A Bridge Too Far?

The Fremantle Society last week broke the news that Main Roads are about to launch plans for a new bridge over the Swan River at Fremantle. We noted that over the years there has been, and still is, a great deal of support for the current heritage listed bridge, and last week the Fremantle Society resolved that the current bridge should be preserved at all costs. We do not want Fremantle Council caving in from their previous strong support for the WHOLE timber bridge, and nor do we want Main Roads saying that they cannot afford to keep and maintain it.

We asked for your ideas and memories of the current bridge, but all we got was static about 5G causing the virus.

President John Dowson provides a virus free sketch (above) made when he was in primary school, and there must be plenty of people out there who also have a story to share .

Agnieshka Kiera, Fremantle Council Heritage Architect for 25 years, lets rip with her comments as below:

  • the historic Fremantle bridge has to stay. Not only for the reason of its heritage significance and, being listed on State Heritage, planning and compliance reasons. It should also stay for its greater importance to the city as the strategic urban feature and gateway to Fremantle, as follows:
    • since its construction the bridge has provided the vital pedestrian (and traffic) connection, not only between Fremantle and Perth but equally importantly between Fremantle and North Fremantle historic town centre; 
    • while the main vehicular traffic connection to Perth has been taken over by the Stirling Bridge, the much-reduced traffic using the historic bridge has helped to keep the North Fremantle’s historic centre accessible and to date a viable local hub of commercial and social activity;
    • the bridge acts as an important entry point and gateway to Fremantle: on the approach to Fremantle by the bridge, the closed vista of Cantonment Hill and the Signal Station, the Fremantle Port to the right and Swan River to the left, all the iconic urban features and Fremantle icons, create an exceptional landscape setting, reinforcing the city’s identity as the historic landmark of Western Australia;
    • the proposed bridge could potentially relieve the historic bridge of the vehicular traffic altogether and let it act as the vital pedestrian/cyclist link with Fremantle proper. There are numerous very successful examples around the world of saving the historic bridges from demolition. And while building new bridges to take on the modern essential role of carrying the vehicular traffic, many cities conserved the old bridges utilising them for the ancillary (mainly pedestrian) purposes. The most famous examples include the Burt Bridge in San Francisco, the Brooklyn Bridge on New York’s East River, Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Pot du Gard in France, Chenguyang Inmud and Rain Bridge in China etc. Each of them was replaced by a new bridge while being preserved for new functions. The same could be done in Fremantle, as freeing the Fremantle Bridge from vehicular traffic would facilitate its proper restoration as the pedestrian/cyclist bridge;
    • However, the plan in Brad Pettit’s blog doesn’t show where the new bridge’s roadway goes. Would it go through the North Fremantle old centre? It looks very likely. Would this result in some massive demolitions of the heritage buildings on its way? That would be the death not only to the old bridge but to the North Fremantle historic centre as well. The Fremantle bridge’s traditional role as a gateway and the significant connection between North Fremantle and Fremantle proper via Queen Victoria Street would be destroyed. That is a devastating prospect and should be stopped.

In addition, I would like to clarify the broader issue regarding the increase in antisocial behaviour, theft and generally a major degradation to the Fremantle social fabric and economic viability.

The decade long push to abandon the previously measured and harmonious development of the city with heritage as its driver (as evident in the West End, Wray Avenue precinct, South Fremantle), and to replace it with this major disruption by the out of scale, developers’ driven, massive, inconsiderate, badly planned, badly designed and expensive developments in the heart of the city is, in my opinion, the main cause of the increase in crime in the city.

Any major change is disruptive. The long term businesses lose confidence in the strategic prospects. As the disruption continues, the community at large starts to lose the commitment to the city and each other (remember what has happened to Fremantle Markets? Fremantle Police? Fremantle Hospital?); thousands of local investors and businesses begin to feel uncertain about the future and where Fremantle is going; the loyalty and ethical behaviour towards the city and each other declines, and the ‘undesirables’ of all kinds begin to fill up the void.

They feel encouraged by the lack of social cohesion to move in and began to steal, grab and, generally make the city environment unsafe. 

Bridge of Broken Promises

Main Roads has $130 million available for a new Fremantle bridge and soon will announce their plans.

But will we get a bridge of broken promises like we did 15 years ago when, ahead of the State Election, Planning Minister Alannah MacTiernan promised to save the old traffic bridge, and ditched that after winning the election on the grounds of cost? Alannah is still a hard working, dynamic politician, but has much to answer for in Fremantle, having denied community and council opposition against high rise ING on Victoria Quay, handed the Royal George Hotel to the National Trust without consulting East Fremantle Council (look at that mess now), and ditched her promise about our bridge.

The community and Fremantle Council have made their views known repeatedly – keep the existing bridge, whether we get a new one or not.

North Fremantle Cr Thompson (2005): “Extension of the life of the current bridge should be the first priority.”

North Fremantle Convenor Gerry MacGill (2005): ” Main Roads has some of the country’s best timber conservation specialists.”

CEO of National Trust Tom Perrigo (2008): “The bridge is sound and shouldn’t be touched.”

The images above show the opening program for the current bridge in 1939. Because it was thought the Japanese might bomb Fremantle, the previous bridge as seen on the right in the two photographs was kept (until 1949). In fact Fremantle also had two traffic bridges back in 1898 when a second bridge was built alongside the then existing 1866 bridge, and the two co-existed for some years.

Next month Main Roads will propose a new bridge, leaving the current one in place until the new one is built. Then, for ” cost and safety”  reasons, Main Roads will want to demolish the current timber bridge. The Fremantle Society at its recent meeting voted that: “The existing heritage listed Fremantle Traffic Bridge must be kept.”

We are yet to see what Main Roads will propose for a new bridge. Will we get something iconic for that large sum of money ($130 million, a lot more than the $30 million proposed in 2005), or a dreary concrete bridge  like so many others?  Main Roads has a poor reputation with unsightly urban design, as any intersection in WA will attest, and the damage to the heritage values and aesthetics of the current bridge railings by Main Roads some years ago needs to be undone.

The Fremantle Traffic Bridge has the highest State heritage rating, because it is of significance. If there is no future for trucks and vehicles on the bridge, it can continue to exist for pedestrians and cyclists.

As former Fremantle Council Heritage Architect, and current Fremantle Society Committee member Agnieshka Kiera said in 2005: “The major guiding principle of conservation is to extend the economic life of a significant place for as long as possible.”

No more broken promises.

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society


images: Dowson collection

See also: Fremantle bridges.

Yard Property – the yardstick for heritage

View from the top scaffolding of Yard Property’s new purchase from Main Roads – the long vacant East Fremantle Post Office at 101 Canning Highway, on a very busy junction. The real estate company intends to make the old post office their new headquarters by the end of 2020 after an extensive restoration project.
East Fremantle separated from Fremantle 123 years ago and has fiercely fought moves to be reintegrated with Fremantle ever since. After independence, it desired its own identity and a new post office, police station, and town hall. The first post office, in 1898, was in a ‘commodious’ room attached to Messrs Pearse and Samson’s concert hall on Canning Road run by Miss Adams. 
When the Public Works Department informed the locals they were getting a new post office, the citizens were delighted, until it was revealed it would be a simple low one storey building akin to the ‘back blocks’ style of the police station built on the adjacent block next to the town hall. 
The locals won the battle to get a proper civic building, and Mr Lake came down from Subiaco to build for £1472 the handsome two storey building seen here that is now being restored by Yard Property. The whole top floor was given over to a three storey house for the postmaster, with a handsome London style front door entrance at the front of the building. The post office opened in 1901.
Nathan Hewitt (left) and Todd Grierson of Yard Property survey the view from their new asset, looking towards the forlorn Royal George Hotel, also an orphan of Main Roads, though one still neglected and unloved after so many decades. While Saracen bought the Royal George for next to nothing and demanded a 20 storey tower block on the site to pay for the restoration of the hotel, Yard Property asked for no density bonuses. They are doing the right thing by their building, for the right reasons.
Extensive repair and restoration works are under way and this picture shows the original signage just revealed after using the product Peelaway to remove many years of paint. 

Yard Property deserve praise for taking on this major project in such a thorough and sensitive manner.

They say they are delighted the building is part of the East Fremantle Heritage Trail, and when completed, Yard will welcome trailers to ‘drop in for a scone.’ The only person not welcome will be Kodak, the graffiti pest who has damaged this building and many others from King’s Square to the river on numerous occasions.

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society



Photos by John Dowson, except for the cropped B&W courtesy of Fremantle Library.