Doco highlight

A NEW documentary which takes viewers behind the colourful facades which once greeted visitors to Fremantle, and into the tense negotiations between occupying protestors and Main Roads over an ‘upgrade’ to High Street is screening at Luna Fremantle on October 13.

Earthship Freo, produced by journalists Michelle Johnston and Mignon Shardlow,  follows the protestors as they take over a handful of abandoned houses at the corner of High Street and Stirling Highway and plan a blockade to save a stand of tuart trees threatened by a big, new roundabout.

Along the way they create a community that reaches out to the city’s most vulnerable members, but also faces backlash from many who view them as little more than squatters.

From 2011-2019 the protestors lived in communal houses with no electricity, power or running water, using the experience to argue that living lightly on the planet can be achieved. 

The ever-present threat of Main Roads’ bulldozers hung over the venture while the department and Fremantle council wrangled over designs, the protestors covering the houses and front fences with colourful murals reminding passing traffic of the impact of change on a community.

• The colourful homes were a defiant entry to Fremantle. Photo by Kerry Faulkner

Main Roads demolished the houses and 16 of the tuarts in September 2019. 

Dr Shardlow said filming Earthship Freo was unconventional because of its “participatory style”.

“Unlike usual documentaries, [it] gives more control to the participants,” she said.

Dr Shardlow said thousands drove past the homes without being able to “go behind the walls and see the intentional community practicing permaculture and a way of living lightly on the plant”.

The documentary’s main protagonist, Simon Peterffy, led negotiations with Main Roads and secured a last-minute deal to avert a confrontation with police.

Mr Peterffy made an ambit claim for Main Roads to plant 500 trees for every tuart tree cut down in the realignment, and to his great surprise the deal was pushed through by transport minister Rita Saffioti.

But the homes, and their community, had to be sacrificed.

“You don’t get everything you want in life, however, there were good outcomes for the tuarts,” Mr Peterffy told the Herald.

He’ll join Dr Shardlow and Ms Johnston at the screening for a Q&A afterwards.  

Fremantle’s mayor at the time, Brad Pettitt, says he still has a “strong ambivalence towards the project” as community heritage and endangered trees were lost, and Main Roads reneged on how many trees it would retain.

Dr Pettitt also backed the protestors’ efforts.

“Direct action to ignite community change has its place,” Dr Pettitt said.

Earthship Freo screens at Luna Essex this Friday October 13 at 6.45pm. Tickets from

Disclaimer: Bridie Garlick is a journalism student at Notre Dame where Dr Shardlow is head of department.


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