Some further thoughts on J-Shed, Arthurs Head and the last 184 years of heritage

I have been thinking some more about the debate on J-Shed, Arthurs Head and heritage and thought that some of the claims made in this area needed a response to ensure the facts were on the public record in this regard.

One of the key issues of debate regarding the current Sunset Events proposal for J-Shed at Arthur’s Head was its potential heritage impact given the significance of the area in terms of WA’s history and heritage.  However I believe a lack of understanding about the complex multi-layered history of this area has led to a number of incorrect assumptions being made and has blurred the nature of the real issues associated with the project.

The history of the Arthurs Head area is evident in the extent to which the landscape has been altered to suit the changing requirements of port and Town.  When first surveyed in 1829 Arthurs Head was a prominent headland that stretched from the mouth of the Swan River to Anglesea Point (near the far side of Bathers Bay).  Significant excavations and quarrying undertaken from the 1890s up to the late 1960s removed much of this landscape feature and with it many of the historical references to, and evidence of, its early uses and associations.

While I unreservedly acknowledge the heritage significance of the intact part of Arthurs Head that contains the Round House and Pilots’ Cottages, I believe it is misleading to suggest that the area around J-Shed shares the same heritage values.

The area around J-Shed dates from the 1960s when a large portion of the western part of Arthur’s Head was excavated and levelled off about 1.5m above sea level to create a large open area for port activities.  As part of these works J-Shed, which was originally part of a goods shed that stood on Victoria Quay, was relocated to stand in this new area next to the cliff / remnant of Arthur’s Head.  As a result J-Shed sits about six metres below the ground level of the Round House and is quite separate from it.  The original location of the Arthur’s Head cliff is interpreted by a low limestone wall, which also marks the southern boundary of the J-Shed area.

The important archaeological sites referred to in this debate are the remains of 19th century buildings constructed on Bathers Bay beside the Arthur’s Head cliff face (now levelled for J-Shed area).  These sites are located to the south of the J-Shed area and are buried approximately 1.5 metres below the new ground level. These sites could be interpreted In the future but until then they are afforded a level of protection from disturbance by being buried.  The J-Shed proposal will not prevent these archaeological sites being interpreted and they are not part of the proposed Sunset lease area.

It should also be noted that the area around Arthur Head was not always the quiet backwater that it has become today.  It was a busy, noisy and smelly port.  Even though the area may look like a natural environment the reality is that much of it is a 1980s reconstruction that sought to remove the industrial past in order to create a pleasant recreational space.

There have been some strong claims in the press and on blogs about the potential for the proposed new use at J-Shed to damage the heritage values of the Arthur Head area but, as someone who cares deeply for our heritage, I must state that this is not backed up by the evidence.  Below are several photographs that demonstrate this well.

The first is my favourite bronze plaque in Fremantle, set in the pavement outside the Town Hall, which shows the first town plan in bas-relief.  The plaque indicates the original extent of the Arthur’s Head landform in 1829 and the small area that remains intact today.  Three quarters of Arthur’s Head has been removed including the area that contains J-Shed.  The other two photographs of the Arthur’s Head area are from the mid-1980s when J-Shed was considerably longer and the area was a port dump and car park with little beach at all.

There are a lot of stories connected to this area.  To simplify this history in order to make a case for saying the J-Shed proposal is going to undermine the heritage of the area is misleading and it does heritage no favours.  In the mind of the general public this continual misuse of heritage means it is being seen simply as a way of opposing any change.  This puts Fremantle’s real heritage at risk.

It is time that the debate about the conservation and future development of Fremantle became more sophisticated and acknowledged the social and economic benefits of heritage conservation, as well as recognising that successfully combining economic growth and conservation is a way of generating greater appreciation of the quality and worth of Fremantle’s heritage buildings.

arthurs head arthur-head_1986-aerial_ Bathers Beach 1980s

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

25 Responses to Some further thoughts on J-Shed, Arthurs Head and the last 184 years of heritage

  1. John Longley says:

    Well said Brad. One of things I was very proud of as a legacy of Perth 2011 was the way it bought life to Bathers Bay that has continued on since that time. It is extraordinary that we have such a wonderful little beach all but in the heart of our a City. I for one am keen to see it be further activated and used even more than it is today. The more use, the more investment and the greater vibrancy. Do you remember the outcry by the naysayers when the Council decided to invest into South Beach. What was then an eroded, damaged beach is now an absolute jewell but we still had “The groyne must go” and “Save South Beach”.

  2. Eloise says:

    I find it extraordinary that nowhere above do you acknowledge the concerns expressed by Indigenous Elders to the Council, both at the Council meeting a week ago and in a formal letter, which you also received around a week ago, and which says (extract follows):

    “The area is very important to us. In the early days, our people were killed there. The cliffs area was dug out who were by Aboriginal People in Gaol. The Nyungah Heritage in the Area needs to be properly documented to show its importance, and protected.
    “Fremantle Council have not consulted with us before they made plans for the Area of Arthur Head. They can consult with other people but they must consult with us the Nyungar Traditional Owners, we the Swan River People. The Council have done wrong by not contacting us. We are demanding the Fremantle Council meet with us urgently to discuss this proposal of development.
    “We want to remind the Fremantle Council that we know all the Nyungar Names of Fremantle, the name of the Sea between Fremantle and Rottnest Island. We know that our People were brought down here from all over the State to be gaoled either in Fremantle Gaol , then walked over and under ground to the Round House Gaol, then they were sent to the infamous Rottnest Island Gaol. We want to remind you that hundreds of our People died in and under these conditions of confinement.”

    The full letter from which the above extract comes was signed by:

    Richard Wilkes

    Albert Corunna

    Bella Bropho

    Greg Garlett

    Victor Warrell

    Kathy Penny.

    Yes, there are no registered Aboriginal archaeological sites in the area at Arthur Head but these Elders are telling you that Arthur Head has a deeply tragic significance for Nyungars and Aboriginal people from all over WA.
    And they have not been consulted about the tavern you personally have strongly advocated (off-line) for this site. Given talks between Sunset Events and Council have been going on for the better part of a year, why weren’t they consulted?

    • Eloise
      It would be fair to say there are a wide range of views from traditional owners on this and as we go into the planning process for this we will be seeking there views in full

      • Eloise says:

        So who have you already consulted, Brad? Any who did you consult before yourself voting for the tavern last Wednesday? What we are hearing from them is none of them. Your reply above provides spin but neither clarity or honesty.
        I am close to a number of people who work in Aboriginal consultation fields and they say that while failure to consult in a case such as this may not be illegal, most developers would have consulted with Traditional Owners long before now.
        So much for your sustainability ethics.

      • I spoke to range of aboriginal people about this before the vote on Wednesday and it would be fair to say there was neither strong support nor strong opposition to the proposal. Most didn’t see it as a major issue for them. Similar advise came to the Council from the City of Fremantle’s Aboriginal Development Officer.
        If the lease can proceed then we will go through a fuller engagement process with the aboriginal community in Freo before granting planning approval.
        This is a process I am comfortable with.

      • Eloise says:

        “a range of aboriginal people” (sic). I would have thought that the Elders who speak for the area would be people would be the very Aboriginal people who you would have actively sought out and spoken to before you cast your vote. In their letter they specifically state that they were NOT consulted.
        Mayor, you might be comfortable with this, but as an elector I am deeply uncomfortable with it.

      • Eloise
        There are a wide range of Elders with a wide range of views. To argue there is one homogeneous view on this is not my experience but we will go through that in more detail at the planning stage as is appropriate.

  3. Craig says:


    How about sharing the facts on the public record contained in the Strategic and General Services Committee minutes of Wednesday, 10 June 2009 at 6:00pm on pages 26-34. It makes an interesting read on a number of facets.

    Here’s an extract from page 28. “Arthur Head A Class Reserve (the reserve) is a significant heritage place, the landing place of the first settlement of the Swan River Colony. The reserve is listed on the State Heritage Register. The masterplan for Arthur Head includes among other things installation of the Maritime Heritage Trail (which runs from Fishermen Harbour to Victoria Quay) involving heritage interpretation of the layers of the area’s history, the evolving maritime landscape and its incremental reclamation as part of the development of the port city. The individual projects on the stations also involve general upgrading of Arthur Head Reserve and Bathers Beach in particular, as a public reserve for passive recreational use.”

  4. Robert says:

    So what ! Its changed. So, write it off and put it into private hands,you say, for 21 years,at little money and hope its loud and large ideas are the best for Fremantle and the World.. Fremantle is not exactly Beautiful Park City.
    Here is a spot that ,Like Kings Park, could tell a story and passively be a pleasure to anyone in Fremantle. Unique and already in public ownership under the banner of an A Class Reserve.You own it and I own it Not the council. It belongs to the people That’s It!
    Have a referendum….Be respectful as you say.

  5. Be that as it may Brad, I don’t think this is the point. We are much more enlightened these days about conservation, heritage value and preserving the beauty of our natural landscapes. This enlightenment has come out of hindsight – looking back with regret at losing our priceless heritage. Many years ago people dumped toxic waste into their back yards and at the local tip with no thought of the future impact (see South Beach developments some years back). They tore down beautiful old buildings in Perth and Fremantle with no conscience about our future generations without these historical landmarks. Fremantle was very different in the early days, it was a working port, people were not as educated about preserving our history. There was no internet so we did not know the impact of pollutants on rivers and land overseas until it was too late.

    History has and will continue to record that we made many misinformed decisions about baking our bodies in the sun in the name of beauty, using genetically modified crops without air tight laws, refusing to pay carbon taxes and ignoring many of the disenfranchised voices that needed to be heard.

    John, instead of decrying those who were concerned about the South Beach changes, it is wise to remember that all these people were trying to do was to make sure that any changes made were the right ones. Without the naysayers and watchdogs goodness knows what we would have. I for one am glad we did not allow the boat stacks proposed near the sailing club near South Beach, as well as many other proposals that really were generated through making money. There is too much complacency and there definitely needs to be more transparency and community involvement in our beautiful city.

  6. Susan says:

    Good argument Brad. However the plea for less drunken venues and loud music, hence anti social behaviour is one subject that is an ongoing concern for us Fremantle residents. Acohol fuelled behaviour is the worse.disruptive scenario in our city.
    I am not against a good time, i enjoy socialising,and as an.artist,we do this quite frequently at exhibitions.
    The important appeal is for the artists at the JSheds. Jenny Dawson,Peter and Gregg James. These people will be forced to move as the Sunset Venue grows larger. These artists are the people who have put Fremantle “on the map”.
    Those were your words in the Herald.
    Nothing before or since the America cup will put Freo on the map again.
    Fremantkes highlights have been, when NewZealand and Australian troops departed the port on troop ships for battle in the Middle East, in circa,1940s. Then the Americas Cup, c 1980s.

  7. Emma Anda says:

    Great to see those photos, really interesting seeing how things looked at various stages, thanks. 🙂

  8. Mark says:

    Brad with this style of argument or point of view u could make it possible, to argue against any heritage for any area, that has had change over the decades, depending on what date u choose to say is significant.
    I think this statement u have made is dangerous to all real heritage as u have just opened the door for a new argument for developers to steam roll heritage in their race to cheapen development and increase their bottomline.

    Then again like mine, your statement above is just a point of view, not a fact.

    There is nothing sophisticated or beneficial to Fremantles social or economical development in another massive pub. Despite your attempt to use the arts to camouflage just another big pub.
    Just look at all the social issues in just the week making news headlines in regards to alcohol issues, I’m really genuinely surprised to see what lengths you will go to, to get another huge pub opened, on A Class reserve and a site that local Aboriginal elders are telling u has significance to them, not to mention the voice of the local community.

  9. dickbaynham says:

    I was fortunate to spend the morning listening to Richard Wilkes at J-Shed – learning what the people who owned this land before 1829 feel about Arthur Head – and what they think of your support for David Chitty’s plan to place a tavern and music venue on this spot.

    Richard told me of his bond with this land and what it means to the First Australians in terms of its classification as the most significant Class-A Reserve in the State – a place that was set aside to denote where white people came ashore to start the settlements of Perth and Fremantle.

    He told me about the Nyungar men who died at the Round House while awaiting transportation to Rottnest Island, who he believes were buried in the surrounding dunes. We talked about the introduction of alcohol and the damage it has done to his people. He said the Reserve has a deep spiritual meaning to the Swan River People that he is not at liberty to discuss.

    For him and for me, placing a tavern in this location is so completely inappropriate that we both regard it as sacrilegious and profane.

    Richard Wilkes is a very wise man who simply wants you to place this pub somewhere else.

    I support that aim and we would both like to see Arthur Head become a place of healing for all Australians. A place for families, where people can meet in free public open space where alcohol is not served. Where the original place names Richard can recite in his language are recognised alongside the new names that were designated by white people when we arrived.

    As our Mayor we expect you to respect the history of Arthur Head and not attempt to rewrite it in order to give away our public open space to suit the commercial interests of Sunset Events.

    • As I said to Eloise – I spoke to range of aboriginal people about this before the vote on Wednesday and it would be fair to say there was neither strong support nor strong opposition to the proposal. Most didn’t see it as a major issue for them. Similar advise came to the Council from the City of Fremantle’s Aboriginal Development Officer.
      If the lease can proceed then we will go through a fuller engagement process with the aboriginal community in Freo before granting planning approval.
      This is a process I am comfortable with.

  10. I believe a pub and 25 year lease is a bit dodgy. I understand that private investments may require council commitments but a pub there would make many $millions$ per year for the lease-holder and a 25 years lease is unneccessary. It’s just a greedy grab for money.

    The Nyungar Elders issues should also be listened to. The last thing they want is ‘Big Business’ to move in to make ‘lots of dough’ on top of the bones of their Nyungar ancestor’s mistreatment and tragedies. An extention of the weekend food markets to include a glass-free beer marquee and local Arts and music would be much more suitable.

    I can’t see why some of the funds collected by a temporary style GFB marquee cannot be used to support local Indigeneous Art and even support the ‘bankrupt’ Kulcha Club. Surely, there must be enough common sense in our diverse community to come up with a ‘win-win-win’ scenario that doesn’t just benefit the ‘carpet-baggers’ but benefits us all.

    •  It was 21 years and given the multi-million dollar investment required we thought that was reasonable. On the Nyungar Elders issue I spoke to range of aboriginal people about this before the vote on Wednesday and it would be fair to say there was neither strong support nor strong opposition to the proposal. Most didn’t see it as a major issue for them. Similar advise came to the Council from the City of Fremantle’s Aboriginal Development Officer.
      If the lease can proceed then we will go through a fuller engagement process with the aboriginal community in Freo before granting planning approval.
      This is a process I am comfortable with.

      • Mary says:

        Brad – can you please respond to Eloise and Dick – either privately or publicly – to tell them the names of the Nyungar Elders you have spoken to on this issue.

        Prior to the Council vote on 26.02.14 the clear understanding from yourself was that you had not spoken to anyone in the indigenous community other than your Aboriginal Liaison Officer.

        Speaking to them after the lease has been issued demonstrates a complete lack of respect and community engagement.

      • Mary
        I will ask these people if they wish to contact Dick or Eloise. I spoke to some before the meeting and some more after and there was a wide range of views. To argue there is one homogeneous view on this is not my experience but we will go through that in more detail at the planning stage as is appropriate.

  11. Robert says:

    21/25 years still a very long and therefore a very valuable asset for the recipient to sell on.
    However for any other bright or bigger, or better Council/FPA ideas for an overall plan are on hold for almost a 1/4 of a century.
    And do we really need yet another drinking hole???!
    A black smith, wood worker, creative something. Something interesting ,unique and not already here on every second corner that’s boring!

  12. Sam says:

    Hi Brad

    As a resident and casual observer of Freo’s politics, it continues to aggravate me that you put up such eloquent and well-reasoned arguments only to be ceaselessly berated by airchair oppositionists who’d rather see vague, anecdotal notions of “heritage” and “amenity” inflict massive needless costs on social, economic (and, ironically, amenity) outcomes for Freo. I only wish that in coming years, people realise that imposing heritage controls on sites via the planning system does come with substantial costs and externalities, and thus such restrictions should be reserved for places of genuine and representative cultural significance. If “heritage” is applied to places of little or no value, it becomes draconian as well as irrelevant.

    Having read both this commentary and the wild rampaging uninformed lunacy of Loppers et. al., I feel both uplifted that we are lucky enough to have such an educated and capable mayor, and disappointed that he is so constrained by a lobby of reactionary and il-informed baby-boomers who let their warped nostalgic desire for a return to the dirty and dangerous industrial port of yore slow or stop positive improvements to our marvellous town that would genuinely benefit the rest of us.

    Best wishes on this project.


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