lauder, the late Rob Campbell and the late Ron and Dianne Davidson to inspire its more history-conscious citizens with a sense of the uniqueness of the port town and the need to preserve its fabric and social ambience for the benefit of future generations.

This is not the place for a roll-call of those others who have made major contributions to the Society’s work in recent times, but it would not be possible to write about its achievements without acknowledging current president John Dowson’s part in it all. 

How ironic it is that presiding over this limestone confection of buildings that we call Fremantle should have been colonial architect-engineer Willey Reveley’s elegant Georgian lock-up back-drop, with its unsurpassed view of the Indian Ocean its curious rabbit’s-ears façade.

There was to be no bloodshed in the streets after 1972 other than that of a hapless chicken whose fate quickly became folklore, but many a sharp word was expended in some of the late night exchanges. 

Reveley himself was subjected to some robust language by workmen who were the group most keenly affected by the colonial government’s notorious tardiness in settling outstanding contracts.

A Place of Consequence

My own role in the society was to write the occasional article on heritage matters for the Herald’s Thinking Allowed column, which canvassed a range of local issues.

The idea of a pictorial book called A Place of Consequence after Captain Charles Fremantle’s ambiguous bon mot, was inspired by a photographic exhibition mounted by myself and Murdoch colleague Rob Pascoe and later published by Ray Coffey and Jane Fraser of Fremantle Arts Centre Press in 1983. 

The hunt for early photographs brought to light several private collections, including one owned by professional photographer Betty Anderson who produced first-class sepia prints for the Murdoch exhibition. 

These were used with good effect as pictorial evidence to complement the documentary record.

It is a long time since the late Margaret McPherson invoked the rich sense of community that has survived in Fremantle but we can rightly expect a continuity of the outspoken leadership which has never been too bothered about ruffling a few feathers in a good cause.

We can also expect a continuity of the work of the more academically-attuned Fremantle History Society whose sponsorship of local events, including the annual Fremantle Studies seminar which is a red-letter day for local history buffs. 

The Society has also brought out seven numbers of the journal, Fremantle Studies, which has a wide following. 

Not surprisingly, the Fremantle Society and History Society have made common cause on important community issues such as the proposed Bather’s Bay tavern and hopefully will continue to do so.

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