The Old Traffic Bridge, The Electors Meeting & Pete Seeger

On Monday night, at the historic Fremantle Town Hall, a goodly number of quite Bolshie but suitably restrained Freo residents – estimated at around 150 – gathered at a Special Meeting of Electors to vent their frustrations over the State Government’s latest proposals for a new traffic bridge in replacement of the heritage listed Old Traffic Bridge.

The Old Traffic Bridge

In short, the electors demanded that the State Government start over with the bridge replacement consultation and design processes, and save the heritage listed Old Traffic Bridge in those processes.

As we reported recently, The Bridge Debate Just Won’t Go Away.

Regular readers of Fremantle Shipping News will be aware the bridge replacement proposal has a long history. In its most recent guise, it has been bubbling along over the past two years since the Better Bridge Campaign and Fremantle Shipping News convened a Town Hall Meeting to protest Main Roads WA’s then plans for the new bridge.

Better Bridge Campaign meeting of Fremantle residents, 10 September 2020.

Part of the frustration for Freo folk over the ensuing period is that Main Roads is so focussed on civil engineering challenges they just miss the woods for the trees.

This sense that Freo residents’ expressed ideas and wishes are simply registered but not heard has continued for many years in relation to a number of Freo related projects and bubbled over at Monday night’s meeting.

There are some who still hope and believe that the Old Traffic Bridge can be saved, not in bits and pieces, or as fragments in a glass topped museum exhibit, but wholly.

There are others who can’t believe the traffic and road layout solutions the ‘experts’ have advanced in their latest plans, with Canning Highway west of East Street, on the Fremantle/East Fremantle border, being rerouted closer to the Derbarl Yerrigan with the consequent great loss of so much, including the iconic Beach Street/Riverside Road drive along the river’s southern banks.

As Ian Ker, a Freo resident closely engaged in the citizen campaign for a better bridge outcome, said at the Special Meeting of Electors in neatly summarising the current state of affairs – residents are seeking a ‘21st Century entry for Fremantle instead of a 1960s freeway-like plan that prioritises traffic over everything else.

Ian’s Pete Seeger-like call to arms, evoking the sentiment of the great 60s protest standards, Where have all the flowers gone and, perhaps more poignantly, We shall overcome, perfectly caught the mood of the meeting –

* We are here to stop the destruction of numerous Freo cultural icons.
* We are here to stop the removal of most of the mature riverside trees from an area which already has too little tree cover.
* We are here to protect the last area of riverside open space on the south bank of the river in Fremantle.
* We are here to maintain access to the area between Stirling Highway and Queen Victoria Street without turning the area into a maze of rat-runs.
* We are here to strengthen the resolve of the Fremantle City Council to insist on a genuine, open and far-ranging comparative assessment of options for replacing the old traffic bridge – bearing in mind that the council is not the decision-making authority for most aspects of the project.
* We are here to let Main Roads and the WA Government know that the people of Fremantle are angry at being taken for granted and given the mushroom treatment – and are here for the long haul.
* Most important, we are here to ensure that the people of Fremantle are actively involved, not ignored, for the rest of this project.

After a two hour discussion with some initially proposed motions being amended for emphasis, amd some new motions being proposed for good measure, the final resolutions from the meeting tell the story of the night, and indeed of the past couple years.

Resolutions from Special Meeting of Electors

1.That this Special Meeting of the Electors of the City of Fremantle:
(a) Welcomes the resolution of the City of Fremantle Council, at its meeting on 26th October 2022:
(i) to call for substantial additional information on a range of options, including the ‘reference design’ reached at the previous community consultation in July 2021, and a comparative analysis of a range of workable options,
(ii) that the community be an integral part of this analysis, including establishing the criteria, and
(iii) that options be ‘presented in full to the community for engagement, discussion and feedback’.
(b) Registers its anger and deep concern at the lack of consistency and sustained community involvement in development of the Swan River Crossings project leading to the Swan River Crossings proposal announced by the WA Minister for Transport on 21st August 2022.
(c) Demands that the wider Fremantle community be actively informed and engaged as an integral part of the Swan River Crossings project through to completion.
2.That this Special Meeting of the Electors of the City of Fremantle:
(a) Acknowledges the Fremantle Council’s inclusion of the old traffic bridge as cultural heritage “to be fully assessed, valued and managed in accordance with a comprehensive, professionally prepared heritage assessment report, interpretation strategy and implementation plan”;
(b) Requests that the community be an integral part of the development of that plan; and
(c) Requests that no decisions or actions be taken that would restrict the available options for the old traffic bridge (or any of the other “items of significant heritage value” (see note below)) until that assessment report has been completed and considered by Council and the community.
NOTE: “Items of significant cultural heritage value” include, but are not necessarily limited to:
(i) Whadjuk significance of the place, including the Swan River and Cantonment Hill
(ii) The old traffic bridge
(iii) The limestone escarpment
(iv) The former Capstan
(v) Remnants and artefacts of previous river crossings
(vi) The ‘containbow’ art installation
(vii) The award-winning ‘Gathering Place’ location
(viii) Extensive social heritage from community use of the area below the escarpment for recreation, such as yachting, rowing and picnics, for almost 150 years.
(ix) Early interactions between aboriginal and settler communities.

3 That the Council engage with representatives of the Save the Bridge Alliance to hear expert opinion about the benefits of retaining the bridge, with a view to retention of the entire existing bridge.

4 That this meeting opposes Option 3 [the current Main Roads proposal that diverts Canning Highway down to the river foreshore] on the grounds that it (a) is inconsistent with the previous agreement [August 2021], (b) causes the loss of substantial mature vegetation and cultural icons, and (c) results in  loss of connectivity for access to local areas.

5 That the meeting condemns the quality of previous Main Roads projects (eg the High Street/Stirling Highway roundabout) and the way Main Roads has run the process for the Swan River Crossings project and asks the Minister for Transport to insist that matters in motions 1 and 2 be addressed before the project proceeds.

What happens next? Well, pursuant to the Local Government Act, there will be a report of the meeting presented to the next meeting of Fremantle Council, which may be the November one, if time permits, otherwise December.

We will then discover if Pete Seeger lives!

* By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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