No place like Freo – for now

• Award-winning former ABC investigative reporter Sophie McNeil’s traveled the globe, but now loves hanging out in the best backyard in the world – Freo.

The City of Fremantle is reviewing its Strategic Community Plan. Freelance journalist Ryan Emery has been talking to Fremantle residents and visitors about their thoughts on the city’s future. Today’s topic is ‘Living in your local area’. 

FORMER ABC foreign correspondent and Four Corners investigative reporter Sophie McNeill has lived in many vibrant and dynamic communities.

But in all her travels and reporting, nothing has compared to a certain seaside city.

“I’ve lived in many different cities around the world, but really this is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been,” she said.

“So, it was kind of a no-brainer to come back here to bring my children and really settle down.

“And it’s because of the amazing sense of community that we have here in Fremantle.

“I think that’s definitely the strength of this amazing town.”

Ms McNeill, who now works for Human Rights Watch, said Fremantle had a strong sense of social justice, where people cared for each other and could be a little bit different.

And where you’d always find plenty of fellow passionate Freo Dockers supporters at the local pub.


But she fears that Fremantle is in danger of losing itself with ever increasing housing pressures pushing out those that make Fremantle the unique city it is.

It’s partly why she left Sydney, where she lived after returning from the Middle East, because a lack of affordability kept out photographers, designers and other creatives from her local area.

“Whereas where we live (Hamilton Hill), we have lots of friends who work for not-for-profits, like myself, who make big careers out of art or music, and they can afford to do that and live in this wonderful town,” she said.

“But I think if there’s not more intervention to massively increase affordable housing, then soon this will become a very gentrified, boring city like any other city in Australia. 

“I think that is a real risk and something that the council needs to address as an urgent priority.” 

Ms McNeill said Fremantle council had stood up for issues such as climate change and reconciliation and needed to show similar leadership by using its advocacy and planning to address the area’s “housing crisis”.

“Fremantle is at risk of losing the people that make it Fremantle,” she said.

“The interesting, creative types won’t be able to afford to live here in the coming years if steps aren’t taken soon.”

In Hilton, Wes and Dale Olsen share Ms McNeill’s concerns about affordable housing and maintaining a community.

Ms Olsen grew up in Hilton and the couple bought their house in 1988 and raised three children. 

“I can’t see myself living anywhere else,” she said.

“It’s just in my blood because my dad worked on the wharf, I did my nursing training at Fremantle Hospital, my grandparents lived in North Freo and Beacy, and it’s just the place I gravitated back to.”

But she said densification needed to be handled carefully and was cautious about more battle-axe blocks.

“It changes the feel for the place because there aren’t people on the street, so you don’t get to know them in the same way because you don’t see each other as you walk past,” she said.

“But I can sit on a bus stop and get someone’s life story, so you make the effort and you do.

“But the other thing about infill is our trees have gone and I think that’s a great tragedy that the canopy is disappearing.”

Mr Olsen, who hits the streets with dog Ollie multiple times a day, said the changing housing affected social connections.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who occupies the rear house on a block that I actually talk to,” he said.

“They don’t come out the front because their property is hidden away at the back, so it’s a strange set up. 

“You’ve almost got this anti-social environment being created because people live in the back corner and generally don’t come out except in their cars.”

The couple believe more side-by-side housing, village-style developments and micro-housing could help densify Fremantle and still keep people connected.

Fremantle residents can have their say about ‘Living in your local area’ and the other topics in Let’s Talk, Freo by visiting

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