Vale David Hutchison 1927-2017

Fremantle has sadly lost one of its preeminent historians. David Hutchison passed away a couple of days ago.

Garry Gillard (on his Fremantle Stuff web page)  describes David’s  book Fremantle Walks as the most accessible and popular local history publication. He goes on to reproduce Prof Bob Reece’s citation for David Hutchison’s Life Membership of the Fremantle History Society which is worth repeating here:

David is one of those rare people we can call a true authority on Fremantle and its history. As someone once said to him, ‘David, you have forgotten more history than I will ever know!’ From the time of his appointment as Senior Curator in History at the Western Australian Museum in 1970 with oversight of what was then the Fremantle History Museum at Finnerty St., David immersed himself in the town’s past. His later activism on behalf of the History Society, his prolific research and writings and his celebrated Fremantle Walks, all contributed towards making him a local ‘identity’. His 1986 book, Fremantle Walks, published by Fremantle Press, brought his extensive local knowledge together in a highly readable format for the benefit of visitors to the city. Closely associated with a movement in the early 1990s to set up a ‘clearing house’ for Fremantle research, David became a member of the History Society and served on the Committee from 1999 until 2004. One of his major contributions was his submission on behalf of the Society to the Fremantle Prison Heritage Precinct Master Plan. Perhaps his most solid and enduring achievement, however, was his establishment in May 1996 of Fremantle Studies Day, which in turn stimulated the appearance in 1999 of the journal Fremantle Studies, to which he became a frequent contributor. He brought a scholarly standard to the work of the Society, at the same time preaching the down-to-earth virtues of community history. Bob Reece.

I’ll miss seeing David walking the streets of Fremantle, almost always with library books in hand, passionate about history, Fremantle and especially Fremantle history.

Archaeological dig set to unearth Freo’s first church

An archaeological dig planned for Fremantle’s historic Kings Square early next year will shed new light into what life was like in Fremantle during the late 1800s.

The dig, taking place across four zones in Kings Square from 15-21 January 2018, will look for evidence of the 1840s-built predecessor to the current St John’s Church which used to stand in the centre of the square.

The archaeologists expect to unearth the foundations of the first church, which was demolished in 1882, as well as other historical material such as glass bottles, clay pipes; and fragments of ceramic bowls and plates from this period.

The City hopes to be able to showcase the findings as it upgrades public spaces as part of the Kings Square Renewal project, which began earlier this year.

“Kings Square has a lot of stories to tell and we’re really looking forward to seeing what will be uncovered, particularly given an earlier dig in June 1986 identified the foundations of the first church,” said Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt.

“As well as the church foundations, we hope to find artefacts in public spaces outside the former Myer building which were once the sites of buildings spanning the early-mid 20th century.

“We want to incorporate the findings into the upcoming Kings Square public space upgrades. To do this we’re looking at opportunities to include ground viewing areas to provide visitors to Kings Square with a real window into the past,” Mayor Pettitt said.

Archae-aus, a cultural heritage management consultancy based in North Fremantle, has been appointed by the City of Fremantle to undertake the investigations as part of the broader redevelopment of Kings Square.

Community invited to become archaeologists for a day

Archae-aus and the Museum of Moving Objects will be conducting public archaeology engagement programs and workshops in Kings Square alongside the excavations.

Archae-aus Executive Archaeologist Fiona Hook said the public will be invited to come and discover first-hand what it’s like to be an archaeologist.

“It’s a very exciting project and we want the whole community to share in the thrill of discovery,” said Ms Hook.

“Not only will the public be able to view the excavations as we uncover Fremantle’s history, but people of all ages can also participate in hands-on activities and events including lunchbox excavations, historical object drawing and sustainability workshops, as well as free on-site talks.”

For public safety and to protect the contents of the dig sites, areas of Kings Square will be fenced off during the archaeological investigations. (Map attached)

For more information and links to book workshops and activities through Archae-aus visit

Some things change and some remain the same. Plan for Freo in 2000 from 1980

Some things change and some remain the same. Plan for Freo in 2000 from 1980

Was Building the Fremantle Town Hall in 1887 a Waste of Ratepayers Money?

This is classic and just shows how in local government while some things change, many remain much the same …. The Kings Square team have dug up a letter to the editor of the West Australian from 1885!

In it a local resident questions spending £13,000 of ratepayer money to build the Fremantle Town Hall and argues it would be a waste of money and better spent on improving local roads.

The letter is a great example of how local issues of the past are really not much different to the local issues of today.

To the Editor of the West Australian.
SIR,-I will ask you a little space in
your paper to make a few remarks about
the proposed Town Hall which is going
to cost about £13,000, and I am sure that
such an amount of money to be expended
on a Hall is quite absurd considering the
present condition of our streets. In all
Fremantle you find but two good streets
namely High and Cliff streets, and the
idea of spending such an amount upon a
Hall when money is so much needed
for necessary works is preposterous.
Start first with the North Ward –
Beach and Skinner streets are in their
natural states; Quarry, Finnerty and Bay
streets are in a disgraceful state, and
James street only half done.
We go now to the West Ward, the
least and most important ; we find Leake,
Bannister and Colley streets without curb-
ing and needing a through repair though-
out and Packingham street flooded after
any rain.
Now we go on to the South Ward,
we find South, Lord, Gray, Russell,
Howard, Mary, Alma, and Attfield streets,
are now as they were fifty years ago, and
some of them worse on account of the
sand draft ; Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk,
in a disgraceful condition, the only good
street in the ward being Arundel street –
that having no curbing – South Terrace
half done and the remaining portion all
sand ; Fitzgerald Terrace, above Suffolk
street, a sanddrift.
Now while these works are so urgently
required it is proposed to expend in
round numbers about £13,000, on a Town
Hall. Is it common sense? Look at it
from a financial point ; if the money be
expended on the streets as it certainly
should be it would bring in a large re-
venue, as all the property situated in the
sandy streets, would increase three fold in
value, and, further, the owners could
build, which they cannot do in the present
condition of things.
The Town Hail would bring in no-
thing but gratification to a few of the
town’s people; it would ruin all outside
property, and be a heavy tax on the
people. This matter is before the rate-
payers and a poll is demanded to settle
the question. Let the ratepayers look at
the streets mentioned, and ask them-
selves which is the most important, to
have a Town Hall or make the streets.
The one a tax and no profit, the other
a necessary work giving people a road to
their doors and employment to many.
Yours truly,
Fix this textFremantle, 2Sth May, 1885.

Secrets of our Cities visits Freo.

I am looking forward to Greig Pickhaver aka HG Nelson’s new series coming to SBS, Secrets of our Cities which has an episode dedicated to Freo. Once again Freo showing that we live in a city with more stories (and secrets) and interest than almost anywhere else in the country. Here is the blurb:

In the 3 part series he visits Fremantle, Fitzroy and Bondi, to uncover the “hidden history and unsung residents who’ve helped shape these places into the cities they are today.” But does he take a train to get there…..?

Now an electric, artistic hub, the seaside port of Fremantle has come a long way from its convict outpost days. Greig discovers the waves of migrants who’ve added a splash of colour to the city; including ten-pound poms, Italian migrants and boatloads of young women who arrived on ‘bride ships’. He explores the roots of Fremantle local and ACDC legend Bon Scott, and learns about the Rajneeshees – an obscure religious cult that painted the city orange.

In the trendy, latte lover’s paradise of Fitzroy, Victoria, Greig learns how a former slum where many European migrants made their home evolved into one of Melbourne’s most desirable suburbs. Fitzroy was a hub for activism and the centre of the new call for Aboriginal rights in the 1970s, and once welcomed an unlikely and unscheduled visitor: Muhammad Ali.

Greig travels to the iconic and glamourous beachside suburb of Bondi, Sydney. He learns about the large Jewish community that have called Bondi home since the 1830’s, and even catches a glimpse of a subtle Jewish spiritual boundary that lines the pavilion. He visits Australia’s very first Milk Bar and meets fashion designer Jenny Kee who left Australia for London to follow the Beatles.

Set against the backdrop of moments that have made history, Greig explores the different waves of migration that have shaped some of our most famous cities, and meets fascinating and colourful local characters along the way to remind us of our unique Australian heritage.

Tuesday, 26 September at 7.30pm on SBS.


Monumental Errors: Perhaps, at this Critical Juncture in our History, Fremantle Suggests the Way Forward.

Statues have been the focus of national if not global debate this week so it was pleasing to see this article ending with the line: “Perhaps, at this critical juncture in our history, Fremantle suggests the way forward.”

Monumental errors: how Australia can fix its racist colonial statues

Professor of History, Australian National University

War memorials are a feature of the Australian landscape. Obelisk and arch, broken pillar and stone statue remind us of the crippling loss a young nation faced in campaigns overseas. But where are the monuments to conflicts fought in our own country – a brutal war of dispossession that left deep and enduring scars on countless communities?

As the recent debate over Australian statues demonstrates, sanitised symbols of violence and dispossession have long stood unchallenged in the heart of our towns and cities. By occupying civic space they serve to legitimise narratives of conquest and dispossession, arguably colonising minds in the same ways white “settlers” seized vast tracts of territory.

Stan Grant has called for a Sydney statue of James Cook that claims Cook “discovered” Australia to be corrected. Others have called for the renaming of buildings and public spaces named after Lachlan Macquarie and people associated with Queensland’s slaving(known as “blackbirding”) history.

In response, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, along with other politicians and commentator Andrew Bolt, have labelled these calls to alter monuments “Stalinist”.

In debating the place “explorers” or “blackbirders” might occupy in civic space, Australians face a choice in how we engage with a past that is painful, multivocal and complex. White Australians raised such memorials as tributes to their colonial pasts; other than as subjects, there was no place for Indigenous peoples.

Should politicians, bureaucrats or the apologists for our country’s racist past decide the fate of these memorials today? Or can this debate empower previously displaced voices? These monuments have maligned and marginalised first nations’ peoples from the first day they were erected. And they stand, after all, on land whose sovereignty was never surrendered.

Indigenous communities have confronted such challenges before. And they have acted with courage, wisdom and generosity. In Fremantle, Western Australia, a monument that celebrated the racism that mars Australia’s past has today become a symbol of dialogue and reconciliation.

Revising the past

The Explorers’ Monument in Fremantle was unveiled in 1913 to commemorate three white explorers – Frederick Panter, James Harding and William Goldwyer – who were killed in the far northwest in 1864. For generations it stood unquestioned in the centre of the Esplanade Reserve in Fremantle, enshrining a pioneer myth writ deep in Australian history.

A series of plaques circling the monument claimed that the explorers were attacked at night and “killed in their sleep” by “treacherous natives”. The land where they died is portrayed as hostile and alien: a “terra incognita”. Aboriginal people are described as savages, the whites as “intrepid pioneers”.

The orignal plaque on the Explorers’ Monument.

Other features of the monument are stridently belligerent. An imposing bust pays tribute to Maitland Brown, “leader of the government search and punitive expedition” who carried the explorers’ remains back with him to Fremantle. Brown’s expedition ended in the massacre of around 20 Aboriginal people; mounted and well armed, none of his party were killed or wounded.

In 1994, the United Nations Year of Indigenous Peoples, a counter-memorial was set in the monument’s base. Elders from Bidyadanga (formally La Grange) unveiled a new plaque outlining the history of provocation that led to the explorers’ deaths. It was a striking instance of what scholars call “dialogical memorialisation”, where one view of the past takes issue with another and history is seen, not as some final statement, but a contingent and contested narrative.

The plaque added to the Explorers’ Monument in 1994.

Equally importantly, the plaque acknowledges the right of Indigenous people to defend their traditional lands and solemnly commemorates “all those Aboriginal people who died during the invasion of their country”. The dedication service ended as Aboriginal people scattered dust from the site of the massacre and two white children laid wreaths of flowers decked in Aboriginal colours.

The Explorers’ Monument carried the same inscription chiselled on war memorials the length and breadth of our country. “Lest we forget” was the chilling phrase chosen to commemorate Panter, Harding and Goldwyer in 1913, and those words back then were an incitement to racial hatred.

Over 80 years later, the people of Bidyadanga and the Baldja network in Fremantle added “lest we forget” to their counter-inscription. This invites us to widen the ambit of remembrance and recognise the common tragedies that attended the so-called settlement of Australia.

Authorised and unauthorised history

In the United States, symbols of the nation’s racist past have been the flash points of violent confrontations, such as in Charlottesville. Protesters demand the removal of statues that celebrate slave owners and white supremacists. Right-wing militia groups rally to their defence.

Similar debates have emerged elsewhere. Should great centres of learning like Oxford pay tribute to Cecil Rhodes, a man who pioneered the policies of apartheid?

Can a democracy enshrine the advocates of racial, sexual or religious discrimination, or peaceful communities honour those who carpet-bombed Europe? In each case, statues and memorials stand at the heart of these controversies. Once the meanings of monuments were thought to be set in stone; now they crumble in the relentless critique of history.

Would those opposing the altering of Australia’s colonial statues have also opposed the demolition of the Berlin Wall, or the toppling of statues of Saddam Hassein? In monuments, as in written histories, some narratives are authorised, others denied or disputed.

And such critique raises deeper questions, interrogating the very nature of history as a scholarly discipline. Does history cease to exist when a memorial is removed from public view and civic sanction – or is that act of removal, a forceful repudiation of the past, itself an act of choice and agency in history?

Ray Minniecon was an Aboriginal student at Murdoch University who led the liaison with Indigenous communities. “Monuments,” he said on the day Fremantle’s counter-memorial was unveiled, “are not just a window into our past; they are a window into ourselves.” We can choose. We may cling to the racism and hatreds of the past or make our own commitment to what the constitutional convention at Uluru aptly dubbed “truth telling”.

Perhaps, at this critical juncture in our history, Fremantle suggests the way forward.

Freo’s Explorer’s Monument shows a way forward on Statue Debate.

There is a debate happening around the world on the place of colonial statues;  statues often in honour of those who have had a mixed record on treatment of follow humans.

Plans to remove statues of Confederate soldiers sparked the deadly Charlottesville riots in the US recently and on the East  Australia aboriginal commentator Stan Grant has also raised the issue.

In the Sunday Times today Sam Wainwright (speaking as himself not  Fremantle Councillor) suggested that some WA colonial statues should be relocated to museums.

This is a controversial issue but I actually think Fremantle has already shown a useful way forward on this.

In the Fremantle Esplanade is the Maitland Brown Memorial (Explorers Monument) doesn not seek to erase the troubling parts of our history but instead shed new, more accurate light on events – an approach that doesn’t gloss over atrocities but instead shows history from multiple angles.

The original 1913 monument has had an extra plaque added to it in 1994 that corrects the biases in the original inscription – showing that history is more than the exploits of heroic explorers, it is also often dark and complex. It is worth checking out.

So rather than erase history I think it is important that we add to it and tell more of the full story so we better understand our history.

Maitland Brown Memorial (Explorers Monument) 

The 1913 Front Inscription reads

As A Fellow Bush Wanderer`s Tribute To The Memories Of
Earliest Explorers After Grey And Gregory Of This
Terra Incognita. Attacked At Night By Treacherous Natives They
Were Murdered At Boola Boola Near La Grange Bay
On The 13 November 1864.
Also An Appreciative Token Of Remembrance Of
One Of The Pioneer Pastoralists And Premier Politicians Of This
State. Intrepid Leader Of The Government Search And Punitive
Party. His Remains Together With The Sad Relics Of The
Ill Fated Three Recovered With Great Risk And Danger From Lone Wilds
Repose Under A Public Monument In The East Perth Cemetery.
Lest We Forget.

1994 Plaque: 
This Plaque Was Erected By People Who Found The Monument Before You Offensive.

The Monument Described The Events At La Grange From One Perspective Only; The Viewpoint Of The White `Settlers`.

No Mention Is Made Of The Right Of Aboriginal People To Defend Their Land Or Of The History Of Provocation Which Led To The Explorers` Deaths.

The `Punitive Party` Mentioned Here Ended In The Deaths Of Somewhere Around Twenty Aboriginal People. The Whites Were Well-Armed And Equipped And None Of Their Party Was Killed Or Wounded.

This Plaque Is In Memory Of The Aboriginal People Killed At La Grange. It Also Commemorates All Other Aboriginal People Who Died During The Invasion Of Their Country.

Lest We ForgetMapa Jarriya-Nyalaku.