Rarely a dull moment – Significant Tree, Heritage Building, Dilapidated Site

Welcome to our new feature, Rarely a dull moment with Gayle O’Leary and Michael Barker, where we will report the highlights of Council’s regular meetings. We would have titled the feature Never a dull moment, but didn’t want to over-promise!

It’s worth keeping an eye on the meeting schedule, agendas and papers for the regular fortnightly City of Fremantle Council meetings, as well as related Committee meetings. You never know what you will come across.

And if you attend the meetings as well, not only do you get to see your Mayor and elected Councillors on their feet – well, on their seats – in action, but you also get to pick up so much information about the City and its history and what makes Freo folk tick. Truth be told, there’s rarely a dull moment!

If you can’t make the live performance of a full Council meeting, because it’s too cold, wet, windy, hot, whatever, you can always watch live online. And if you can do neither of those things, because you have a prior engagement like a neighbourhood community dinner, you can always watch a video recording of the meeting the next day.

In a full agenda for last Wednesday 28 February 2024 Council meeting, five items particularly took our eye:
1. A motion to rescind the Council’s recent decision to approve the removal of the Moreton Bay Fig at 195 High Street, Fremantle;
2. The proposed sale of the City-owned Victoria Hall at 179 High Street – just up the road from the Fig;
3. The proposed demolition of the private property at 5 Beach Street, Fremantle;
4. The future of Fremantle Public Golf Course; and
5. The location of the local History Centre.


As widely reported, at its 24 February 2024 meeting, Freo Council approved the removal of a 130+ year old Moreton Bay Fig tree at 195 High Street, Fremantle, despite the tree having been entered on the City’s Significant Tree Register – a bit like a tree heritage list with a range of considerations beyond its mere history.

In making its February decision, the Council appears to have largely proceeded on the basis that the tree was added to the Register in 2019 without the private landowner’s consent and that the tree and its maintenance burden inhibited the owner’s ability to sell the property for full value.

Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge

This is what Freo Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge said of the 24 February decision soon after the decision in a Facebook post –

From an aesthetic and values perspective there’s no doubt in my mind that this tree would have been protected if it was on City land. However, the issue goes to one of fundamental premises of the City of Fremantle’s Significant Tree Policy (LPP 2.23), that for trees on private property, the property owner gives consent to the tree being listed on the Significant Tree Register. That didn’t happen in this case. For me, the precedent this would set was very concerning.

Upon further examination by the City, as revealed at last Wednesday’s meeting, it appears the tree was automatically moved to the Significant Tree Register due to its existing heritage listing as part of the heritage listing of the adjacent building on the site – and along with several other trees on heritage-listed properties in the City.

The 24 February decision of the Council to vote against the City officers’ recommendation and remove the Fig from the Register sparked an enormous community uproar, with a mass protest held outside Coccolico coffee shop the following Thursday organised by Design Freo. It also drew the attention of several news media.

Cr Adin Lang

At Wednesday’s meeting, Cr Adin Lang presented a community petition for Council to rescind its removal approval decision. And eventually, after much soul searching, they did, together with a second decision declaring the City’s intention to support landowners encountering hardship to maintain trees on the Register.

The change of position is plainly a win for community action and the tree canopy push, although no doubt a disappointing one from the perspective of the Cattalini family who attended the meeting, and who – from what we hear – may well challenge the legal validity of Wednesday’s decision.


Victoria Hall at 179 High Street was designed by influential architect Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs and built in 1896 as a “parish hall for [the nearby] St John’s Church”.

Victoria Hall has an illustrious history, including as one of the early conservation battle grounds for the Fremantle Society when its demolition was proposed in the early 1970s, as Garry Gillard explains in Freotopia.

In more recent, late 20th century times, Victoria Hall has been occupied by Fly By Night as a music venue and the Deck Chair Theatre Company. It is currently occupied by Fremantle Theatre Company, whose next production OOL is set to hit the stage in March. (We highly recommend having a gander and perhaps enjoying refreshments at Freo’s technically smallest bar inside VH.)

The City, which has owned Victoria Hall since 2001, says it is no longer viable for it to retain the building in public ownership. What lies in this historic venue’s future, time will tell. What’s for sure though, is that its heritage listing is safe and sound and a future owner will be required to use and develop the property consistently with that listing. Hopefully, it will continue to be used for many more live performances to come. Perhaps CircusWA? (Or Council meetings?)

The City has also assured FTC it will assist in finding a new venue should it be required.


Well, how about this dilapidated property on 5 Beach Street, close to the Australia Hotel and the business formerly known as Captain Munchies? You’ll know it when you see it.

A contentious build originally touted for short stay accommodation, never finished and now derelict with graffiti, dangerous activity, and squatters adding to its quintessential gritty character.

A neighbour advised Council during Wednesday’s Council meeting of ongoing issues of children trespassing on their property from nearby, and drug activity on the site and other nearby old vacant buildings.

As you can see from the photographs, there seems little doubt about the building’s dilapidated condition.

The long and the short of it is that the Council resolved to issue a demolition order for the building on the grounds of safety concerns. However, the Beach Street facade will be retained.


Also on Wednesday night, the Council voted to accept the Business Plan for the privatisation of Fremantle Golf Course, ushering in prospective plans for a brand new club house with culturally responsive art, a bit more car parking, and virtual driving courses.

The only outstanding question here is: but what about the community centre originally envisaged as part of the Booyembarra Park Landscape Plan, planned to compensate for the loss of FERN – Fremantle Environmental Resource Network – as a result of Main Road’s upgrades to High Street?


And finally, the History Centre was approved to stay in the City of Fremantle Library, with the community overwhelmingly voting in favour of it remaining easily accessible in the Wanjoo Room. A most symbiotic relationship, one would think, especially for locals researchers.

SO, as we say, the Freo Council meetings can be a great source of information and there’s rarely a dull moment.


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