Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 3, No. 1, 1990
Space * Meaning * Politics
Edited by the Institute for Cultural Policy Studies, Griffith University

Fremantle's heartland: understanding and designing a special place

Jeremy Dawkins

Places can be read, and written. This paper is about transforming a place so as to retain, recover, interpret and respond to its cultural and political significance. The issues raised thus include those of both A Sense of Place 1 and The Great Museum.2

My purpose is to present a concrete example: how a particular space, with specific and very powerful meanings, was interpreted and redeveloped. My difficulty - a difficulty for anyone writing about the meaning of a place - is that the evidence is the place itself: only images of it can be presented here. In order to explore the main issues in print, an approach has been developed which involves structured physical description and which makes use of a limited number of photographs to 'catalogue' the main elements.

My case study is the Arthur Head Project, which I initiated and managed as the planner at the City of Fremantle. Most of the work was carried out from 1985 to 1988; I left before the final stages were completed.

An Opportunity to Act

We often talk loosely about spatial meaning, about townscape, 'streets', the character of a place. It is less often that the meaning of place can be demonstrated in a concrete way, for white Australians cannot 'read the country',3 and the cultural landscapes created in the past two hundred years are often impoverished, or incoherent, or simplistic.

Arthur Head, on the other hand, is a few hectares in Fremantle which is phenomenally rich in meaning and cultural significance.4 It is in the heart of Fremantle, yet it miraculously retains the original elements of an Indian Ocean coastline which has elsewhere turned into harbours. The area was important to the Nyungar people and the home of a Beeliar family. It was also where colonial settlement began. It was a major element in the original town plan for Fremantle and is the location of the state's oldest colonial building, which itself was designed as a major component of the townscape. It was one of the most significant sites for contact between Aborigines and settlers. The buildings, structures and archaeological evidence result from continuous use over 160 years. It is a microcosm of the state; it is a landmark, where the city meets the sea; it is a park, and a beach.

This was a place to treasure and protect; a place for ideas and imaginative responses; a place which might tell us a lot about ourselves as a society. But it was also the property of three state agencies responsible for harbours and the like. For several decades they had used the land for purposes of the least significance to them:

- the dumping of debris and waste material;

- the storage of material of little value;

- informal access and parking;

- the housing of retired employees (or more specifically, their widows) on nominal rents.

All of these agencies, as well, wished to dig up the high ground, fill the sea, pave the beach and demolish the existing buildings. In other words, the area was like Fremantle as a whole - by 1970, it was redundant, devalued, going nowhere. As with Fremantle, this is what saved the area, just long enough for it to survive and to become once again the essence of what it had been before.

Precisely because of this neglect, in the context of a peculiar set of circumstances (a new state government open to initiatives from a place like Fremantle, and the existence of the Bicentennial historical commemorative program looking for projects to fund) we at the City of Fremantle were able to jump through a small window of opportunity and set up the Arthur Head Project. In short, we got hold of the land. This project had then to seek out the significance of the place, to explore all its meanings, to understand both its present value and the meanings people wished to impose on the area - and then to find ways of expressing all this.

From the outset, the project was unusual in that the budget, a relatively modest $1.5M in 1985 dollars, was not devoted primarily to physical works. It was split more or less equally between research (archival research, archaeology, site investigations, mapping, documentation), interpretation (publications, information, items for sale, audiovisuals, exhibits) and works (earthworks to reverse decades of dumping into the sea; new water supply, electricals, street lights, etc; new toilets, paths, steps; the conservation and maintenance of buildings; and the restoration of the original vegetation and other landscaping).

This meant, at least in theory, that the meaning of the place could be understood, and documented, before decisions were made about physical intervention. The politics of that intervention would then be more conscious and explicit.

How does this work in practice? An account of the Arthur Head Project should provide, in a concrete and empirical way, examples of the relationship between space and meaning, and of the politics of designing space or interpreting its message. A full account will not fit here. Instead, four photographs are described. Each is a kind of catalogue of the elements and issues which characterise the area. But first, some of the background.

Spatial Attributes of the Place

Fremantle occupies a triangle of land between the Indian Ocean and the Swan River. Near the apex a track, and later a wooden tramway, connected the sea ('South Jetty') and the river ('North Jetty').

At colonisation all of the land east, or inland, of this line was promptly surveyed, subdivided and alienated. Ever since, extensive ocean and estuarine reclamation (in 'South Bay' and 'North Bay') has been necessary to provide public land for harbours, port facilities, government buildings, roads, railways and city parks.

The land to the west was a rocky promontory, say 300 metres square. Cliffs, variously two metres to ten metres high, dropped into the sea or onto narrow beaches of fine white sand. At its highest the promontory was the height of a four storey building. It flattened out towards the north, where a low point ('Arthur's Head') formed the south head of the mouth of the river. The surface of the promontory was rock and sand, well covered with a dozen species of bushes and shrubs; on the south side, a ridge of sandhills and spinifex extended 200 metres to Anglesea Point.5

The intimacy of the Fremantle environment enabled us to make the headland an integral part of today's city centre. The original line of the track and tramway is still there, in the form of the mainline railway which serves the port. Some would say that this railway intrudes into the area and divides the headland from the city centre. On the contrary, it knits the two together. It has provided a useful barrier to the otherwise inevitable encroachment of traffic and parking, while allowing free access to pedestrians. It makes the reality of Fremantle's economic base - heavy freight going back and forth - a visible part of the city's structure, and an attractive spectacle at that. And it is a seam which joins the city centre on one side to the waterfront environment on the other.

The Origins of the Place

The headland's principal present characteristic is that it is the place where the city meets the sea. Over time the characteristics which have determined its use have been (a) its strategic location at the mouth of the river, (b) its proximity to the business centre and, at the same time, (c) the relative or psychological remoteness of its shores from the streets of the town.

The intimacy between headland and town affected the first forms of development. The town was planned around an axis, High Street, running from the headland to the church square. One of the colony's first public buildings, a gaol now known as the Round House, was carefully placed as an impressive edifice on the hill at the end of the street. The bifurcated steps, added in 1837, were a deliberate piece of civic design to terminate the vista. Being part of the town centre, the hill was also an appropriate place for the first court house (1834) and its 1840 replacement.

At the same time, the headland was used like all promontories at ports and river mouths: for defence against naval attack, and for signalling to ships at sea. At settlement, the imperial flag and some rickety guns were set up on the headland. Over time it was the site for three signal stations, two lighthouses, a guard house, a coastal battery and a naval communications tower, as well as the housing for those who operated all these.

Its strategic location at the river mouth also made it the base for progressively bigger and longer ocean jetties, until in the 1890s the port moved to its river shore. There was a swimming area ('Bathers Bay'), a more secluded little beach below a cliff and later the municipal baths. The headland was used for a whaling station and tryworks, boatbuilding sheds, storage sheds, stock yards and railway sidings.

The headland played an intriguing and continuous role in the production and storage of energy. Whaling, of course, produced oil for fuel. When imported kerosine became the dominant form of liquid fuel, a bonded warehouse for dangerous goods was built on the waterfront for its safe storage. Later, a coal-fired power house was built on the water's edge to generate electricity for trams and street lights.

These last uses - whaling, storage, transport, industry, even bathing - relied on the headland's third characteristic: it was psychologically remote from the town. Thus it was used, in the nineteenth century, for a succession of four small morgues, and for the explosives magazine. 6

The Shaping of the Land

The characteristics which influenced the urban development of the headland were themselves the direct result of recent geological history. The limestone of the headland was still a collection of sand dunes when the area was first a human home, perhaps 30 000 years ago. By the time of the last ice age these dunes had been coarsely calcified to become a limestone ridge behind the shore, with the river mouth lying further to the south. The expansion and contraction of the polar ice caps caused the sea level to fluctuate. The sea retreated some thirty kilometres then moved inland as it rose above present levels. As the sea fell to its present height the river left its old course and broke through the limestone ridge.7 The remnants of the ridge formed a hard shallow bar right across the new river mouth. These events, about 6000 years ago, left in their wake the truncated headland, the low, sandy isthmus and the shallow estuary behind the rocky bar.

That rocky bar had a profound effect because it delayed by sixty years the construction of a sheltered harbour in the river mouth. As a result Fremantle's urban history can be divided into two periods. The early colonial period was one of shipwrecks, lighters and inadequate ocean jetties (built on Anglesea Point, which was named after the first wreck); this was followed by the period of the grand inner harbour, built after the bar was finally removed in the 1890s. The town, already reasonably mature, was able to accommodate this shift through subtle extensions of the commercial centre and minor relocations of activities, producing some of Fremantle's (and Australia's) best urban spaces. The same processes of extension and relocation radically altered the headland, but not so as to obliterate all the earlier patterns of use.

It was deeply moving to realise that the rocky bar had already had such influences for a vastly longer era. The bar between the river and the sea ensured that the estuary was both shallow and protected. This made it a good fishing place. The shallow and protected estuary was also a crossing point, the only one for twenty kilometres. (It still is.) It must have been an important crossroads. (It still is.) Although perhaps only one family had its kaleep (fireplace) at Manjaree, it was a meeting and gathering place for the Beeliar people and probably for all of the Nyungar.8 On his arrival to occupy this place, Charles Fremantle met and maintained contact with quite a large group living nearby.

Thus this headland was of significance prior to settlement, and of fatal significance to Aboriginal people as the place where the occupation of their land first began. It continued to be highly significant.9 Although at times excluded from the town, relocated and split up, Aboriginal families have continued to live in the Fremantle area ever since. Many did so reluctantly: the Round House had mainly Aboriginal inmates. Yagan was locked up there within a year of the gaol being built. Most of the Aboriginal prisoners were on their way to Rottnest, where large numbers died in custody.

Present knowledge of the geomorphology of the headland and the rocky bar does much more than help us explain how the subsequent patterns of human use came about. This knowledge must have a fundamental effect on the way the culture of Manjaree is understood, for geology now confirms a story which would otherwise be regarded as myth. The Beeliar people told the settlers that there had once been land to the west, and that it had been inundated by the sea. They were thus maintaining the knowledge of ice-age events which had occurred several hundred generations before. So apart from all its other meanings, the headland can also be seen as the site of one of the oldest oral traditions in human history.

Interpretation and Design

All of these patterns and events generate the layers of significance and meaning of the Fremantle headland. Some of them are contradictory. There is the problem, of course, of selection: revealing, conserving or emphasising one element may destroy or diminish another. How is the choice to be made, and by whom? To the extent that the area becomes a museum, there is the general problem of determining the ideology and message projected by the place, whether directly and by default.

More difficult is the fact that the very essence of the area - its dynamism, its continuing evolution in response to the urban change around it - will die if it becomes some kind of memorial park. In seeking to preserve the history of the place we cannot avoid, to some degree, cutting it off short.

Even if we can manage this problem there is the conceptual difficulty of determining the cultural significance of the place. Much of the information about the headland given above had never been known, or had been forgotten. For all its previous and inherent significance, it was neglected and devalued. Even its powerful landscape significance was largely ignored. Does this mean that its significance lay in the past, and that investing it with present importance is merely historicist? Or is it the opposite? Is the significance of the place something which this project has created?

Strategies were adopted to deal with all of these issues. Central to the approach we adopted was the idea that the users of the area were local people. The primary person we had in mind was the resident of Fremantle, who was simply using the city and/or finding out more about their own past. Secondarily there were the people of the Perth region, then Western Australians generally. 'Tourists' were welcome, but had to make what they could of it all. No doubt, it would mean more to strangers precisely because it meant much to the locals. (The contrary does not hold; the locals will be alienated if it becomes a tourist attraction.)

Similarly, we determined to treat the project site as a part of the town. The site had a defined boundary - it was in the process of being vested as a class-A reserve - but that boundary would remain invisible. The bitumen of the streets and other paving materials would deliberately ignore the boundary; no fences or signs would mark the entrances; the internal street and directional signs would be the same as those in the city centre.

This was not the time to set the headland apart from the city and landscape of which it had been such an integral part. This was not the time to precondition a response to the area as some sort of heritage park, where voices were lowered and steps were slowed. On the contrary, it was a place for the mundane things of life: lunch, swimming, sun bathing, climbing rocks, playing chasey, watching the sun go down over the ocean. Of course, you could also visit the shop, the pottery and whatever else came to occupy the several buildings, and you could go looking at the buildings themselves, the cliffs, the walls and steps, the complex spaces. It was the deliberate intention of the design that you could go there, and respond to the place in any number of ways, and not be aware of its underlying historical significance.10

The alternative would have been to place signs (historic markers, etc) on up to 200 places and structures, turning them into museum exhibits and trivialising them, while constraining the responses of visitors. The policy on information (the term for which is 'interpretation') was to sell and give away good material, light and heavy, from the shop and one or two other points, and to install the essential directional signs, a few place-name signs and four inconspicuous (horizontal) maps and directories.

The scope of the project - research, interpretation and works - has been noted above. Given the inherent significance of the place itself, the level of physical intervention was minimised. As it happened, nothing was demolished, except a temporary shed, part of a wharf shed, two garages, some fencing and some seventies landscaping. And nothing was built except on sites which had previously been occupied by similar structures. Nevertheless the transformation was significant, ranging from the reconstruction of the beach and its flora, and the construction of toilets and a new main path on the high ground, to the planned removal of salt from the walls of the Round House (work which was not, in the end, carried out by the Council). This planning, design and conservation work proceeded according to a number of principles.

Everything we did was to add or draw out complexity, rather than to simplify or order. We endeavoured to reflect the natural characterisics of the headland and the ways it had been used and modified. We tried to base the decisions on the best information available to us, and in this to adhere to the principles of the Burra Charter.11 Rigorous data gathering, analysis and policy making preceded the development of designs. 12

Of course, objectivity and rigor were not enough. I had tried to keep at bay, or at least defer, arbitrary self-expression and 'design'. The place itself was the fact. It belonged to everybody. The truth of its history was what mattered. In the end, personal statements became more important. After all, I had initiated the project because of the significance of the place and what it could say about us as a society. The planning, from the outset, was based on a vision of the area, and sought to be evocative.13 The research, the policy making and the actual construction reflected the often intense responses to the area of those doing the work, as well as their historical and political perspectives. The detailed designs grew out of the interaction of all that with the artistic imagination. There were two important consequences.

Firstly, we knew what the project was not. We did not create a municipal park, with entrances and a name. The project did not develop a 'tourist attraction'. It did not make the headland a memorial, with labelled exhibits. It did not have a theme. Specifically, it did not have a 'colonial' theme. We failed to meet the expectations of those who wished to celebrate (elevate, legitimise ... ) the early colonial era. Finally, it was not landscaping, and it certainly was not architecture. Ordinary architecture uses devices to cope with complexity, such as faddish style, intuitive design, harmony, 'blending in', repetition, regularity, consistency - in a word, simplification. As well, ordinary architecture is static, relying on the finished execution of a finite scheme; it has little to offer in the management of a place which is dynamic and complex, and which continues to evolve in response to its use, in an open-ended way. As for landscape design, it typically copes with the endless possibilities of vacant sites by opting for undisciplined self-expression.

Secondly, a specific planning style was required. It can be characterised as making decisions only when necessary. In a sense, this approach to planning is at odds with the conventional view, that actions should be 'planned' well ahead. It therefore runs the risk of being criticised as prevarication. It is not. On the contrary, this style of planning only works when it is guided by a real sense of purpose and a clear set of directions or objectives. It also requires the planner to have a high degree of authority and autonomy.14

This style of planning is, in fact, confident planning. It has affinities with the style of management called just-in-time. It means that decisions, on land use, on resources, on priorities, on conservation policies, on aesthetics and on matters of art are made as soon as they must be made, but not before that time: meanwhile, the information base gets better, the feel for the problem gets more comprehensive, the response to the place matures, and greater levels of complexity can be assimilated and integrated. The ideology and political meaning of the place becomes better understood, and at the same time the personal statements of the designers become less arbitrary.

Importantly, making decisions only when necessary also means that designs are deliberately left unfinished. The planning concentrates on those elements which meet essential needs and which establish underlying structures and patterns. The rest is better left to others. They will come to see the area in a new light, and they will respond to the new ways in which the public use the place. They, too, should leave their own plans and designs unfinished.

Endnote

All of this has important implications for the design and construction of public spaces, especially those with layers of significance and potentially powerful meanings. Many of these places are - and should remain - public places managed by a government agency. Often this agency is - and should be - the local council. Yet city councils do not normally take risks to achieve complex objectives, or to pursue a vision, or to allow places to evolve in an open-ended way: they are best at compromise, 'balance', simplification, and the implementation of a finite, static plan. On the other hand, when they hand a project over to one person they usually do get the project built but its objectives are often idiosyncratic and the design arbitrary.

Fortunately in Fremantle the circumstances were more propitious. We were able to practice confident planning; we had the confidence of the city council. I acknowledge here the support and encouragement of Councillor Gerry MacGill and the Planning and Development Committee which he chaired; and the passionate commitment and skills of those who worked on the project. We had time (just) to allow ideas and information to mature, and were able to leave decisions until they were necessary.

In short, we had time to read the place, and to add our writing to it. The place was transformed in a manner which recovered and responded to its cultural and political significance, and which created the possibility of its continuing to evolve in directions consistent with this significance.

The place must now be experienced on the spot. In the meantime, the photographs catalogue the visible manifestations of our approach, and the results.

[2015. In 1996 I wasn't able successfully to scan the images from the publication, especially the last two. So I went out this morning, Friday 13 March, and attempted to take photographs from the place where Jeremy Dawkins was standing in 1989 or whenever, and I'll append my snaps after the Endnotes. Garry Gillard, webmaster 1995-2015.]



Arthur Head is an urban place, resulting from intensive use since settlement in 1829, but at its heart it is limestone cliffs, sand and sea - a miraculous fragment of Indian Ocean coastline adjoining the port and the city centre. The photograph shows Bathers Bay, where reclamation was reversed to recreate a beach. The new sandhill represents the sandy ridge which once bordered the bay; the plants belong to the original plant community. Charles Fremantle set up the first camp in the lee of the ridge, and erected a flagstaff on it. Its reconstruction is for the Aboriginal people, culture and land of that time.



The essence of limestone. The oldest and newest buildings on the reserve. The military area. New services. The use of surfaces and fences.


The natural history of Arthur Head is that of a coastal limestone headland. Its history is, in part, how it was stripped bare, quarried, built on, excavated and reworked, its surfaces of rock and sand levelled and paved, or topdressed and grassed. One of the project's design criteria was to reveal and express the bones of the landscape, exposing the capstone and the excavations, nurturing the remnant templetonia bushes and planting indigenous seedlings in the holes in the rock.

Accumulations of imported soil and buffalo grass (as well as the back fences of the pilots' cottages) were removed to construct the main pathway, which is neither straight nor level: it was assumed that users would be sufficiently competent and adventurous to traverse outcrops, cross old trenches and skirt footings and anchor bolts. We saw to it that the path still worked for those with prams and wheelchairs.

Limestone was also the dominant building material during the nineteenth century: rock cut from the immediate vicinity was used to build the gaol which is now the state's oldest colonial building, the 1831 Round House (rear). Limestone was used for the original walls, including one which ran to the Round House in about the position of the new limestone wall beneath the street light. The path, and the road in the foreground, were paved in crushed limestone (with 5% cement).

Later buildings used red bricks from Swan Valley clay, and galvanised iron. Those on the right of the photograph were built in a cutting behind the Fort Arthur Head battery (1905), one of the new federal government's first defence projects. Only relatively minor works were required to restore these three surviving buildings (the [propellant] laboratory, the gunner's quarters and the workshop) to their original appearance. The three rusty poles carried world war II camouflage netting. The remnants of the port authority's bitumen was replaced with the original material, red gravel; the calculated junction between the limestone and the gravel signifies two eras in the headland's history.

The later use of the quarters as a port authority cottage is remembered in the letter box, the television aerial and (not visible) a backyard Hills hoist.

The project works included the street lights, directional signs and lighting just discernible in the photograph, and the public toilets (extreme left). The toilets were built within the approximate envelope of a cottage which had stood there several decades previously. Fences were not regular, either in style or alignment: they expressed the complexities of the immediate location, and were built in the appropriate vernacular - limestone, corrugated iron, paling, picket, post and rail and (off to the right) pipe and wire.



Relocating the pilots. Designing the public spaces. Servicing them, and paying for it. The oldest wall.


The cottages on the right of the photograph are definitively 'federation': they exist because of that political event. The first Commonwealth government set about constructing a battery to defend Fremantle Harbour. To do so it removed the pilots' quarters from the highest part of the headland and rebuilt them on this eastern edge, above the end of High Street. (Boat crews and signal staff needed to live within a short walk of their work.) Over the last couple of decades the houses, not needed for staff, reached a state of marked neglect, with peeling paint and broken fences; outside, the little unnamed street was a depressing expanse of disintegrating old bitumen.

The houses now look rather like they did when they were built. But is the rest of this sweet scene a lie, a false image of a colonial idyll? Certainly it is a pastiche of different periods, and is where the design of the reserve is at its most arbitrary. There was a footpath in that location, before the houses were built, and there were wild grasses; but there never was any smooth green lawn.

The design had its origins, in part, in the need to make the old limestone wall, on the left, high enough to stop people falling down the cliff. We could have raised the wall in some manner, but not without serious detriment to its integrity and appearance. Instead, we lowered the ground. Test holes established that the ground had once been about 400 mm lower than the bitumen roadway. So a spaghetti of new services and drains were laid and the whole surface was lowered and reshaped (with an archaeologist in attendance).

The crushed limestone road is a sympathetic surface made from an appropriate material; it carries essential traffic while looking sufficiently unlike a road to deter stray drivers from proceeding along it. The grass reduces the glare and the heat, and simply looks and feels good.

The other elements are there: the capstone breaking through the surface; the irregular fences; the new services such as the street lighting and floodlighting. While the two gabled cottages are still occupied by the port authority's tenants, the cottage between them became the information centre with an exhibition and displays, free brochures and information for sale. This function was supported by the sale of relevant publications, souvenirs and gifts, generating a six-figure annual turnover in its first year.

No-one gave much thought to the wall on the left. It was any crumbling and neglected limestone wall - until it was realised that it is possibly the State's second oldest colonial structure. Built in 1832 its probable function was to enclose the prison garden attached to the Round House. As part of the project it was the subject (like many other structures) of intensive archival research and physical analysis, in order to understand its history, painstakingly document its present state, and derive the best technique for its conservation.



Uncovering the distant past. Removing the cosmetics of the recent past. Increasing the complexity and disorder. Ill-considered reconstruction.


The highest part of the headland lies behind the Round House, towards the sea. It has been used, almost since settlement, for sighting or signalling to ships at sea. It is now used, naturally, as a lookout.

Two of the twelve sides of the Round House (1831) can be seen on the left of the photograph. Alongside it is the new main path, which in effect replaces one used by signallers and pilots until it was eliminated by the construction of the battery in 1905. The new wall on the right (on the edge of the battery cutting) was built of the materials and in the style traditional to the area.

The last of the tall signal masts was removed by the harbour trust in 1929; the army and navy vacated the area a few years after the war. Since then the major changes came in the mid seventies, when the city used a National Estate grant to conserve the Round House and 'landscape' its surroundings. That project produced the lookout wall (top); it had a leaning rail and a novel profile, to correctly distinguish it from the older structures. It is now apparent that the 1975 conservation work on the Round House was not conservative enough: a limestone matrix roof and mortar joints surviving from its construction were destroyed in the process, and cement was incorrectly included in the lime mortar used for the repointing of all the joints (bottom left).

Otherwise, old structures were not destroyed in 1975, just covered up. Surfaces were smoothed off. The footings of the navy's signal tower (centre rear) disappeared behind a sixties-style sloping wall and garden steps. This cosmetic approach at least allowed us to reveal the footings again, along with the native rock, fragments of army paths and fences, and old anchor bolts for stays. In doing so we offered visitors more to experience, allowing them to negotiate edges and rough surfaces, and to appreciate directly the nature of rude war-time construction. More importantly, there is now a remarkable juxtaposition of the old gaol, which was built (in my opinion) to look like a fort defending the town from the sea, and the genuine article of much more recent times.

The saltbush (left) and the templetonia (right) are endemics which have retained a foothold on the headland (and are flourishing). The ungainly signs point to the shop and to the toilets. The horizontal beam with the belaying pins is part of a tall, complex signal mast (top centre). This reasonably accurate reconstruction (it carries the same ship's yard arm that hung from the earlier signal mast) was an instant America's Cup project adopted by the then City Manager. Unfortunately, the engineers missed the original site (thus upsetting the earlier deliberate symmetry along the High Street vista); and no-one worked out how much labour goes into running a signal mast, or even a tall flag pole, in the teeth of prevailing sou'westerlies. This municipal 'heritage' project now stands slightly off-line, and little used.



The reconstruction of a recent beach. The creation of a miniature wilderness, and the magnification of the area's natural history. Municipal works at odds with these principles.


The pair on the left are walking along a new limestone path which marks the alignment of the shoreline in 1829. The building beyond them (now expertly conserved) was built over a century ago on land which had been reclaimed behind the sea wall. The latter, designed in the 1860s to run across the bay, was never completed; the limestone boulders (upper centre) support its unfinished end, and now extend inland to suggest a physical transition between the old port beyond and the naturalistic beach in the centre of the photograph. (This subtle boundary is intended to forestall the 'improvement' of the beach: future town clerks and city engineers might want walls, grass, pavers.)

This beach and the one beyond accreted as a result of the coastal transformations of colonial settlement. (The latest transformation was the construction of the America's Cup harbour, in the background.) Since the sixties the port authority had buried the beach - and a lot of the bay - under fill and debris; we removed 100 000 cubic metres of fill, and the sea restored the beach.

In the early seventies large amounts of fill and debris were dumped at this southern end of the high ground, to form a pathway down to the beach. It was removed to expose the quarried cliffs and the slope of the bedrock. The removal of fill and wind-blown sand restored to its full height the thirties limestone wall (left foreground). The crushed limestone path, with outcropping capstone, leads down to sculptural steps which reflect and amplify the materials and form of the headland. These steps also demonstrate the application of nineteenth century building techniques to contemporary structures.

In these ways the design responded to the natural history and the culture of the headland, by working in limestone, revealing the geomorphology, expressing complexity rather than order and by re-establishing the indigenous plant communities - including the rushes (centre).

There was another important criterion in this part of the reserve. This tiny 'wilderness' of sea, sand and coastal scrub should be undeveloped. (The fences deliberately look temporary; the steel sign was there for the construction phase and should have been removed long since.) We introduced one structure - the steps - and that was made from nothing but rock, lime and sand. Otherwise, no seats, no walls, no signs, no lights, no rubbish bins.

Such abstinence is a lot to expect from a city council. Already, a failure to understand the subtleties is apparent in the photograph. A pleasantly curved railing was necessary to stop kids falling down the cliff - but not an awkward, angular fence which extends needlessly into the centre of the steps. The 'landscaping' of the little bank, like a garden rockery, is incongruous and unnecessary. And the ungainly directional signs are both maximally conspicuous on the top of the ridge and minimally useful, since there is no choice of routes there.


Notes

1 George Seddon, Sense of Place. A Response to an Environment. The Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia, Nedlands, University of W.A. Press, 1972.

2 Donald Horne, The Great Museum. The Re- presentation of History, London and Sydney, Pluto Press, 1984.

3 This phrase comes from Krim Benterrak, Stephen Muecke and Paddy Roe, Reading the Country,Fremantle, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1984, which was also the inspiration for the opening sentence, above.

4 The name of the area is itself highly political. The new reserve to be vested in the city council encompassed several named places but had no name of its own; it had never been a single place, or piece of property, and it had no single form. Oddly, even the hill on which the Round House sat had never been officially named, instead being referred to at various times as Jail Hill and Lighthouse Hill. These days it is commonly referred to as Arthur Head after a little headland some distance away (and now only a remnant under a wharf) called Arthur's Head by James Stirling for his friend in Van Dieman's Land. To call this new reserve Arthur Head was inappropriate (the area was much more extensive than the hill) and historically incorrect. More importantly its connotations of colonialism overwhelmed the other aspects of the reserve. I had (to my regret) used the name loosely at the earliest stages; I later suggested names for the new reserve, perhaps something neutral which could come to carry resonances of west- coast/microcosm-of-W.A./limestone-headland, such as West Head; or the revival of original nomenclature, such as Manjaree. This caused a minor storm. Members of the history establishment and heritage circles signed petitions and called on the mayor - proving that 'Arthur Head' does indeed carry a strong political message, and hang the historical validity of the name. They won.

5 Jeremy Dawkins, 'The Historical Topography of the Fremantle Headland', unpublished report to the Fremantle City Council, 1985.

6 A gazeteer of the buildings on the area, and much else, is contained in Michael Pearson, Report of an Investigation into the Historical Archaeological Resource within the Arthur Head area, Fremantle, Nedlands, Centre for Prehistory, University of W.A., for the Fremantle City Council, 1984.

7 Mr Phil Storey at the Fremantle Port Authority pieced together a history of the river mouth from the pattern of sediments in and near the harbour.

8 Martin Gibbs, Report on an Ethnohistorical Investigation into the Aboriginal Heritage of the Fremantle Area, Nedlands, Centre for Prehistory, University of W.A., for the Fremantle City Council, 1988.

9 Susan O'Connor and Rachel Thomson, Report of an Investigation into the Aboriginal Heritage of the Arthur Head Area, Fremantle, Nedlands, Centre for Prehistory, University of W.A., for the Fremantle City Council, 1984; E MacDonald, Ethnographic Report on Arthur Head, Fremantle, Nedlands, Centre for Prehistory, University of W.A., for the Fremantle City Council, 1984.

10 Jeremy Dawkins, 'The Planning of a Special Place', unpublished paper presented to the Royal Western Australian Historical Society's seminar on Arthur Head, 1985.

11 Australia ICOMOS, The Australia ICOMOS Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Significance (the Burra Charter), 1979 (revised 1981 and 1988).

12 The large number of reports, studies, drawings, photographs and other documents which were produced for or collected by the project are held by the city council. Unfortunately the then city manager decided that the final editing and collation of these documents was not necessary.

13 Jeremy Dawkins, 'Policies for the Arthur Head Area', unpublished report to the Fremantle City Council, 1982.

14 The application of this planning style is discussed in Jeremy Dawkins, 'Planning with Enterprise in a Nineteenth Century Town Centre', Planner (N.S.W.), v.3, no.5, June 1988.


New: 2 February, 1996 | Now: 13 March, 2015


The images in the online version of this paper are not very satisfactory — and anyway I thought it might be interesting to try to show if there have been changes since 1990, so here are some snaps I took today, Friday 13 March 2015.

My first photo (below) is probably the least satisfactory for comparison, as I can't tell exactly which dune Dawkins was taking. There are no ships in the background of my photo; just some weird gazebo thing the Council has put up for some reason unknown to me.

dune

For the street (below) I was able to indentify the same bit of fence on the left, tho you prolly won't be able to pick out the tiny bit of still exposed capstone in the compressed version of the photo.

street

Note the fixed table and seats, which are relatively new. The cylinders behind them are part of a temporary 'sculpture' exhibition.

path

By the path leading up to the Round House from the north, there are noticeably fewer posts on the corner, and the handrail has been overgrown. Otherwise it's much the same. The next shot is further up the same path.

pole

I can't really see what's in the original Dawkins photograph, as my scan is so poor. (Hoping to have that improved soon.) But it's of this area — prolly further up the path. It gets worse ...

beach

I really don't have much idea what it's in the last original Dawkins image, so my photo is based on the commentary. Again, I hope to get a better scan. (Those things on the sand are part of a temporary 'sculpture' exhibition. The one in the middle is called 'Untitled'. The one on the left is called 'So now what?'. As if anyone cared.)