When the Lord Mayor of Perth, Basil Zempilas, exhorted the citizens of this State in a recent The West Australian Op-Ed to interrogate “what brand Perth is, what it stands for, what the Perth brand looks, feels and sounds like,” he was presenting us all with an existential challenge to confront who we are.
While it could be dismissed as a marketing ploy, the ramifications of this exercise have a much more profound significance. As the guru of modern advertising David Ogilvy explains, brand is “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” By its nature, then, it is tough to pin down. A brand is elusive, ethereal, impalpable, and yet instantly recognisable, believable, and encompassing.
So, what do we as citizens of Fremantle believe about ourselves? What represents us, gives us strength, empowers us, makes us proud, and sparks our inspiration? How are we different from Perth?
If Perth has a brand, what does it mean to live in the Port City of Fremantle? The brand of Fremantle/Walyalup is the sum of so much of what we know about ourselves and, perhaps more importantly, what we aspire to be. It begins with our geographic location. We live on the land of the world’s oldest continuous living culture. This extraordinary landscape and ecology demand a response, and artists for the past 60,000 years have found ways to document their experiences of living here. This continuity gives us a unique perspective and vantage point on the world. It is a point of location and belonging that connects the Indigenous owners and custodians with those who now share their land. Walyalup is already incorporated into our identity, but what more can we do to reinforce the connections to country?
Located within the same time zone as one-third of the world’s population and on the rim of an ocean that nurtures another third, Perth is no longer condemned to the margins by the tyranny of distance. It is a hub in a network of humanity that is shifting global perspectives. On the edge of the Indian Ocean, we are ideally located to connect with our neighbours. Respecting each other’s culture, celebrating difference, and embracing different perspectives will be a catalyst for building strong cultural, social, and economic partnerships that will secure our future. Fremantle/Walyalup is a port city with a long history of cultural exchange and our links to the Indian Ocean are vital to any branding we may embrace.
This process of discovery and introspection won’t be easy but Fremantle is an acknowledged hub of creativity that ranges across all disciplines of the arts. Writers, performers, musicians, visual artists and designers have galvanised their communities to see and understand what it is like to live here and to understand how this place has shaped them. In deciding what constitutes those intangible attributes, there is no doubt that our cultural resources are an essential resource and one we can’t ignore.
Encapsulating this sense of ourselves in words and giving it visual form is the realm of the arts. It is also fused within our built environment. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, New York the Statue of Liberty, and Sydney its Harbour Bridge. What can we identify as an iconic image of Fremantle? Are we bold enough to take a leap into the unknown and commission adventurous, bold architecture and landmark structures that capture our sense of identity or sense of place? Perhaps respect for our natural environment and ensuring a healthy Derbarl Yerrigan/ Swan River flows into the Indian Ocean will be the most potent and sustaining narrative we can weave?
There is clearly a lot to assimilate and a great deal to interrogate. It is likely to be as painful and distressing as it is inspirational and affirming. But this is the right time to address these issues. On the cusp of the bicentenary of the arrival of the first wave of Europeans wanting to settle here, we have an opportunity to consolidate our sense of who and what we are and what we wish to be. We should take up this challenge with gusto and ensure the identity of Fremantle as a unique and vibrant centre reaching out to the world is broadcast far and wide.
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This article is by Ted Snell, @recommend_ted