A CONVICT-built wall which is to be part-demolished to make way for Fremantle’s new police station could be the original boundary of the world-heritaged listed Fremantle Prison and its convict depot.
The limestone wall along South Terrace is to have a 7.5-metre length cut out of it to make way for a public plaza that the station designers have argued is needed for pedestrian safety. A second 12-metre section along Bulldog Lane will also be removed, though part of that already appears to be a modern replacement.
Planning documents lodged with Fremantle council acknowledge the wall’s connection to the prison, although its actual history is little documented and there’s a tantalising hint that it might have originally formed a single enclosure around the convict establishment.
The Herald noticed while checking out the wall that a long section has a distinct capping, with shards of limestone embedded vertically into cement containing large flecks of shell grit.
At points where they haven’t been worn down they still poke out jaggedly, slightly reminiscent of the glass-topped walls at the prison itself. As Fremantle Society president John Dowson observed when we showed him the photos, it appears to be designed to make the wall uninviting to loiterers or perhaps to prevent quick get-aways.
The Herald found a second section of wall with the same capping on the corner of Henderson and Holdsworth streets near the old Fremantle Police Station, exactly where the convict depot’s original boundary once ran.
A 1986 report on Fremantle’s 19th century limestone walls and steps commissioned by Fremantle council didn’t turn up anything else similar in the city’s central area.
This is a bit of Chook conjecture, but the second wall seems significant; the state heritage listing for the new police station site suggests the wall may pre-date 1850 and the arrival of the convicts, and be linked to the setting aside of the site for a penal depot. But that seems highly unlikely given Swan River Colony authorities were so unprepared for the convicts there was literally no accommodation for them when they arrived in 1850.
The colonial administrators were also being mocked locally for their inability to construct anything, and it was only the arrival of engineer Edmund Henderson and the convicts that got Perth’s construction ball rolling.
One of his first acts after securing a roof over the convicts’ heads was to write to South Australia requestion 10 stone masons and six carpenters. Within a year his team had started construction of the prison and a raft of other buildings around WA, including the Pensioner Barracks that once stood on the site of the new police station.
Mr Dowson says if the wall did prove to be part of the original fabric of the world heritage-listed Fremantle Prison, then WA police should rethink its plans to damage it.
“You can’t just keep endlessly chipping away at these walls, we have so few of them left, and I can’t understand why they can’t work around it,” he said.
He said governments should be setting the example for innovative designs that don’t have so much impact on important heritage structures.
Mr Dowson said apart from the wall, he was also still concerned at the un-Freo design of the station and its bulk and scale along South Terrace.
He said the Fremantle Society was snubbed by the state government on a working group looking at the site, which included representatives of the Fremantle History Society.
by STEVE GRANT